By Dani Moritz-Long
When Evelyn Lora-Santos, campus director, advising, started her role at Valencia three years ago, the College was on the cusp of significant change.
Senate Bill 1720, which excused recent Florida high school graduates from mandatory placement testing and developmental education courses, the requirement of students to complete the New Student Experience course and the launch of LifeMap 2.0 were among the challenges keeping Evelyn and her team on their toes.
As the College navigated these changes, the staff underwent extensive training, and Valencia hired 35 program advisors in the first two years of LifeMap 2.0’s implementation.
It would have been easy to become frustrated and weary. Instead, Evelyn found herself revitalized, inspired and eager to tackle the challenges before her because, at the end of the day, they would benefit the students we serve.
“It’s really about looking at the way we engage with our students by being more proactive and strategic, and meeting the needs of the students,” Evelyn said.
Commenting on her ability to lead the changes, Dean of Students Joe Sarrubbo said, “Evelyn is a dedicated, gifted and erudite student affairs scholar who works tirelessly to develop her direct reports into a cohesive, synergistic and productive team. I have always admired her pioneering spirit and her deep allegiance to our diverse students, the institution and the community.”
As Evelyn explained, it also helped that Valencia fosters a collaborative and inclusive environment that makes every hurdle a team effort.
“That’s one of the things that’s so impressive about Valencia,” she noted. “Not only are we collaborative, but we try to engage everyone in the conversation. Being inclusive of everyone’s thoughts is really critical and that’s helped us work through these transitions to support our students.”
She says that the shared vision, mission and values that are infused into both faculty and staff’s work also played a key role in navigating the transitional period.
“It’s interesting because you go to different meetings and, regardless of which group you’re with, there’s this sense of having a unified mission and vision, and shared goals and values, and that makes it so much easier for us when we’re collaborating,” she explained.
In essence, we’re all here for the same reason. We’re here to inspire transformations within our community — a calling of particular importance to Evelyn, who, like many Valencia students, was a first-generation college student herself.
Without parents acquainted with academia and college, the New York native often relied on support from her professors and counselors, who helped guide her education and, ultimately, her life. The kindness of those mentors inspired her passion for education, which led to her earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling, and, in time, Evelyn’s personal and professional mission to transform the lives of others.
Today, Evelyn makes good on that mission as both a Valencia staff member and a mother of two daughters, who have been inspired by their mom to pursue degrees in higher education.
Fondly thinking about her eldest daughter’s journey, Evelyn says her college-bound daughter is so excited for higher education that she’s hosting a sleepover and calling it College Night. As Evelyn has become a resource for all her daughter’s friends, Evelyn even has a spot on the College Night agenda.
And nothing could make her prouder.
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.