Monthly Archives: August 2020

Valencia’s Presidential Search: We Want to Hear From You

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Message from Amy Bosley, Vice President, Organizational Development and Human Resources

Almost a week ago, as we gathered for our annual Academic Assembly, Valencia College President Sandy Shugart announced his decision to retire at the end of this academic year. Thank you to each of you who has expressed your appreciation for Sandy’s leadership over the past 20 years.

Tracey Stockwell, chair of Valencia College’s District Board of Trustees, stated, “I know that I speak for the entire Board of Trustees when I express our deep appreciation to Dr. Shugart for his positive impact on the students and community during his 20-plus years of service at Valencia College. There is much to celebrate,” she shared, “as we reflect on Dr. Shugart’s tenure at the College. This includes unparalleled graduation rates, the creation of DirectConnect to UCF, the most successful transfer program in America, and providing exceptional leadership to the College, which was awarded the first Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.”

The Search for Our Next College President
On the heels of Dr. Shugart’s announcement to retire, and in order to select a new president by December, we are beginning the process of searching for Valencia College’s next president. Hiring the president is the statutory duty of Valencia’s District Board of Trustees (Board) and the College is working in conjunction with the Board to launch a national search for Valencia’s fifth president. The Board will design a process that will be transparent, collaborative and guided by equity-minded hiring practices. In keeping with our internal values, the search process will be informed by your feedback and will offer opportunities for you to interact with and learn more about candidates selected as semi-finalists and finalists via virtual meetings.

We Want to Hear From You
On Wednesday, September 9, 2020, the Board will convene to discuss the presidential search process and timeline, identify a search committee and its scope of duties, as well as articulate the desired qualifications for the position. In preparation for this workshop, we need to hear from you.

Leadership Qualifications
First, I’d like to invite you to provide your input and response on what Valencia College should look for in our next president. Specifically, we are asking for your thoughts on the opportunities and challenges that the next president may face, the skills, experience, and qualifications you are looking for in the next leader, and the characteristics and qualities that you think will make a president most successful here. The survey is anonymous and your responses will be considered as the Board establishes the minimum and desired qualifications for the position and the resulting presidential profile — created to both attract and assess candidates through the process.

Service on the Search Committee
Second, you are invited to submit your interest in serving as a member of the search committee. The search committee composition and membership will be determined by the Board at its workshop on Wednesday, September 9, and the College has been asked by the board chair to assemble a slate of names for consideration. The search committee will be comprised of faculty, staff, a student, and community representation and will be diverse in race, ethnicity, age, gender, region and other demographic factors.

If you are interested in serving on the search committee, please complete the self-nomination form for consideration. You will be asked to provide a statement of your interest, along with your contact information.

The search committee will meet multiple times in open and publicly noticed meetings and the time commitment will be significant over the course of the fall semester. Please keep this in mind as you decide whether to self-nominate.

The deadline to respond is Wednesday, September 2, 2020, at 5 p.m.

As is our practice, the Faculty Council will receive the names of all faculty who self-nominate and will create a rank-ordered list of those they recommend to the Board for appointment to the committee. Student Development will assemble a list of students it recommends to the Board for appointment. The faculty and student names will be added to the full slate of recommended participants assembled by Organizational Development and Human Resources for consideration by the trustees.

A Transparent Process
Throughout the search process, you can expect regular updates about the search through emails like this one, in articles shared in The Juice, and, in the coming weeks, by checking the Valencia College Presidential Search webpage that will be created to provide information on the search and candidates. Please know that your questions and feedback are welcome and will help inform the process.

Though we are in the midst of tremendous change, our values and principles will carry us through this time and help us identify a mission-focused, collaborative and successful leader for Valencia College.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Academic Assembly Praises Valencia’s ‘Heavy Lift,’ Discusses Equity and Changes on the Horizon

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

Nearly 900 faculty and staff gathered on Zoom on Thursday, August 20, 2020, for the 2020-2021 Academic Assembly, which kicked off an academic year filled with changes, challenges and hope and that also included the bittersweet announcement that College President Sandy Shugart would retire by summer.

Praise, Appreciation and Recognition

Dr. Shugart, Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske, and Faculty Association Past President and Interim President Stanton Reed began by praising the heavy lifting done over the past few months, by all departments across the College, that went above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic.

