Monthly Archives: October 2021

Featured Colleague: Irene Acevedo-Melendez – From Student Leader to Champion of the College’s Mission

Monday, October 4, 2021

By Jennifer Keefe

You might not recognize Irene Acevedo-Melendez, implementation coordinator, by name, but you will recognize the products of her work. Irene is part of the project management team of the Marketing and Public Affairs department at the College. A self-proclaimed “middle-man and initiator,” she helps to make sure every billboard, bus shelter, and print and digital advertisement for Valencia College ends up in the right place at the right time and looking the way it should. She also helps to identify marketing needs from around the College and then plans the timelines for how those needs will be met from start to finish.

But there’s more to Irene’s story than helping create the plans to recruit students and promote our programs. Irene was once a Valencia student herself. In fact, Irene was the student marketing coordinator for the Financial Learning Ambassadors Program (FLAP). She calls working at Valencia one of her greatest accomplishments.

“When I started working as a student leader, I was very shy, ashamed of my accent and terrified of public speaking. With time, hard work and the support of my colleagues, I am the professional that I am today,” she says.

For the past eight years — which includes her previous roles in advising and international student services — she’s used her own experience as motivation to work behind the scenes to continue the College’s mission of meeting students where they are and helping them to achieve their educational goals.

“I am very proud and honored to have helped countless students and their families from behind the scenes. Over the years, I’ve encountered many students that were struggling with speaking or writing in English and it reminded me of my past self. I hope to be an example that anything is possible with hard work and practice,” she says.

Even though she’s worked on countless projects since starting her role on the Marketing team in 2019, she says she still gets a kick out of seeing the team’s work all around Central Florida.

“It fills me with pride to know how hard our team has worked to develop and support our brand,” she says.

But the College is more than just a brand to Irene, it’s also a family. She notes, “What I like the best about working at Valencia College is how everyone treats each other as a family in my department. We truly look out for each other in every area that we can.”

She’s also really proud of how everyone at the College supported one another through the pandemic.

Irene’s supervisor, Director of Marketing Allie Vatcher, says Irene adds real value to the College’s Marketing team.

“Irene is a kind, compassionate and adventurous person, and she brings all that to the workplace — having a profound impact on our team. She has the ability to see things from the students’ perspective (a lifelong learner herself) and is the first to make a suggestion that would enhance the students’ experience,” Allie shares.

Irene also admires the way the whole College works together to help students.

“I love that we are an institution that gives and believes in second chances,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter your background or how you start but here we motivate others to become the best version of themselves.”

To Irene, Valencia signifies support and new beginnings.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from; you are welcomed here and ‘We Say You Can,’” she exclaims.

When Irene isn’t working to keep the College’s marketing plans on track, she’s seeking out new restaurants to try. She says, “Also, I love going to theme parks, museums, the beach and finding aesthetically pleasing places for inspiration. I also love to support my Kissimmee community by providing food and clothing to those in need through an organization from my church.”

Irene also dabbles in creating social media content for fun and likes to critique different product packaging designs because “presentation is everything!” she says.

Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for at least one year? 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: October 2021

Leadership Forum Participants Engage on Program Enrollments and Completions With Equity in Mind

Monday, October 4, 2021

By Joe Richardson, Vice President, Student Affairs and Leadership Forum Co-chair

Valencia College’s Leadership Forum convened on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.  A team of administrators provided updates on the shared governance model refresh, discussed refining the purpose of Leadership Forum and explored the Career Credentials goal area of the current Strategic Impact Plan.

As Opportunity and Equity are core to the Strategic Impact Plan, participants were asked to reflect on “Unpacking Program Enrollments and Completions With Equity in Mind” and invited to engage in conversation during breakout sessions on how insights from the article could impact how we serve students at Valencia.

Forum participants were also invited to review Valencia’s Career Path Options as shared on the College’s Degree Options webpage to familiarize themselves with the breadth, focus and direction of the choices our students have in learning at Valencia.

