Tuesday, February 9, 2021
By Claudia Zequeira
Jennifer Bhagirath, coordinator, career program advisor, has a giving disposition.
Evidence of her willingness to help others can be found almost everywhere: in her travels to Guyana, where her parents are from, and to where she and her family volunteer in orphanages; and in her frequent donations of food and other essential supplies to local homeless shelters and pet rescue organizations, both locally and abroad.
“My parents were blessed to be able to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves,” explained Jen, coordinator, career program advisor. (CPA). “So, for us, it’s about paying it forward.”
Her giving nature is also found right here at Valencia College, where she contributes daily to the lives of the students she interacts with.
“I guess you can say giving is something that’s been embedded in me,” said Jen, adding that her mother, a teacher, was an inspiration when it came time to choose her current field in higher education. Her parents’ example also played a role.
As a CPA, Jen is tasked with offering expert career and academic planning services to students pursuing A.S. degrees and/or technical certificates in Baking and Pastry Management and Culinary Management, including course/program planning, degree audits/evaluations, transcript reviews, course substitutions, alternate awards of credit via industry credentialing, academic success strategies, alternative options to course requirements through channels such as Experiential Learning, academic warning/probation and return from suspension, financial planning, counseling and Office for Students with Disabilities referrals, internships, graduation, transfer plans/courses, articulation to the BASBOL program and more.
Before COVID, her day-to-day also included performing community outreach to local industry to plan events, helping students locate internships, reviewing students’ resumes and cover letters, assisting students with preparing for interviews and supporting job placement for students at Valencia’s Downtown Campus, interactions she cherishes and looks forward to.
“I’ve realized how much I love working with students over the years,” said Jen. “In this advising role it’s about: ‘Where are you right now? Where do you want go? What are you bringing into me, and what effective support resources can I provide for your individual needs to help you accomplish your goals of earning your degree and desired career?”
“To be an effective advisor, we must be an excellent and knowledgeable resource to start,” Jen shared. “To be a wholistic advisor, we must also understand the weight a student carries in/outside of school and how it can directly impact their academic success. This means, simply being a safe place where a student is granted the time and attentiveness to speak openly to a person they know is in their corner and will offer them any available college resources.”
Jen continued on to say, “Thanks to technological advances and resources such a Zoom, advisors can still have face-to-face engagements/interactions virtually with students as a source of support in our everchanging world.”
Before her current CPA role, she worked in Valencia’s Human Resources department in 2006, the Financial Aid Office in 2010 and as a scholarship coordinator with the Valencia College Foundation in 2014. In between, she worked with Florida Hospital and the University of Central Florida (UCF), but says her heart belongs at Valencia.
“This goes to show how much I love Valencia. We have a long history,” said Jen of her record at the College, from where she graduated with an Associate in Arts degree. Since, she has earned a Bachelor’s in Education and a Master’s in Communications from UCF; degrees she feels have helped her be a more effective resource to the hundreds upon hundreds of Valencia students she advises in her cohorts.
During her time with Valencia, Jen shares that she feels fulfilled every day when working with students. She believes her lifelong dedication and contributions to students, faculty and staff of Valencia have been felt throughout. And it’s from these modest but regular exchanges that she derives her biggest sense of pride.
“I can say in every position that I’ve ever held at Valencia I’ve always been given the opportunity to have an immense impact with the people that I was working to serve,” she said. “Whether it began in HR helping faculty and staff new to the College … or helping students secure that scholarship monies that removed roadblocks and made their education possible, I’ve been able to see how the dedication of my service has changed lives. That, to me, is my biggest accomplishment.”
Her colleagues agree Jen is someone who strives to improve every day in order to better serve her students.
“Jen is a strong advocate for students,” said Rita Maldonado, coordinator, career program advisor. Rita mentioned Jen is even taking a nutrition course so she can better advise her students in our programs (the course is paid for by the College thanks to our Employee Development Funds).
“Completing the coursework will enable her to know the content and provide information to students as they work to complete their degrees,” said Rita. “All of these actions strengthen her as an advisor to best support her students from entry to graduation.”
Her supervisor, Edna Jones Miller, dean of students, Downtown Campus, concurred.
“Jen is a very thoughtful and kindhearted person who cares deeply about our students,” said Edna. “She has such a detailed eye, and she works tirelessly to ensure that the students in her cohort have what they need to be successful. I am so proud of the work that she’s done with the students in her program. We are very fortunate to have her at the Downtown Campus.”
For her part, Jen said she also appreciates Valencia, particularly as a place of work that offers a multitude of professional development opportunities to employees.
“Valencia is a place that supports growth,” she said. “Not only do they provide tuition assistance … but when you earn your degree, you qualify to receive a reward after earning your degree via the Educational Advancement Program available to full-time staff of the College.
Jen added that she also feels very connected to the College’s mission, which she herself benefited from when she was a student here.
“We, as an institution, work to offer resources that are of top quality and in turn provide our resources to support students who choose is to embark on their educational journey ,” she said. “And this high quality shows in the way that the students are able to be successful here.”
In addition, she regularly acknowledges with students Valencia’s efforts to keep tuition affordable, which make the College an asset to the community.
“Valencia has created pathways and accessibility for students,” she said. “We have built our College on open access and we support students; we definitely have removed walls and when the students get here, we give them everything we have in support of their success.”
Valencia, she said, also serves as a beacon of hope for many. By way of example, Jen mentioned the benefits of having the Downtown Campus in close proximity to Parramore, a traditionally underserved community, and the influence that presence she expects the College will have over time.
“The community is becoming more familiar with who we are and what we offer,” she said. “And my hope is that more community members will see we are here to support their goals for obtaining higher education as well.”
She adds, “Directly across from the Downtown Campus is the OCPS Academic Center for Excellence (ACE). We often get to informally meet/greet students of the ACE school on their way in/out of the Dunkin’ Donuts located in the first floor lobby. It is my hope these students become so familiar and comfortable in our college setting that rather than aspire, they confirm Valencia will be a school they attend as well. While on foot to the other surrounding UCF and Valencia Campuses, we get questions from community members and get to engage in conversations that we wouldn’t if we were not in this location. Being in the presence of the community is where I believe our outreach begins.”
In her free time — and when she’s not volunteering somewhere — Jen, a native New Yorker, loves to read, write, travel, and most importantly, spend time with family and friends. She also enjoys traveling, hiking, visiting nature parks, zip lining, kayaking, boating, jet skiing and stand up paddle boarding.
“I find my happiness in nature,” she said.
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 The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.