“The point is everybody here counts. Everybody makes a contribution,” said Sandy. “Students don’t learn unless everybody is in a position to contribute, so thanks to all of you. And I’m grateful that I can thank all of you, because there are a lot of places where not everybody is included anymore.”

Several departments were singled out for outstanding service, but Kathleen gave a special “shoutout” to Student Affairs, particularly as many employees saw their workload significantly increase as the fall registration period became compressed due to the pandemic.

“One of the things that we learned when we were back on campus in normal times is that if students experienced even the smallest hiccup in the enrollment process, many would interpret it as a sign that college wasn’t for them. And the conditions created by the pandemic could have amplified that phenomenon dramatically, but our Student Affairs team has figured out a way to create a sense of personal connection for our new and returning students in a virtual way,” said Kathleen. “Despite the incredible volume, the team has not forgotten that each student is a person, not just a VID.”

Multiple Valencia employees were also recognized for reaching a career anniversary milestone in their service at the College of 30, 35, and even 40 years. Click here to view the honorees.

Dr. Plinske then went on to discuss summer enrollment, which saw an additional 3,000 students as compared to last summer. Part of the increase may be connected to the R20 grade option, which gave students, particularly returning students, an opportunity to retake a course in the summer at no cost and without academic penalty. She also hailed the success rate of students this summer, mentioning it was almost identical to the success rate students experienced a year ago; a testament to Valencia’s investments in online learning.

“I think it’s good news that we don’t see anything dramatic in the data in 2020,” she said. “In fact, isn’t it nice for 2020 to feel normal in at least one way?”

Stanton injected a bit of humor by introducing a special “friend” — a puppet named Gerard — to the virtual gathering to keep Sandy from speaking longer than his allotted time, discussed, in a more serious tone, the accomplishments of faculty over the summer, indicating that 688 faculty members completed their Digital Professor Certification, including 565 part-time and annually appointed faculty. In addition, he said 75 faculty members engaged in course peer review in the summer.

Stanton also praised online-ready faculty for assisting colleagues who were not as comfortable with online teaching. He also lauded the work of Faculty Development, which encouraged instructors to complete the certification well before Valencia went online.

“I’m just amazed at the Valencia College approach to helping each other. We are a team. And as we’ve said before; we thrive through this together.”

Sandy then went on to discuss recent efforts made by the College to secure data as services moved online to do things like processing confidential student records, taking care of payroll and other important functions.

“This experience will probably, in some ways, leaven the way that we work for many years to come as we try to figure out what’s the best of both worlds,” he said.

He also lauded the College’s creativity to avoid furloughs and maximize the work of employees that could not be easily performed online through Valencia’s Talent Sharing Program, which helps connect employees who have availability and capacity with teams and departments that have a need for additional support. Some 500 hours of work per week have been redeployed this way across Valencia.

College leaders also shared via a video the numerous cleaning and safety protocols that Valencia is conducting to minimize health risks to our community. Watch the video here.

As speakers discussed Valencia’s transition into fall, they mentioned a summer calling campaign to students undertaken by faculty and staff, which is credited with helping provide needed personal connection. In all, employees reached out to students who received an R20 grade but did not retake their course in the summer, those who failed a course in spring and stopped in summer, and students with a balance due prior to the “dropped for non-payment” deadline. They also reached out to those who registered in spring and summer but had not registered for fall.

“The feedback we are hearing from our students is gratitude for the opportunity to connect with a human being,” said Kathleen.

Faculty also created videos to demonstrate what online courses would look and feel like this fall to put students’ minds at ease. The videos were then shared via social media. To view those videos, click here and here.

“Our faculty took a heavy lift,” said Stanton. “They have let students know, ‘don’t be despaired. We are going to make online exciting.’”

About 97% of courses offered by Valencia this fall are online, including some offered in a Real-time Virtual format (courses that meet online at designated times). Approximately 200 course sections will be offered in a traditional face-to-face setting due to lab elements, such as courses in nursing, public safety, accelerated skills and others.

A discussion about fall enrollment then ensued, with event hosts sharing that Valencia’s enrollment has remained healthy and is comparable to last fall. Sandy said he expects enrollment to either remain stable or grow up to 5% this term as students make decisions later in the semester. This is happening in the context of other neighboring colleges experiencing significant enrollment drops as well as budget cuts and layoffs.

