By Dani Moritz-Long
Puerto Rican native and Chemistry Professor Angelica Vagle was horror-struck as Hurricane Maria ravaged the place she once called home. Unfortunately, as she made contact with friends and family after the storm, her fears worsened. While some of her loved ones had been rescued by the National Guard, others, whose homes began to flood, updated Angelica via text that they were climbing to their roofs and were unable to contact emergency responders who were inundated with distress calls. Fortunately, they had Angelica to help them.
Unwilling to do nothing while her loved ones suffered, Angelica contacted the media — which effectively caught emergency responders’ attention and led to rescues of those in need.
In the midst of her emergency relief efforts, Angelica says she quickly realized how significant the storm had been and how badly her former home needed her.
“I realized this is a lot bigger; I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “I realized this was really a disaster and people were going to need help.”
Deciding that flying to Puerto Rico herself would potentially cause more burden than good, Angelica then turned to relief efforts that she could manage stateside. Partnering with people across the country and an air transport company, she commenced a two-week campaign that resulted in approximately $1,500 in donations. With these donations, she was able to supply five families with essential equipment, like generators, batteries, flashlights and battery-operated fans, that will help keep them cool and safe during the months ahead. For at least one family, this meant the ability to power their entire home.
“There are so many people still in the dark,” Angelica explained, but through donations like these, we can help Puerto Rican residents endure the six months it’s expected to take for the island to fully recover its power grid.”
Now, Angelica is helping facilitate the transfer of vulnerable people, like the elderly, to the United States, where they can access the care they need. She’s also planning to fly to Puerto Rico this summer when she isn’t teaching to assist in the island’s reconstruction. By then, Angelica hopes, the affected communities will be ready to begin rebuilding their homes and cities with the help of volunteers like herself. She has also been encouraging her students to participate in one of Valencia’s many campaigns to raise funds and supplies for those in need.
To learn more about her efforts, watch the video below:
“When we are stricken by natural disasters, which is essentially what has transpired in the last few months, … it’s important that we do whatever we can to help because those are the moments that put us to the test,” she said. “Those are the moments that define our character. We can’t turn our backs.”
As a professor who has been teaching at Valencia on and off since 2000, Angelica’s character can also be defined as someone passionate and caring.
Commenting on her love of working with Valencia and its students, Angelica said, “I love working with students, and I’m absolutely passionate about my discipline. When I can provide them with some of the excitement and fun involved with the discipline, it becomes interesting to them.”
Dean of Science Jennifer Snyder added, “Angelica is a valuable member of the chemistry team. She always provides great perspective and strives to best serve students.” (And, as Agelica’s story illustrates, anyone in need.)
Angelica earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), 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.