We look forward to sharing updates on our shared governance refresh and the refined focus of Leadership Forum, and to zooming in on our Career Credentials goal area during the upcoming Leadership Forum on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, at 1 p.m. via Zoom.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Visit the Traveling Student Art Gallery on Your Campus

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Traveling Art Gallery, sponsored by the Anita S. Wooten Gallery and the School of Arts and Entertainment Arts Ambassadors Club, celebrates Valencia students’ creativity and progress across all campuses by sharing student work in a professional setting throughout the year.

The collection features award winners of the Annual Juried Student Art Show, and the images will be rotated on an annual basis, with new art added to the collection each year.

“These works are especially notable because they were produced under extreme circumstances: online learning during the height of the pandemic. The Traveling Art Gallery is our first opportunity to show these works in the world, rather than online. Our students are showing us more than just their technical skills through their art; they are showing us their creative persistence in extremely challenging times,” shared Carlye Frank, professor, art.

The Traveling Art Gallery consists of a set of framed posters featuring visual art produced by the students. Each poster features one piece of student artwork, the title, the student artist’s name and the class in which the artwork was produced. These framed posters will be displayed on the following campuses:

  • East Campus, Building 4, NSE Hallway
  • Lake Nona Campus, Library, Third Floor
  • Osceola Campus, Building 1, First Floor, Multi-purpose Room
  • Poinciana Campus, Building 1, Hallway 110
  • West Campus, Building 5, First Floor
  • Winter Park Campus, First Floor, Main Entrance Hallway

“I’m excited to see the School of Arts and Entertainment work collaboratively to celebrate our excellent student artists across the college, shared Rebekah Lane, professor and director, School of Arts and Entertainment. “I look forward to watching this project grow.”

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Interrupting Racism Is an Essential Part of Showing Up; An Inclusive Excellence Speaker Series Recap

Monday, October 4, 2021

Late last month, as part of the Inclusive Excellence Speaker Series, Valencia College welcomed Melissa DePino and Michelle Saahene for a virtual conversation about race, racism and inspiring action toward racial justice. The duo started From Privilege to Progress, a national movement to desegregate the conversation about race and racism.

Melissa and Michelle met at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on April 12, 2018. They connected after witnessing two Black men being arrested for not buying coffee, while waiting for a friend.

There were eight officers who showed up for two guys without coffee, Michelle recounted, adding that many others did not purchase coffee in the Starbucks that day. Michelle, concerned about what was taking place, asked a police officer why they were arresting the men, and he referred her to the barista who had called the police. But when Michelle asked that barista why she called, the barista “flushed super fast,” Michelle said, explaining that it was likely at that time that the barista realized her fear and resulting call was due to racism.

“I asked her if her life was in danger. She ignored me,” Michelle exclaimed.

As Michelle packed up her things to leave, Melissa was the only other person in the coffee shop to stand up and say anything.

“Before that day, I had never spoken up like that” Melissa revealed. “I was unaccountable about race and racism. But that day, that Starbucks, it surprised me. It surprised me what I did.”

And not only did Melissa speak up, she recorded a video of the incident that went viral with more than 13 million views and major media coverage.

Unfortunately, Melissa expressed, she realized that the story in the media had become more about her — a middle-aged, white woman who recorded and shared the video — rather than the story of what racism looks like today.

And that’s when Melissa and Michelle — once strangers in that Starbucks — joined together to create From Privilege to Progress, a movement designed to spark dialogue on what racism looks like in modern day, and to encourage Americans to join on the path to antiracism by learning, speaking up in their everyday lives and amplifying the voices of people of color.

Melissa continued the conversation with Valencia employees by referencing Toni Morrison’s quote, “No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were Black. That’s a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything.”

“Most white people don’t have this moment, because we think we’re the default and others are different,” Melissa shared. “When we talk about race, we don’t think it applies to us.”

And that racism deep within often results in many white individuals seeing Black individuals as threats. For example, when she posted the video of the incident, Melissa had white strangers and friends say to her that there must be something more to the story.

“That assumption is a big part of the problem,” Melissa said. “We’ve all been conditioned. We grab our purse, when we see people not like us. We lock our car doors in certain neighborhoods. It happens every single day — everywhere.”