He added that Valencia’s enrollment is healthy, in part, because enrollment is not our primary mission.

“Enrollment is a business outcome,” he said. “It’s not a purpose, it’s not a mission … Our mission is learning and student success.”

He added that the state is holding back 6% of funds budgeted to state colleges, including Valencia, against a future cut.

“We anticipated that. We’ll be fine,” he said.

Sandy then addressed our “conditions to reopen team” as well as our partnership with Orlando Health and its experts. Based on those conversations with infectious disease specialists, he said we should not expect a complete absence of COVID cases this fall and that Valencia has protocols in place for multiple scenarios. He encouraged all employees to access the Roadmap for Reopening website and other COVID-related information the College has made available online.

Although the big peak of illness seems to be behind us in Florida, with hospitalization and death numbers down, the sense, Sandy said, is that we will continue to see significant levels of transmission and will continue to make plans based on the science of the public health crisis.

He also said a decision about how spring courses will be offered will be made by Valencia by the end of September, a month prior to the beginning of registration to give, students, faculty and staff time to plan and prepare.

Opportunity and Equity

Kathleen then discussed Valencia’s next Strategic Impact Plan, which will focus on expanding opportunity and equity as they relate to access, graduation, transfer and workforce goals for students as areas of mission, with data disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

Metrics surrounding each goal will be developed in coming months, she said, and she provided examples such as the college-going rate of high school students in our area or how long it takes a Valencia graduate to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Central Florida. She added that Valencia will present the plan to the District Board of Trustees for approval in December and that more concrete plans for how we plan to reach those goals will be developed in the spring.

Sandy then discussed the history of community colleges and said the idea of opportunity for all has been in Valencia’s DNA from day one, though not yet fully realized.

“We’re at a unique moment in our history in that conversation; I hope a turning point,” he said. “I’m leaning in. I think we have a moment to do good in the area of equity, racial equity in particular. And I want to claim that moment for Valencia.”

After Stanton asked exactly how things will be different this time, Sandy answered that, beyond creating real opportunities for students to succeed and examining practices such as the effectiveness of student discipline and academic probation, the College will closely examine equity in its employment practices. He announced that a team would be created to evaluate policies and procedures and how those have an “impact on people.”

“We’re going to name outcomes,” said Sandy, “who gets hired, who gets promoted, how does development work here … This College was built 60 years ago. It’s not possible that we don’t have built-in problems.”

Sandy added that there are areas of the College that are “behind the curve in diversifying their faculty and staff.”

He added we have effective programs already that are known to create opportunity and access, such as Bridges to Success and Valencia Horizon Scholars, and that those should be expanded. He also said “bandwidth” should be added to efforts such as SEED and the Peace and Justice Institute.

Sandy also mentioned one of the best gifts he received this year were multiple emails from employees who wrote him in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing sharing what it was like to be a Black employee at the College.

“They were thoughtful, they were touching; they were deeply personal and authentic,” he said.

Stanton said he was appreciative of the opportunity to continue the discussion.

“You’ve opened the door for both positive and other conversations that a lot of people aren’t comfortable to have because they don’t want to make mistakes,” said Stanton. “So, I thank you for that.”

Retirement Announcement and New Leadership on the Horizon

Following the discussion on equity, and perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the assembly, was Sandy’s announcement that he would be retiring by the end of summer and that he has asked Valencia’s District Board of Trustees to begin a search for his replacement beginning this fall and to be completed in December. He also mentioned searches for three permanent campus president positions, which are currently filled by interims, will begin in spring.

Regarding his timing, Sandy said he felt a new College president would be better able to build that leadership team for him or herself, so with that in mind, he said he felt he should leave a little earlier than anticipated.

“I’ve tried to make this decision in terms of the stewardship of Valencia only. So, before I get emotional, let me just tell you I love you,” said Sandy.

He closed by saying generations are typically defined by challenges and that COVID-19 is one such challenge.

“It seems quite likely to me that what we’re in right now will be a generation-forming event,” he said, adding that he wondered how our current students will remember COVID-19 and its lessons.

