By Stephanie McMillen
Passionately committed to creating learning experiences for students that result in meaningful connections, Catharine “Cathy” Penfold Navarro was the ideal choice to become the project director for Pathways – the new $1.88 million Title III grant project at Valencia’s West Campus.
Joining Valencia in 2009 as the director of student success, Cathy effectively provided leadership for college-wide, student achievement initiatives such as Learning in Community (LinC), Service Learning, Supplemental Learning, and our Student Life Skills courses.
Now, in her new role, Cathy shared that she is excited to use her skills in another important endeavor. “Title III provides us with the funds and additional personnel to pilot new initiatives related to some of the fabulous ideas generated through the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) and other college-wide conversations: embedded advising, a new first-year seminar, integration of college success skills, and a transition orientation,” she said.
The Pathways project is designed to expand and improve advising services related technology tools, as well as faculty and staff resources, to better meet the needs of pre-nursing and business transfer students.
“Cathy has a remarkable gift for developing programs to support students,” said Sonya Joseph, assistant vice president for student affairs and Cathy’s supervisor. “I saw this indirectly when she led the Student Success program but am seeing her talent first-hand in the Title III work. West Campus students will have a significant first-year experience because of her leadership.”
Prior to joining Valencia, Cathy led the development of the Transfer Center at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC), which was funded by a $1.46 million Title III grant.
“During the first two years of the grant, the number of BCTC transfer students increased by 4.4%,” she shared. “Through collaboration with four-year institutions, innovative programming, and a strong emphasis on individual transfer advising, the Transfer Center facilitated the success of more than 1,000 transfer students each year, making it the top transfer school in the state.”
Having held numerous positions in higher education early in her career, Cathy developed a deep desire for cultivating a learning environment built on authentic connections between students and teachers.
She benefits from a background in leadership development, challenge course facilitation, graphic design, and print journalism, combined with a wide range of perspectives extending from her travels abroad. Cathy spent a year at LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania as director of community life, and has travelled extensively in Western and Eastern Europe, as well as Russia, Hong Kong, Jamaica, and other countries.
After all of her experiences, Cathy shared that, “Working at Valencia has allowed me to engage in some of the most focused, innovative, student-centered work of my career. I am continually inspired by faculty and staff who are so deeply engaged in identifying, creating, and implementing new and more effective methods to improve student learning.”
Cathy holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Roberts Wesleyan College in New York and a Master of Education in college student affairs from Azusa Pacific University in California. She earned a Ph.D. in higher education studies from the University of Kentucky, with a dissertation titled, “Education is Like a Magic Carpet: Transfer Perceptions of Urban Latino Community College Students.” Through this interview-based study, she used narrative analysis to share the untold story of Latino community college students and the role education plays in their lives.
Cathy is married to Sal Navarro, who is the manager of courier services at West Campus, and together they have a pre-schooler.
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