Tuesday, May 4, 2021
By Claudia Zequeira
If her life were a movie, a particular incident that took place while in college, when she worked as an “electrician’s mate” in England, could have worked as perfect foreshadowing of her career today.
At the time, Deb Hall was a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering degree-seeking student at the University of Central Florida who participated in a summer college student educational exchange program in Leicester, England, where she was tasked with rewiring industrial sewing machine rooms in a clothing factory built in the 1800s.
“Each morning, as I was working up on a ladder, I was greeted with applause by the female factory workers passing by, as they had never seen a female electrician’s mate or electrician,” said Deb, professor, electronic engineering technology within the Associate in Science (A.S.) Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology program, and chair of the A.S. in Energy Management and Controls Technology (EMCT) program, a degree she helped bring to fruition.
Today, Deb, who has been with Valencia since 2001, wears many hats at the College. But one that she’s most proud of is creating and implementing initiatives to increase the number of girls and young women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
At Valencia, she has done so via the Smart Barbie Grand Hotel project, used to showcase how a graduate of Valencia’s EMCT program might help to make a commercial building, like a hotel, energy efficient. The bright pink building is wired to various forms of technical equipment, all with the intention of attracting young women and closing the gender gap in male-dominated professions.
Deb has taken the project across Florida and the United States, including to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) conference in Washington, D.C. She said that before the EMCT program started using the Smart Barbie Grand Hotel at its outreach events, it attracted mostly male middle and high school students. But that has since changed.
“The majority of female students would simply walk past our table,” she explained. “For the first time ever, we are observing groups of female middle school-aged students literally running up to our EMCT A.S. degree table to learn about why Barbie and her friends are hanging out at a STEM outreach event.”
The program itself is a significant accomplishment for Deb, as she helped bring it to Valencia. Because the program was the first of its kind in Florida, it had to be built from scratch, requiring hours of painstaking work with curriculum specialists and state officials before it was approved. Deb is currently the principal investigator (PI) of the NSF ATE grant, which was awarded to the College in 2016 and helped to launch Valencia’s EMCT A.S degree program. As PI, she is responsible and accountable for the proper conduct of the grant including the submission of all required grant reports to the NSF and ensuring that the College’s grant responsibilities are met and that the grant project is successful.
Created to meet industry needs, the program adds value to the College by creating high-wage opportunities for students who complete it. In addition, it strives for sustainability by ensuring buildings are energy efficient. EMCT students also benefit from a state-of-the-art lab and are able to use Valencia’s own facilities as a “living laboratory,” which makes for a very hands-on learning experience.
“We are now a model for other similar programs in the state of Florida,” said Deb proudly.
Her supervisor, Paul Wilder, dean, engineering, computer programming and technology, confirmed Deb is an asset to the College.
“From spearheading the development of the new Energy Management and Controls program and state of the art laboratory facility, to the creation of the outstanding outreach to middle school girls, Dr. Hall is charged-up about making a difference,” said Paul. “Her dedication is unwavering. Students are being positively affected by her creative spirit!”
Deb, for whom sustainability and access are important goals, is also proud to have created the chance for Valencia students to build energy sources for the developing world.
Students previously enrolled in an Introduction to Alternative and Renewable Energy course with Deb spent two months building several solar suitcases for nonprofit groups, including an organization called Action for Children in Conflict in Kenya (ACIC).
In a different semester, Deb had Valencia students teach fourth and fifth graders at Tildenville Elementary School, in Winter Garden, how to build the solar suitcases, which were then shipped to orphanages in Africa.
And she has passed on her love of service to her students, many of whom volunteered for years at Give Kids the World, an 84-acre nonprofit Central Florida resort designed to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening diseases.
Through these projects, Deb and her students have put their engineering skills to work doing everything from hanging Christmas lights to enhancing the animation effects of the stars, which represent each child who has stayed at the village.
“I think that when you can combine learning and technology with community service, you are stepping up the game for our students,” she said. “They are seeing that powerful connection of how technology and engineering can better the world…It also opens up our students’ minds to learn more authentically.”
And yet despite the many administrative and altruistic endeavors she has embarked upon, Deb is, at heart, a motivator.
“When you boil it down, I am a motivational coach,” said Deb of her roles as professor, grant principal investigator and program chair. “I feel like at the end of the day I’m trying to motivate folks to get excited about whatever it is at hand.”
But she added humbly that the motivation is mutual.
“I’m motivated by my students and their passion to better the world,” she explained.
And despite all she has done for Valencia, she feels grateful for what the College has done for her. What does she especially appreciate?
“Having the opportunity to work alongside our amazing students, fellow faculty members, and our lab supervisors and being given the blessing of a fresh start each semester to do it all over again, only even better … in a place that the Central Florida community sees as a new path to change their stars.”
Deb holds a bachelor’s and master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida as well as a doctoral degree in higher education leadership from Nova Southeastern University. Before joining Valencia, she worked as an electrical engineer involved in theme park ride and show control, electric vehicle battery testing and solar power feasibility studies.
In addition, she served as 2018 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Orlando Section executive committee chair for the Central Florida community and is a national visiting committee member of the Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education.
But she’s not all about teaching and managing programs, as she has a multitude of extracurricular interests to enrich her life.
I love biking on the beach with my family of three magical young adult children and a soulmate for a husband, walking through forests and breathing deeply, visiting art museums and history museums, watching old movies on TCM, discovering new vegan restaurants, fencing, painting, playing drums and attending full moon drum circles with my Djembe.”
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.