“I would just say this: I hope what they learn is that, one: endurance comes from enduring,” he said, paraphrasing the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “Two: that we’re all in this together and that human beings were made to flourish in community and cooperation. I think we have this incredible opportunity to demonstrate that to our students.”

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Cleaning and Safety Protocols on Campus; Mask Update

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

As we shared last week in Academic Assembly, we have implemented numerous cleaning and safety protocols to minimize health risks to the Valencia community. To view some of those protocols in action and see what you can expect on campus, watch the video below.

Also, please note that we have revised our mask guidance to, “A mask that covers your mouth and nose is required while indoors at all times and outdoors, whenever physical distancing is not possible.”

For questions regarding Phase 2 of our reopening, contact Organizational Development and Human Resources at, or call the HR4U helpline at 407-299-5000, extension HR4U (4748).

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Featured Colleague: A Lover of Science, Sothy Kien Wants to Pay it Forward

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

At the age of five, Sothy Kien, who was born in Cambodia, crossed landmine-littered forests into Thailand with her parents in search of a better life. At age eight, she moved again; this time to Australia as a refugee. Years later, she would become the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Just as others provided opportunities for her, Sothy, instructional lab supervisor, wants to pay it forward and provide opportunities for success to Valencia College students.

“It is through these experiences that I am grateful to be where I am and … help our students get the same opportunities that I did,” said Sothy.

As lab supervisor, Sothy manages the day-to-day operations of Lake Nona’s biotechnology lab, a host of functions that include managing the program budget and laboratory space as well as helping to promote, develop and grow the program.

In addition, Sothy provides instructional support in class by helping students learn and develop basic lab skills such as micropipetting, performing aseptic techniques and DNA extraction.

Together, Sothy and Susan Ingersoll, professor and program director of Valencia’s Biotechnology program, have developed a curriculum that not only focuses on the technical skills but also embeds essential skills in today’s workplace, such as time management, team work and organization.

“I feel like I get the best of both worlds, working in a science lab and helping students learn,” said Sothy of her role.

Susan, her supervisor, agrees Sothy is an “inspiration and role model to our students. Her dedication to our program, our students and community is evident. She is an invaluable asset to the Biotechnology program and Valencia.”

Sothy holds a Bachelor of Biotechnology from the University of Adelaide in Australia and spent one year at the Hansen Institute conducting research on the effects of a high-calcium diet on circulating CYP27B1 in the bones of young and old rats, earning her second degree, a Bachelor of Science with honors in the Department of Physiology.

And while she loved science, Sothy realized that she was a people person and enjoyed working with others. Her first job as a lecturer’s assistant at Adelaide North TAFESA, in South Australia allowed her to do just that, helping students learn and sharing her passion for science.

When she met the love of her life, she moved again, this time to the United States and found Valencia. She first started at the West Campus, working as a laboratory assistant and moved her way up as supervisor and now helps  manage the Biotechnology program.

Today, Sothy celebrates her 10-year anniversary at Valencia and 13 years of laboratory experience in academia.

“There is nothing more exciting than seeing a light-bulb moment, when a student finally understands a concept or idea and their efforts exceed even their wildest expectations,” adds Sothy.

At Valencia, Sothy is inspired by its supportive leadership as well as “our students and their struggles to find better opportunities for themselves and their families. I am grateful to be in a place where I can share my passion for science and help students learn not only technical skills in the laboratory but essential skills such as time management, planning and communication that will help them in their future job and life in general.”

She is most proud of her efforts to help promote the biotechnology program through outreach events such as the Junior Achievement Inspire, which exposes more than 3,000 eighth-graders to possible careers in biotech, as well as hosting the Biotech Career and Technical Education camps at Lake Nona, which provide hands-on biotech experiences for high school students.

She also feels a sense of accomplishment for helping organize the lab in a “safe and productive way,” which has earned Sothy the nickname the “Marie Kondo of the lab space.”

“While we are truly blessed to be well-funded in terms of getting industry standard equipment through the Perkins Grant, we have the smallest lab space,” said Sothy, adding that the lab holds over 100 pieces of equipment, including a 6-foot biological safety hood worth over $12,000.

In addition, Sothy has helped create internship opportunities for students on campus and in industry and is excited to be part of the team that is working to improve the internship experience and expand opportunities for Biotech students through a grant from the National Science Foundation, known internally as BIO-SPARK.

