East Campus Student Named the 2015 Valencia Alumni Association Mary S. Collier Distinguished GraduateShare
A message from Stacey Johnson, President, East & Winter Park Campuses
East Campus student Rebecca Nash has been named the 2015 Valencia Alumni Association Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate. Rebecca says that Valencia has facilitated her growth as a scholar and as a person by encouraging her to pursue her passions.
Namely, Rebecca has been focused on a capstone research project entitled, “Out of Africa: Between the Rwandan Genocide and Conflict in the Congo,” for the past year that examines the in-depth the social, cultural and political factors that led to genocide and spread into the Congo.
Her experience has also expanded to leading discussions for the Peace and Justice Initiative, and she also served as a moderator for a panel discussion for the Student Research Community Forum.
Said Rebecca, “I grew up in a culturally conflicted home; my mother is an English/Irish Episcopalian, my father a Russian Jew. Throughout my childhood, it seemed as if the Holocaust was a bonding tool for my family, facilitating my desire to know the reasons for evil in the world and how it could be prevented.”
Rebecca taught herself how to research and write in order to fuel her obsession, preferring self-education to institutionalized schooling. “This planted a seed of desire to stop human rights abuses in me, something I have carried to this day,” she said.
As Rebecca was finishing up her junior year of high school, her father became ill. Unable to work due to frequent hospitalization, the family lost the income of the chief breadwinner in the home. While her mother did her best, it was not enough, so Rebecca dropped out of school to work full time to support her family, saving what little she could.
“At the same time, I became a crisis counselor for survivors of human trafficking. These girls became my inspiration for a career as a genocide analyst for the United Nations, specializing in gendercide and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where most of my girls were from. I then began reaching out further within the community, becoming a counselor for Sunserve, an LGBT youth group in South Florida,” Rebecca said.
By the time her father recovered, hospital bills had eaten up her parents’ savings, making college a distant dream financially. However, she completed a GED and received an honors high school diploma. With student loans, Rebecca continued to put herself through school for the last two years without familial assistance, earning a 4.0 GPA, and gaining admission into the Seneff Honors College as an Undergraduate Research Track student.
Rebecca is currently the vice president of scholarship for the Alpha Gamma Omega chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, double-majoring in genocidal studies and cultural anthropology while minoring in international politics. She is also a Peace Ambassador for the Peace and Justice Initiative, assisting in the implementation of nonviolent programming and curricula.
Through Valencia, she has been able to help spearhead projects like Operation Coalition, the largest clothing drive for the homeless that has been done in Valencia’s history. She founded, “A Walk in Their Shoes,” a nonviolent demonstration to raise awareness of the homeless population and the largest community event that a Valencia student organization has ever attempted. Additionally, she has volunteered at the Coalition for the Homeless, Harbor House and Relay for Life since beginning her career at Valencia.
“Rebecca is an outstanding student and person,” said Professor of History Michael Savage. “She adds considerable value to the academic community and that includes members of the teaching faculty. Her commitment and engagement to learning is of the caliber I normally expected of my doctoral students.” Michael predicts that Rebecca will make a significant contribution to the future of academia in the world.
“As she balances her keen intellectual prowess with her refined emotional intelligence, Rebecca promises to have an incredible career ahead of her,” said Diana Ciesko, professor of psychology. “She has proven her ability to overcome obstacles and stay positive in the face of challenges. She inspires others, offers friendship to her peers and serves the campus in multiple capacities with grace and humility.”
Rebecca will graduate with an Associate in Arts degree from Valencia on Saturday, May 9, 2015. As the Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate, she will receive a $1,500 check, serve as the keynote speaker at commencement, have a personalized letter to students in the Student Handbook and be honored at the Achievers Reception. She is provisionally accepted to attend the University of London, Royal Holloway.