Congratulations 2020-2021 League Excellence Awards Recipients

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Congratulations to Valencia College’s 12 outstanding 2020-2021 League Excellence Award recipients.

The League Excellence Awards are open to League for Innovation in the Community College alliance member institutions to celebrate outstanding contributions in improving student learning and leadership by community college faculty and staff.

Recipients include:

Kelly Astro, Director, Valencia Promise
Kelly has demonstrated leadership as the director for the Take Stock in Children (TSIC)/Valencia College Horizon Scholars Program (HSP). The previous TSIC program at Valencia had been floundering, and in just a few years, Kelly transitioned it to a Gold Level Status program as determined by the statewide TSIC agency. Kelly achieved this by a relentless focus on student outcomes and achievement. She and her team identify students with academic promise from Title I schools and provide them with a four-year support network, including a mentor for every student and grade-specific programs, with the goal of ensuring that each student completes high school and transitions to college.

To strengthen that very precarious transition point, Kelly designed a New Student Experience Course, a cohort of HSP students attending Valencia, facilitated by her. Kelly has helped hundreds of students navigate this transition, serving as the connection between high school and college. Much of Kelly’s success is based on the partnerships she has built with local businesses and organizations that provide money, time and mentors to ensure the success of the program. Kelly’s team is now serving 495 students, which also equates to recruiting and managing 495 mentorships.

Dawn Chesire, Administrative Assistant
Dawn has demonstrated contribution to innovation and creativity on the East and Winter Park Campuses as well as campuses collegewide through her work developing administrative templates using the Qualtrics tool. Some of her innovative templates include (1) organizing and tracking textbook orders, (2) collecting syllabi and providing a checklist of required items, and (3) collecting and organizing faculty travel.

Dawn has also been instrumental in planning and organizing the fall 2019 and fall 2020 Welcome Back activities for mathematics faculty collegewide. In fall 2019, she organized a luncheon for the collegewide Math Pathways faculty meeting, as well as secured meeting spaces for the groups. In fall 2020, Dawn organized a collegewide mathematics faculty virtual welcome back consisting of a plethora of professional development activities. These sessions were offered via Zoom, and Dawn designed the program, organized presenters and participants and completed paperwork for professional development hours for each session. This was a major undertaking that she initiated and directed.

Jennifer Danilowski, Implementation Coordinator, HHS Grant Suicide Prevention
Jennifer began as the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration implementation coordinator for East Campus in August, 2020. She is managing the $300k Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the grant. In two months, she successfully organized the behavioral assessment teams to support key Gatekeeper suicide presentation trainings across the College. Prior to this position, Jennifer was the Title V grant project manager for 16 months. This grant supported new and innovative pathways to make education more accessible for students, especially the county’s largely Hispanic population. She managed all the activities relating to the $2.6 million Department of Education grant: Strengthening Academic Advising and Transfer.

Additionally, she has been a facilitator for more than 15 Peace and Justice Institute workshops and is the faculty advisor for the LGBTQIA student organization and co-advisor for the East Campus Gay and Straight Alliance Club. Her involvement and leadership assists this group in supporting a safe environment to build relationships with other groups inside Valencia and in the larger community.

Pamm Danley-Piester, Instructional Lab Supervisor
Leading up to and during the pandemic, Pamm was foundational to the success of the busy nursing program. Pamm had a constant presence during this unique time when the world needed more nurses, and she was leading them to success. Nursing faculty often speak highly of the nursing program on the Osceola Campus, and Pamm is also consistently mentioned as an asset. Pam also supports other unique programs on campus by providing her resources and time.

Paula DaSilva, Professor, Education
Paula exemplifies innovation and creativity for improving learning in the West Region. She also exemplifies advancing the scholarship of teaching and learning within her discipline and contributes significantly to achieving remarkable outcomes for a division and campus. Paula launched the virtual summer program in June 2020, during which her students engaged a group of children aged 7 – 10 in four-times weekly, hour-long educational activities for the entire month of June. The activities and topics included science, social science, language arts, humanities, physical education, art and music. Students built solar ovens, practiced yoga with a skilled teacher, learned about the life cycle of a butterfly and designed 3D maps of their neighborhoods.

In addition, Paula spent the summer collaborating with Jane Maguire, professor, education, and East Campus education chair on merging two campus-based education clubs. Paula works tirelessly to engage her students in meaningful and highly impactful experiences and activities. Her efforts are vital to engaging our future educators and ensuring their successful transition into bachelor’s level education programs.