Also in the past few months, she helped moved a lab-based course to an online format. Working with Susan, Sothy created an online project called COVID-19, where students worked in teams to develop two tests, a quantitative polymerase chain reaction test (qRT-PCR) to detect the presence of the virus and another enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, (ELISA)-based test to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood.

“Not only was this project relevant and timely to their studies in biotechnology, it allowed the students to explore and research scientific literature and sources at reputable sites such as the Centers for Disease Control.”

She is also appreciative of her co-workers who support her and the biotechnology program. Besides Susan, her supervisor, she also praised the leadership of Mike Bosley, executive dean, Lake Nona Campus.

“The people that I work with truly make Valencia the place to be at,” said Sothy, adding they have been “supportive from day one.”

Sothy also values Valencia because she considers it a place of hope.

“For me personally, Valencia signifies a new beginning where dreams could come true. It is a place where people from all walks of life could enter one door of opportunity and walk out with a degree that opens many more doors of opportunities,” she said.

In her free time, Sothy loves to write, read, travel, run, weight train and spend time with her family of six.

She is also a strong advocate for human rights and has visited the United Nations in New York and Geneva to represent the Khmer Krom, an indigenous peoples living in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, a place where her parents were born and relatives continue to live today.

Know of someone doing great work at the College, who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Searching for Courses in LinkedIn Learning

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

With access to more than 16,000 courses in LinkedIn Learning, it is easier than ever to achieve your learning goals and view content that is most relevant to you.

The “Search Bar” at the top of Learning pages allows you to search for courses, subjects, skills, videos, instructors and more. You can focus your learning search results by using the “Advanced Search Filters.” By adding your interests to “Skills You’re Interested In,” you can improve and customize the results of your recommended courses on your LinkedIn Learning homepage. You may find that many of the courses come equipped with exercise files and assessments, as well as transcripts for the video to further enhance your learning experience. If you find courses that you’d want to watch later, you can save them.

Along with courses, you may find learning paths and collections. While learning paths indicate a specific series of courses and videos arranged in sequence, collections are a group of courses or videos that don’t have a particular order. When you’ve watched all the videos within a course or learning path on LinkedIn Learning, you may receive a certificate of completion.

For more information on these and other LinkedIn Learning features, make sure to check out the How to Use LinkedIn Learning course. Further insights on additional LinkedIn Learning features can be found in future articles. Make sure to join the Employee Development team for a LinkedIn Learning Live session for hands-on experience. Read The Grove and The Juice for an announcement on these sessions when they become available.

In the meantime, if you’re facing an issue with LinkedIn Learning, you can use the Learning help center to find useful information. However, if you don’t find you’re looking for, contact Organizational Development and Human Resources at, or call the HR4U helpline at 407-299-5000, extension HR4U (4748).

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Learn How to Create Requisitions and Use a PCard During Upcoming Training

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Date: Friday, August 28, 2020
Time: 10 a.m. — 12 p.m.
Location: Microsoft Teams

Valencia College is offering a Banner Purchasing and PCard training this Friday, August 28, 2020. The workshop is a blend of Banner finance (purchasing only) and PCard training and is designed for staff members who will be creating requisitions for their department and/or using the PCard to make purchases.

This workshop includes how to look up Banner suppliers, create multiple requisitions, find your PO number, look up invoices and determine when checks are sent to the supplier, as well as a comprehensive overview of the PCard program, which covers the do’s and don’ts of PCard use.

*Please note that you must successfully complete Banner Finance (budget only) prior to signing up for this workshop.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Enter the Real Appeal Sweepstakes for a Chance to Win a Visa Gift Card

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

It’s well-known that the pandemic has affected many people’s physical and mental health, but Valencia College and UnitedHealthcare (UHC) want to turn that around with Real Appeal, a free, online weight loss and healthy lifestyle program for employees, their spouses and dependents who are enrolled in one of UHC medical plans.

And if you register for Real Appeal between Tuesday, August 25 and Monday, September 14, 2020, Real Appeal will enter you for a chance to win one of 50, $75 Visa eGift cards.

“We know that COVID-19 has caused many of us to transition to a more sedentary lifestyle, shared Tom Keller, director, total rewards. “As Real Appeal has always been an online program, this is a tried and true way to develop or return to a healthy lifestyle, right from your home.”