Melissa admitted, “if Michelle shared the video, then they would have said that she was an angry Black woman. I used my privilege to amplify Michelle’s message.”

Additionally, Melissa articulated that there are not nearly enough white people speaking up in white spaces against racism.

“I’m here to ask you to join me,” Melissa requested of the more than 227 attendees in the two sessions.

But, Michelle added, “Know that it’s not any one person’s fault. It’s the system we were born into.”

The two encouraged Valencians to look deep within themselves to identify racism.

“It’s important to make going deep within a normal practice,” Michelle recommended. It’s easier to have empathy and compassion for others if you do this first.”

Whether you’re just starting on the path to antiracism, or you’ve been on the path for a while, interrupting racism is an essential part of showing up, Michelle and Melissa concluded.

Learn more about the From Privilege to Progress movement here, or follow the movement on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Remembering 10 Years of Valencia’s Sustainability Department: Recyclemania

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Message from Carrie Black, Director, Energy Conservation and Sustainability 

As part of the 10-year anniversary celebration of the Office of Sustainability, we’re remembering some of the remarkable actions Valencia College has taken to improve sustainability in operations.

Valencia was the winner of Recyclemania Waste Minimization category from 2012 through 2014 — three years in a row. By reducing our overall waste generation, Valencia produced the least amount of both recyclables and trash on a per person basis when compared to more than 500 colleges and universities competing.

As a winner, Valencia received an award made out of recyclable materials — Mr. Pin Man — including the right to host the category’s special traveling trophy for three years.

Winning the competition consecutively during years of tremendous growth, demonstrates Valencia’s commitment to waste diversion. Since then, we have also moved to standardized side-by-side waste and recycling bins, ensuring that both landfill and recycling bins are close and convenient to high traffic areas.

To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, don’t miss Valencia College’s Sustainability Conference: People + Planet + Prosperity on Tuesday, October 12 through Thursday, October 14, 2021. Click here for details.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Ask Nurse Jessica: Are Freestanding Emergency Rooms Covered by Valencia’s UnitedHealthcare Plans?

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Message from Jessica Johnson, UnitedHealthcare Nurse Liaison 

Welcome to my monthly column, Ask Nurse Jessica. Since joining Valencia College as your full-time UnitedHealthcare (UHC) nurse liaison, I’ve received numerous questions about how I can help you and your family make better healthcare decisions, provide support and clarification on UHC benefits; demonstrate how to navigate UHC tools and resources; refer you to appropriate wellness programs and services; provide support for chronic illnesses. 

This column is designed to answer those questions. If you would like to ask a question, simply email me with “Ask Nurse Jessica” in the subject line. Submissions will be anonymous in The Juice and The Grove and will be addressed monthly as they are received. 

You may have noticed freestanding emergency rooms popping up in many of our Central Florida communities. I’ve been asked, do our Valencia College United Healthcare (UHC) plans cover a visit to a freestanding ER? Yes, the Valencia College UHC plans include the freestanding ERs, as long as they are in-network providers. You can find in-network providers by signing in to, selecting Find Care and Costs, and filtering your search to include emergency room locations.

A freestanding ER provides emergency medical services at a place outside a regular hospital campus. It is not attached to a hospital or even located near one, but it can treat any of the conditions a hospital-based ER can. Both freestanding and hospital ERs are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The staff at both will include emergency medicine doctors, emergency nurses, laboratory technicians and radiology technicians. They can both handle potentially life-threatening conditions, including bleeding, fractures, respiratory problems, heart attack and stroke.

Freestanding ERs are owned either by a hospital or a private organization/company. Although a hospital-owned ER is not physically attached to the hospital that owns it, the hospital operates and staffs the freestanding ER. In contrast, an independently owned (private) ER is not part of a hospital or health system. The doctors, nurses and other personnel are private employees.

Keep in mind, a freestanding ER is not the same as an urgent care center. A freestanding ER can treat any of the conditions a hospital-based ER could. An urgent care can only treat minor injuries and illnesses.