Jerry Hensel, Professor, Computer Programming and Analysis
Jerry is a leader in information technology. Jerry created an internationalization toolkit that allows a specific course he teaches to be counted toward the 15-hour requirement in the Valencia College Global Distinction program. Jerry sees the value in giving all students an internationalization degree and is currently working to implement and design new learning outcomes that will meet the Global Distinction program for information technology students.

Jerry also spearheaded the creation of a new course for information technology students, where students explore a variety of career options, allowing them to better choose their specific field of study in the global information technology world. Students in the course are required to give a training seminar as a way to give back to the local community. In coordination with library staff, Jerry also developed a global resource for information technology students including digital books and resources to help them learn computer technologies. This course, a self-enrolled Canvas shell, is a valuable resource that professors can update to ensure students have the latest learning materials.

Susan Howard, Coordinator, Academic Affairs 
Walking into the East and Winter Park Campuses President’s office, one is met with the warmth and greetings of familiar faces and the histories that join us in those shared experiences. Have a question about Academic Affairs? Ask Susan. And if she doesn’t know the answer, she will find it. For those who know her, it is no surprise that her level of coordination is vast and true, running the gamut from coordinating Learning Day activities to the Campus Plan. She also conducts outreach to faculty and staff through the East and Winter Park Campus Concentrate and connects with our students in powerful and meaningful ways, such as her involvement in the STOP OUT initiatives, Horizon Scholars and Pooky’s Pantry.

When we moved to our virtual environment, Susan brought the East Campus Academic team together for an employee development space to share stories and educational resources and to truly connect when resilience and connection were desperately needed. Susan exemplifies Valencia College’s mission and changes the landscape of the College with her warmth and wisdom.

Rebekah Lane, Professor and Director, School of Arts and Entertainment
In her first year as a full-time employee with Valencia College’s School of Arts and Entertainment, Rebekah was pivotal in our outreach to students, our patrons and our colleagues on a collegewide basis. She helped transition us to a virtual season in response to COVID-19, took on the lion’s share of work related to moving us from a campus/division mindset to a collegewide “School of” mindset, and became a lead educator in our online class and summits for the Art of Tomorrow Scholar’s program.

Rebekah was the primary force behind Spring Arts Week, a weeklong artistic celebration that took place on eight Valencia College campuses, featuring more than 40 unique facilitators and nearly 60 events, and reaching more than 1,800 participants. Rebekah has demonstrated a collaborative spirit, a high degree of creativity, a dedication to scholarship, and a passion for creating environments for students to learn about and enjoy art.

Trymain Rivero, Professor, Mathematics
Trymain has worked hard to ensure that his online courses are as student friendly as possible. When he first starting teaching online in fall 2017, his solution for recreating his face-to-face teaching experience was to create videos that can substitute for his lectures in class. His videos feature him writing on a small dry-erase board in his house. Videos are usually three to five minutes long and cover material in an easy-to-digest manner. To date, he has created 432 videos (totaling 24 hours and 56 minutes). Before the pandemic, he made these videos available to his face-to-face classes as well.

Students commented that the personal touch from the videos made the courses feel more like a discussion than a straight lecture. This made his courses more accessible to online and in-person students. Even before the pandemic, he has used online proctoring services to help students. He recently integrated Honorlock to his online courses for administering high-stakes assessments. The work he has done to make these student-friendly lecture videos is in keeping with Valencia’s commitment to improve quality through access and expanded opportunities.

Amanda Saxman, Professor, Mathematics
Amanda has contributed to innovation and creativity on campuses collegewide through her work co-creating an Open Educational Resource course for one of the highest enrolled front-door courses, MAT 1033 Intermediate Algebra. Her team’s work saves each student more than $100 on course materials. Since the creation of the course, she has worked diligently since March 2020 to update the master course (particularly for online instruction), and each semester trains new faculty in how to set up and use the materials for their classrooms.

In the division, her role as MAT 1033 course chair provides much-needed support to the part-time faculty in the transition to online. Over the summer, Amanda worked with many faculty one-on-one to transition to online learning while also providing departmental support with materials and modules for online instruction. Currently, Amanda is leading discussions and work on authentic assessments. This year, she worked to transition the Tutoring Center fully online, and she improved the onboarding program for new tutors. Additionally, during this academic year, she worked on teams to create and facilitate two professional development courses: Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) and Classroom Management II.