Real Appeal can help you lose weight, develop a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of developing certain diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as it’s based on decades of proven clinical research. The program is designed to solve the typical barriers to managing your health while helping you stay connected to others and providing you with tips you can apply to your life if you are feeling overwhelmed.

When you enroll in Real Appeal, you receive:

  • A transformation coach who leads weekly online group sessions.
  • Online tools to help you track your food, activity and weight loss progress, including a digital library.
  • A success kit with food and weight scales, recipes, workout DVDs and more — shipped to your door.

Have you previously enrolled in Real Appeal, but found that it wasn’t the right time for you? When you’re home, it can be difficult to keep active — and easy to get distracted. If you find yourself ready to give it another go, the Real Appeal coaches will be there to help you stay focused on your health and create new, lasting habits. Log back in to get started.

Instructions on how to start your Real Appeal journey can be found here. For additional questions, please contact Organizational Development and Human Resources at or 407-299-5000, extension HR4U (4748).

Real Appeal Sweepstakes: Eligible members will be automatically entered into the sweepstakes by signing up for Real Appeal within the registration period. The sweepstakes is open to employees and dependents 18 and older with Valencia’s UnitedHealthcare medical insurance and who have not previously signed up for Real Appeal.

Winners will be notified via email from Real Appeal. Winners must claim the reward via an online form within 14 days of winner notification. Once winner claims the reward, the eGift card will be fulfilled via email from Real Appeal within four weeks. If a winner does not claim the reward within 14 days, the reward will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. This process repeats until all 50 rewards are claimed.

Real Appeal: The program does not cost anything for eligible participants. Real Appeal is a covered wellness benefit for employees and dependents 18 and older with Valencia’s UHC medical insurance and a body mass index (BMI) of 19 or higher.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Summer STEM Institute Prepares Incoming Students and Builds Community Even in a Virtual Setting

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Message from Kassy Holmes, Project Director, ENGAGE STEM

Building fruit-operated batteries, designing a contraption to launch and protect a fragile water balloon, collaborating on a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) project to advance one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and connecting with like-minded peers; did you know that it’s possible to do all of these activities during a completely virtual/at-home, week-long summer program?

The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) team wasn’t 100% sure it could all be done but has since learned through facilitating the Summer STEM Institute (SSI) program this summer that students can engage in hands-on STEM activities, build new friendships, connect with staff and faculty, and learn about STEM majors and careers in fun and meaningful ways even in a virtual setting.

For the first time since its inception seven years ago, SSI was hosted in a completely virtual/at-home setting for incoming college students who will be starting at Valencia in the fall. SSI is hosted by the LSAMP program at Valencia and is a key component of efforts undertaken by the Central Florida STEM Alliance (CFSA), which is a National Science Foundation-funded partnership that includes the College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, and Polk State College. The overarching goal of the partnership is to reduce the diversity gap in STEM fields and increase the number of underrepresented minority students who complete associate degrees at alliance institutions and enroll in bachelor’s degree programs in a STEM major.

Due to COVID-19, SSI could not be held across multiple campuses as it has in years past. However, Polk State College and Valencia College collaborated to host SSI in a virtual setting and designed a weeklong program that was engaging, fun and informative for students. From Monday, July 27 through Friday, July 31, 2020, approximately 20 incoming Valencia College freshmen participated in SSI.

LSAMP also collaborated with the Valencia Engaging for Completion Through Opportunities in Research (VECTOR) program, and 10 additional current Valencia students also participated as part of their engagement in VECTOR.

SSI would not have been possible without the support and engagement of the more than 30 faculty and staff who served as mentors for the students’ projects, facilitated live demonstrations and experiments, designed at-home activities, and participated in workshops and panels.

Through live speaker panels, demonstrations and self-guided experiments, students learned about a variety of topics in STEM and sustainability, including climate change, ecology, marine biology, pollution, chemistry, physics, statistics, bioinformatics, math, biomedical science and more.

STEM professionals and community partners from Walt Disney World, Microsoft, NASA and others led discussions on the connections between systemic racism, sustainability and STEM, and provided career advice for students interested in computer science, software engineering, ecology, plant science and other STEM careers. A virtual resources roundtable helped students learn about internships, the Career Center, scholarships, counseling services and other resources available to them at Valencia. Discussions about the connections between systemic racism, sustainability and STEM, and challenges first-generation college students face were among other critical conversations held.