Here are frequently asked questions and answers about freestanding ERs:

What is the cost? Is it the same as a regular ER visit?
Your cost is dependent on your specific UHC plan, but yes, it is the same cost as if you were to visit an emergency department located in a hospital setting. Again, you can sign in to to find out your copay or cost for emergency care.

What happens if you’re admitted at a freestanding ER, if its affiliated hospital is not nearby?
At a freestanding ER, an ambulance will need to transport you to the hospital if you need to be admitted as an inpatient to the hospital. These facilities usually have agreements with local hospitals to transfer patients who need inpatient care. These transfers can happen very quickly, even for emergencies like a stroke or heart attack.

When they first started, freestanding ERs filled a need for emergency services in rural areas. Today, they are popping up in suburban areas and neighborhoods. There are actually freestanding emergency rooms located near shopping centers, which makes it much easier to visit for a lot of people. Plus, they are also able to provide speedier care, since they have no long lines unlike traditional hospital emergency rooms.

What are the advantages of a freestanding ER vs. a traditional hospital emergency room?
Shorter waiting times are commonly found at a freestanding ER. Traditional emergency rooms have earned themselves a bad reputation for making patients wait in line for too long. In freestanding emergency rooms, the staff are always on hand to serve the patients streaming in, and the wait times are generally shorter.

The other advantage of freestanding emergency rooms is that they are often located closer to neighborhoods and are therefore accessible to most people. In the past few years, the only real option one had in case of an emergency was the hospital’s emergency department, and a lot of hospitals were a fair distance out. This meant that a lot of medical emergencies ended up unreported. Thanks to freestanding emergency rooms coming closer to the people, reporting medical emergencies has become easier than ever. People can access the medical care services whenever they need them, and this has consequently improved the health standards in the country.

The beauty of a freestanding emergency room is that you won’t have to worry about finding it closed at night or during national holidays, like you would an urgent care center or your primary care provider. These emergency rooms are staffed and equipped to operate for 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year long.

Freestanding emergency rooms, are staffed by board-certified physicians and registered nurses. At all times, you are guaranteed of seeing a physician and getting high-quality medical care. These emergency rooms are also properly equipped and have the necessary medical facilities and equipment to handle every possible medical condition.

And so, when comparing a freestanding emergency room and hospital emergency room, you can be assured that they are relatively similar, as they are able to provide the same benefits to patients – from doctors, to the facilities, to the technology, and to the quality of care.

In summary, for serious or potentially life-threatening injuries or illnesses, an ER is the safest choice for medical care. When deciding whether to go to the hospital’s ER or a freestanding ER, it really comes down to distance. The purpose of a freestanding ER is to provide potentially life-saving care closer to home. When hospitals are not nearby, this can mean faster care for you and your loved ones when minutes matter.

For a comparison of when to visit your primary care provider, urgent care, the emergency room or use a virtual visit, click here.

If you have any questions, contact me at or 407- 866-8134.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Valencia’s Dependent Verification Review Guidelines for 2022 Medical, Dental and Vision Plans

Monday, October 4, 2021

In January 2022, Valencia College will conduct a verification of new dependents and re-verification of select dependents enrolled in the medical, dental and vision plans for 2022. The review will be conducted to ensure that only eligible dependents are enrolled in appropriate plans.

As a political subdivision of the state of Florida, it’s crucial that we are in compliance with our insurance plan documents, and one way to ensure this is to confirm that all covered dependents are truly eligible to participate in our plans.

Reverification of spouses, domestic partners and some child relationships

Any active employees with these dependent relationships will be required to participate in the eligibility verification review again if they are enrolled in Valencia benefits for 2022 and were previously verified before Thursday, July 1, 2021. Dependents from these relationships will be re-verified as they have the possibility of changing due to divorce, change of status or other reasons. The following dependent types will undergo re-verification:

  • Spouse
  • Domestic Partner
  • Adult Child (age 26-30)
  • Stepchild
  • Child of Domestic Partner
  • Disabled Child
  • Foster Child
  • Legal Guardianship of Child
  • Child Under Qualified Medical Child Support Order (QMCSO) or Other Court or Administrative Order
  • Grandchild

Verification of newly enrolled dependents

All newly enrolled dependents added to the medical, dental and vision plans for 2022 will go through an initial dependent eligibility verification review.

