You Won't Find Many Others Like This Saint Leo Alumna
Saint Leo alumna Adriana Colina, a 30-year City of Tampa employee, explains how her degree has helped her succeed.
Nowadays, very few individuals can claim to have worked for the same organization for an extended period of time. Saint Leo human resource management alumna Adriana "Adri" Colina is proud to say she has been with her employer for nearly three decades.
Colina, 50, has worked for the City of Tampa in Florida since 1989. Even more rare, she is a third-generation native of the city, which is primarily made up of those who move south to leave behind brutal winters. She is of Sicilian, Spanish and Cuban descent, what some refer to as the "Tampa trifecta."
She and her husband, Carlos, have been married for 27 years. They have two daughters, 26-year-old Jacquelyn and 22-year-old Marisa. They also have a Maltese named Guido.
"Our family is really tightknit, and we love our hometown," Colina says. "We only have two cousins who live outside of Tampa."
She graduated from Leto High School in 1986 where she is a member of the school's hall of fame. She later obtained an AA in Liberal Arts from Hillsborough Community College. It was then on to Saint Leo to pursue a bachelor's in human resource management.
According to Colina, it was a coworker who recommended she look into Saint Leo University for her bachelor's degree.
"I worked on my BA degree while being a full-time employee, wife and mother," she recalls. "My coworker told me that Saint Leo made things doable for full-time workers."
All of her classes were held at Saint Leo's MacDill AFB Education Office.
"Even though I wasn't a military student, I was still able to take classes on base. Attending this center was very eye-opening."
Colina had been working for several years when she enrolled in the human resource management program.
"Saint Leo not only provided me with a great curriculum in my field of study, but I also got a wonderful appreciation for our military since I attended the center on an Air Force base. I remember seeing students who were deployed overseas and weren't home for the birth of their first child or for holidays. This gave me a much broader appreciation for people and diversity in the community. As a city employee, a big quality you need is to respect, understand and appreciate diversity."
She speaks highly of her overall educational experience.
"The lessons in my courses were relevant. The professors were very helpful and understanding of many of us being full-time employees with families."
One specific professor comes to mind when reflecting on her bachelor's degree program.
"Dr. Durr was an older gentleman, but he was very fair and didn't sugarcoat anything. I learned so much from him and found him to be very impactful. He always told us that knowledge is power. I still have a little booklet he handwrote called Managing Oneself."
Her husband deserves plenty of praise for his support, she adds.
"He was so instrumental in allowing this to happen for me. My girls were asleep when I came home after my night classes. I'd cry because I wanted to be home for my kids and husband. He would tell me, 'You got this. Just keep going.' I did, and I wish my diploma could have both of our names on it."
Colina wrapped up her bachelor's degree in 2000, graduating with honors. Since then, she has referred four others to Saint Leo.
"I was there for them at graduation and was probably screaming the loudest," she says.
She offers up some advice to students who are considering Saint Leo.
"I loved going to Saint Leo and would say that it was literally worth every single cent," she says. "The investment in yourself is so very worth it. The feeling of accomplishment you will gain is amazing. Once you walk across that stage at graduation, the feeling is truly indescribable. You'll know that you can do anything after that."
Colina easily rattles off the date of her first day with the City of Tampa – Monday, June 12, 1989.
"I first landed a job as a receptionist in the housing department," she says. "Over time, I developed a passion for being a public servant and working on behalf of such a great community."
She later joined the economic development department and eventually served in the human resources department in which she was one of only three team members to oversee 4,300 city employees.
She is now in the solid waste department where she manages a budget of $102 million, a large team of personnel and a customer service program.
"I've got a lot on my plate, but I am surrounded by dedicated and hardworking people."
For 13 years, she hosted and produced¿Qué Pasa Tampa?, the city's Spanish-language TV program that later became bilingual. (Check out an episode here.)
"When Pam Iorio, the former mayor of Tampa, first took office, she asked if I would do this show. We would talk about Tampa's roots and history with a Hispanic flavor, as well as the various services offered to residents. This was an awesome experience because I learned so much about my family's hometown."
Several years ago, she was honored by the city as being a female employee who has made a difference.
"I am proud to say I was the youngest to ever receive the Josephine Howard Stafford Memorial Award in 2005."
In 2018, she was named Hispanic Woman of the Year by Tampa Hispanic Heritage, Inc.
"I was so humbled by that award," she says.
She has volunteered for Paint Your Heart Out, a nonprofit that paints the homes of low-income residents in the Tampa Bay area. She also participates in an annual walk with the American Heart Association.
"This is so meaningful to me because my father passed away of a massive heart attack," she confides.
The Colinas have devoted some of their time to others at the holidays as well.
"Our family spent many times at Christmas volunteering for Metropolitan Ministries. I wanted my kids to realize how important giving back truly is. We saw people coming in for a meal, and you realized that it could be any one of us at any time in their shoes."
She has served as a member of the Mayor's Hispanic Heritage Committee and has raised funds for the Latino Scholarship Program at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College.
Whether it's through her family, her professional endeavors or volunteerism, Colina has quite an inspiring outlook on her role in the world.
"God has put me in the right spot at the right time," she says. "I know that I'm here for a purpose and to serve a purpose. If I leave this Earth and don't make a difference, what a life wasted."
Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Adriana Colina and is used with permission.