Students engaged in virtual field trips to see a live demonstration of apiary management hosted by the City of Orlando and to learn more about birds of prey and careers in conservation during a fantastic tour by the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.

STEM Supply kits were delivered to students so that they could complete a dozen hands-on activities from the comfort and safety of their own homes throughout the week. These activities included learning about the effect of oil spills in marine environments, utilizing critical thinking to “walk through a sheet of paper,” competing in a water balloon drop challenge, and creating a working heart pump to observe differences in functionality between a healthy and non-healthy heart. Students shared their at-home experiments through videos they posted on Flipgrid.

Students also worked in groups to create a STEM-based project idea that supports progress in alignment with one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Students focused on solutions linked to food insecurity, biofertilization and climate smart agriculture. These projects were incredibly diverse, ranging from an idea to develop a Minecraft mod to help educate the public about their carbon footprint, to creating solutions to eliminate lead in drinking water. Student projects can be viewed here for those who would like to review and comment on their wonderful ideas.

Through these projects, students learned how STEM can help solve global challenges. Reflecting on the project, one student commented in the SSI post survey, “I have come to realize that STEM was more interconnected than I previously thought. Climate is complex and all four lenses of STEM are needed to solve the issues that come with climate change. After completing this project, I have become more motivated to research our environment and what affects its health.”

Another student spoke of the positive impact of the group project, stating, “The aspects of SSI that I enjoyed the most was the teamwork to develop new sustainable development ideas to help humanity and learning how it’s possible that careers in STEM can come together to help in the creations of these ideas.”

On the last day of SSI, students gave short presentations on their thoughts of the week and what stood out as being helpful and impactful to them. Students spoke positively about the experience and the value of having this opportunity to create new friendships and build a community of peers as they start their academic journey, despite not being able to meet in-person during the week.

One student noted in the post-survey that his or her favorite part of the week was being able to “meet with several other people who had similar or the same interests as me,” and another stated the most impactful component of the week was “all the guest speakers and what careers they had related to STEM … some speakers sparked my interests in pursuing a career in STEM even more.”

Though only a weeklong and hosted in a virtual environment, thanks to the many faculty, staff and community partners who participated in SSI, students gained a fantastic opportunity to better prepare for their start at Valencia as incoming students, learn more about STEM majors and careers, make new friends and, most importantly, feel welcomed as part of the Valencia College community.

For more information about the Central Florida STEM Alliance, the Summer STEM Institute or the LSAMP program at Valencia, please contact me at, or 407-299-5000, extension 4315.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Valencia Recognized for Number of Associate Degrees Awarded to Latinos

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Excelencia in Education has ranked Valencia College fifth among the nation’s colleges in the number of associate degrees awarded to Latino students. Valencia follows Miami Dade College, South Texas College, El Paso Community College and Lone Star College.

To view Excelencia in Education’s analysis, click here.

Monthly Archives: August 2020

Valencia Alumnus Achieves Local Fame as ASL Interpreter

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Alumnus Jonathan Sanchez — who works as an interpreter relations manager for Kissimmee-based ASL Services — has become quite the local celebrity for his role as an ASL interpreter during Orange County Government news conferences. Jonathan earned his Associate in Arts at Valencia College before continuing his education at Gallaudet University.

“Since March 2020, Orange County Government has held nearly 60 COVID-19 news conferences, and at each one of these, the county’s ASL interpreters are there, playing a critical role in making sure the county’s hearing impaired community receives equal access to the latest pandemic communications,” shared Samantha Kate Thompson, Orange County Government’s multi-media coordinator. “We often receive praise on social media for our ASL interpreters, in particular for Jonathan, and there is an apparent desire to know more about them and their profession. They have become ‘celebrities’ of sorts, often getting stopped by strangers in the public.”

In fact, Samantha added, Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings has called this team of translators “unsung heroes.”

Because of the public’s interest in them, the county’s team has created a video spotlight on the interpreters, including Jonathan. Check it out below.

For seven things you didn’t know about sign interpreters, visit the Orange County Government news site.