Tuesday, May 12, 2020
By Claudia Zequeira
Lauren Thomas, professor, mathematics, is a go-getter. And her resume proves it.
Since starting her career at Valencia College as a full-time faculty member in 2016, Lauren was named a recipient of the Faculty Association Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Counseling and Librarianship — which recognizes faculty for their innovation and commitment to students.
“I am humbled and truly appreciative that my colleagues saw value in my efforts to create student-centered work at the College,” she said of the award. “It’s one thing to take pride in your own work; it’s another to have your colleagues recognize you for it.”
Lauren has served as vice president of the Osceola Campus Faculty Assembly and is gearing up to be its president in the 2020-2021 academic year. Through participation in the Faculty Assembly, as well as the Faculty Association, she says she has learned about “selfless leadership … met many amazing individuals across the College, learned to appreciate the true value of collaboration and take pride in becoming a co-owner of the great work happening on our campuses.”
She also serves as faculty member for Camino a UCF — a program that seeks to increase the college-going rate of underrepresented students by creating class cohorts and specific extracurricular activities — and as a faculty participant in National Science Foundation Grant program in collaboration with University of Virginia. The grant is being used to research effective motivation strategies in front-door mathematics courses such as MAT1033C, STA1001C and MGF1106.
And she’s preparing to participate in the Emergency Coverage of Instruction, a team of faculty members designing ways to provide guidance for circumstances that require reassigning a course from a primary faculty member to a substitute for the remainder of the academic term. The need for this plan stemmed out of the work being done to plan during the coronavirus pandemic.
These opportunities to serve and the ability to see “the very best in people and notice the qualities that others may overlook,” are a big reason why she enjoys working here.
“I love that Valencia is a place of opportunity for everyone who shares a connection to our institution,” she said. “From my own personal experience, when I came to Valencia, I was 25 years old, fresh out of graduate school, never having taught full time before. In spite of my youth, naivety and depth of experience, my leadership saw fit to give me an opportunity to teach.”
Valencia’s faculty development opportunities were a huge draw for Lauren as she chose to apply for a position and grow at the College. In her short years here, she has taken almost 200 hours of professional development including PIVOT 360, all of which have contributed to her growth as an educator.
Her supervisor, Nichole Segarra, dean, math, agrees Lauren is an asset to the College.
“It is without a doubt that Professor Thomas cares deeply about the success of her students, the goals of the Osceola Mathematics division, and the mission of Valencia College,” she said. “She is driven, curious and a lot of fun. I look forward to supporting her throughout her pursuit of leadership and lifelong learning.”
Lauren is inspired by what she says is the College’s willingness to try almost anything as it strives to better serve students.
“We aren’t afraid to innovate, but more importantly, we are not ashamed to admit when we missed the mark,” she said. “Because we are willing to do the impossible, it is clear our students are motivated to follow our lead. The work I have seen produced by our students continually takes my breath away. I have no doubt they are the next government, health, business and educational leaders.”
Valencia, she said, also represents a kind of positive duality: continuous change that is also marked by stability.
“We hear it over and over again; how our alumni come back and work here and how Valencia has created the pathway to success for several generations and families lineages,” said Lauren. “The Central Florida community knows that when innovation and creativity need to occur, Valencia College is the place to come. Our love and passion for knowledge and excellence has not changed since the inception of the College. We are the movers and the shakers, and when our community needs us, they don’t have to come looking because we are already in their communities making a difference and willing to listen to their voices.”
Lauren holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and a master’s degree in educational leadership with a focus in higher education, from the University of Central Florida (UCF). She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction, also at UCF.
But despite having accomplished so much, Lauren reminds herself, and her students, that not all things in life can be completely calculated.
By way of anecdote, she mentioned how she started out as broadcast journalism major in college wanting to be “the next Oprah Winfrey,” only to spend a summer tutoring math before her sophomore year and falling in love with both mathematics and teaching and changing majors.
“I often tell my students that it’s okay to not have your life completely planned out,” she said. “
In her free time, Lauren loves to do Zumba, spend time with family and friends, and drive in the car to explore Orlando.
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.