If you do not respond or send the required documents, any of your dependents who are not verified or re-verified will be terminated from any benefit that they are enrolled in and not eligible for coverage. The termination will be retroactive back to Friday, December 31, 2021.

Consova, a third-party firm, will administer the verification review. In January 2022, those employees affected will receive a mailing from Consova via the U.S. Postal Service. Delivery date to your home address is dependent upon your local mail carrier.

This mailing will include letters from Valencia and Consova, frequently asked questions, the list of verification document(s) requested for each dependent type and instructions on how to submit the documents. Depending on the type of dependent, you may need to provide more than one document to verify the dependent is eligible.

Documentation will be submitted directly to Consova and will only be used for the purpose of conducting the verification. Employees are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which regulates the use and disclosure of Protected Health Information.

For questions, contact the Total Rewards team at, or call the HR4U helpline at 407-582-4748.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

October Is Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Message from Patrick Criss, Director, Information Security Operations

Held every October, Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a collaborative effort between government and industry to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. We are using new technologies and spending more time online. Our growing dependence on technology, coupled with the increasing threat of cyberattacks, demands greater security in our online world. From mobile devices and computers to Alexa, we are almost always connected.

Here is a link that provides 20 ways to avoid cybercrime, no matter where you are.

Additional resources are available via the Office of Information Technology (OIT) Knowledge Base to help you understand cybersecurity risks and how to protect your information and data at work and at home. You may also take advantage of the following courses in the Valencia EDGE.

If you have any questions, please contact the OIT Service Desk at or by phone at 407-582-5555.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

College Update: Missing Student Miya Marcano Has Been Found

Saturday, October 2, 2021

A Special Message From Kathleen Plinske, Valencia College President

I am deeply saddened to share that Valencia College student Miya Marcano‘s death was confirmed today by local law enforcement officials. We offer our deepest condolences to her family.

The entire Valencia College community is grieving the loss of one of our own. Miya’s English Professor Nick DeArmas shared that “Miya was a dedicated, capable student who had an unstoppable drive, and held her family above all things.”

If you have been impacted by this loss, we encourage you to use our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for support during this difficult time. Students who may have been impacted can reach out to Valencia’s free counseling services through Baycare Student Assistance. The contact information for these resources is listed below.

Optum Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Valencia College’s Optum Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free, confidential, short-term counseling to both full- and part-time employees to help you cope with these types of life events.

Phone Numbers: (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)
Full-time: 866-248-4094
Part-time: 866-342-6892

Online: and use the access code.
Access Code: Valencia

BayCare Student Assistance Services
Students who are enrolled in credit classes at Valencia can receive counseling services by contacting BayCare directly, or by visiting a counselor in the Student Services Department on any campus. BayCare information is also printed on the back of all student Valencia ID cards.

Confidential Helpline: 1-800-878-5470
Online portal:

If you have any questions about the resources available to you, contact the Organizational Development and Human Resources team at or call 407-582-HR4U (4748).

Thank you to each of you who shared messages about the search for Miya through your social media networks, assisted with the search in any way, or provided information to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

May we continue to draw strength from each other and our collective Valencia community during this time.

Monthly Archives: October 2021

Pooky’s Pantry Is Fully Stocked Thanks to Donations

Friday, October 1, 2021

A Message from Melissa Pedone and Stanton Reed, Interim Presidents, Osceola, Lake Nona and Poinciana Campuses

In late August, Valencia’s collegewide Student Development team initiated the “Restock to Reopen Challenge” to assist in restocking Pooky’s Pantry that had been empty for the past year and a half. After a month of collecting, Pooky’s Pantry is now fully restocked with a large number of canned, boxed, packaged goods and hygiene products. Thank you to all who donated and helped reach the goal!

We are still accepting donations, however, the pantry is just about full at the moment.

Faculty and staff are encouraged to promote this free and essential service to Valencia students. Students can visit the Student Development office, Osceola Campus, building 2, room 150.

For questions, email Trinity Tresner, student development, program specialist, at