Melonie Sexton, Professor, Psychology, and Coordinator of Undergraduate Research
For the past few years, Melonie has been the organizer for the Undergraduate Research Showcase — a multidisciplinary event that encourages students to conduct and present research in their area of interest. Melonie recruits faculty as judges and conducts a highly organized and impactful event for student researchers, student spectators, faculty and staff. In addition, she has motivated several of her colleagues to join her in a High Impact Practices plan that will engage students across multiple disciplines and sections in embedded undergraduate research projects. The faculty involved, who come from the disciplines of economics, psychology, political science and history, work collaboratively and individually to design and deploy unique research projects within their classes.

Melonie also created a summer workshop series, a learning opportunity offered via Zoom to connect with students and offer learning support as they navigated their education and the new virtual environment at Valencia College. More than 110 students attended the series during the four-week program. The innovative virtual workshops showed the passion Melonie has to the Downtown Campus by being one of the only University of Central Florida/Valencia College partnership programs to take place in the summer 2020 semester.

Alina Siddiqui, Counselor
As a counselor, Alina has been a catalyst in initiating and supporting counseling initiatives on Osceola Campus and collegewide. Alina has been essential in helping the Osceola Campus counseling team create traction in promoting and co-presenting the Five Signs of Emotional Distress training, which seeks to educate faculty, staff and students about the signs to watch for when they are experiencing distress as well as the resources available on and off campus. In fall 2020, when the team decided to move the training to an online Canvas module, Alina actively contributed to the transition, specifically in partnering with the Learning Assessment team and aligning measurable outcomes to the course.

As our nation grappled with conversations about racial equity, Alina partnered with employees across departments and speakers in the community to facilitate Courageous Conversations programming with the counseling team. Additionally, Alina is the co-facilitator of the Catch-up Crew, a social initiative that she started in partnership with the Office of Students with Disabilities on Osceola Campus to provide students on the autism spectrum a space to engage with typically developing students.

Congratulate our 2020-2021 League Excellence Award recipients in the comments below.


  • Lauren R. Thomas said:

    Congratulations to this year's winners! I really enjoyed reading about all the great things you all have accomplished and the ways in which they've helped our students, faculty, and staff! You guys are ROCKSTARS!!! Keep shining!

    PMTue, 12 Jan 2021 18:00:28 +0000Tue, 12 Jan 2021 18:00:28 +0000pm21,6:00 pm

  • Nichole Segarra said:

    Congratulations League Excellence Award winners!!!

    AMWed, 13 Jan 2021 09:04:52 +0000Wed, 13 Jan 2021 09:04:52 +0000am21,9:04 am

  • Adriene Tribble said:

    We are so lucky to have Alina at the Osceola campus! She has done much to highlight the good work and resources of our Counseling team to both students and faculty/employees. Alina's innovative programming helps to reduce the stigma around mental health and provides students with tools to handle stress before it becomes a crisis. Way to go Alina and all of the award recipients!

    AMWed, 13 Jan 2021 09:06:45 +0000Wed, 13 Jan 2021 09:06:45 +0000am21,9:06 am

  • Gwendolyn Noel said:

    Congratulations to all! Great job Alina!

    AMWed, 13 Jan 2021 09:58:44 +0000Wed, 13 Jan 2021 09:58:44 +0000am21,9:58 am

  • Melissa Shank said:

    Congratulations Kelly Astro! Great job to all the recipients!

    AMWed, 13 Jan 2021 10:50:41 +0000Wed, 13 Jan 2021 10:50:41 +0000am21,10:50 am

  • Robert M McCaffrey said:

    SO much good work reflected in this article. Congratulations to all the winners. It's well-deserved recognition.

    PMWed, 13 Jan 2021 17:03:01 +0000Wed, 13 Jan 2021 17:03:01 +0000pm21,5:03 pm

  • Jen Bhagirath said:

    Congratulations everyone!

    AMMon, 15 Feb 2021 09:22:22 +0000Mon, 15 Feb 2021 09:22:22 +0000am21,9:22 am

  • April M. said:

    Congratulations to this amazing group!

    AMMon, 15 Feb 2021 09:33:24 +0000Mon, 15 Feb 2021 09:33:24 +0000am21,9:33 am

  • Nardia Cumberbatch said:

    Congratulations to you all! Well deserved!

    PMMon, 15 Feb 2021 13:12:48 +0000Mon, 15 Feb 2021 13:12:48 +0000pm21,1:12 pm

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