Featured Colleague: From Intern to NSE Faculty, Jenny Lee Transforms Lives

By Dani Moritz-Long

Ten years ago, Jenny Lee, faculty, New Student Experience (NSE), walked into an interview with the Valencia Foundation ill-prepared and about to endure what she considers the worst interview of her life. It was the summer before her senior year at the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, and she was sure she ruined her chances of getting the internship.

Luckily, Valencia Foundation President and CEO Geraldine Gallagher saw something in Jenny and, by offering her the internship, empowered her to embark on a journey that would change her life and the lives of many others.

Looking back, Jenny says, “I guarantee I wouldn’t be where I am today without that internship.”

Sometimes things just work out the way they’re meant to be.

After serving the Foundation as an intern, Jenny was hired as the Valencia Volunteers coordinator on West Campus. She held the position throughout her master’s program, which focused on interdisciplinary studies, and earned a unique claim to fame — the birth of a peculiar penguin with an uncanny liking for charity and warm weather.

“I always like to tell people that I was the Valencia Volunteers coordinator who picked the mascot of a penguin,” she explained. “His name was Petie (pronounced Pete-E) when I was here, though. After I left, I think he disappeared for a few years, but then eventually came back with a new name [Pooky] and his own pantry. It’s cool walking around on campus and seeing him everywhere. He was the perfect mascot for Valencia Volunteers because of how penguins take care of each other, trading places constantly so no one is left on the outer edges in the cold. Today, he’s so much more than that and, if I’m honest, I don’t think I ever expected him to still be the mascot 10 years later.”

Fast forward time and, after temporarily leaving the College to work for Eastern Florida State College and the Florida Institute of Technology, Jenny is thrilled to be back at the place that kick-started her career — now as a faculty member for NSE.

“I remember when I was an intern, I had asked Keith Houck, former vice president, operations and finance, about how to be credentialed to teach Student Success because, while he was a vice president here, I knew he taught the class from time to time as well,” she said. “Even then, I never expected to be a full-time faculty member.”

Valencia is fortunate that she did, in fact, do just that.

“Jenny Lee is an amazing colleague,” said Carla McKnight, campus director, organizational development and human resources. “She has the best energy and spirit, and it’s a pleasure working with her. She has somehow found a way to engage students at 7 a.m., and the students don’t even leave her classroom right away. You can consistently find students in her office asking questions or just chatting. She truly has made Valencia an even better place for so many students.”

Karen Reilly, campus dean, learning support, added, “Jenny is a dynamic member of our New Student Experience faculty team. She has eagerly participated in a number of initiatives. One of her favorite endeavors is to promote and train other NSE faculty in the use of the StrengthsQuest (SQ) materials utilized in the SLS 1122 course. Jenny has gone above and beyond in doing a deep dive into the SQ content and maximizing its potential within the course. Jenny is also a pleasure to work with. She willingly takes on new and challenging work and demonstrates a carefree attitude in her daily tasks.”

Jenny is beyond thrilled to be back home at Valencia — a place she fondly describes as a staple in the Central Florida community — where she continues to find inspiration all around her.

“I’m continually inspired by all the people I’ve met,” she said. “We have so many campuses and so many different departments, but I feel like I have friends everywhere. It’s really cool to know that you can go to any campus, including the District Office, and pop your head into someone’s office you legitimately call a friend. I just participated in PIVOT 180 and got to meet and get to know better 20 people who were part of my cohort, plus the facilitators and all of the wonderful presenters they brought in. I feel like I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to participate in so many wonderful cross-campus collaborations in the past few years. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing it is to know that I can pick up the phone at any time and call any number of people who would understand how the day is going or totally understand an inside joke. I think it’s what makes working anywhere fun.”

But it’s not only faculty and staff who inspire Jenny. Students also play a significant role in renewing Jenny’s passion for life and learning.

“I literally just wrote on a student’s paper that she is an inspiration, and I’m lucky to have met her,” she said. “She had shared some things about her childhood that would make you want to cry. But you would’ve never known this about her. She is incredibly kind and always smiling. She talked to the class about it one time, said she was tired of being angry and wanted to change. So she did. She wrote about it in her paper, and it’s just amazing what our students go through and are able to accomplish. They are the reason I love my job.”

When she isn’t busy changing lives at Valencia, you can find Jenny enjoying Disney theme parks, shamelessly binge-watching Netflix, enjoying a run (she’s completed nearly 10 half-marathons and one marathon) or — most importantly in her mind — cheering on the Florida Gators. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, you can also find her feverishly studying higher education because — as if she hasn’t already done enough — she’s always looking for new ways to contribute to our collegial community.

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.

8 Comments

  • Wm L Thomas said:

    No surprises here, Valencia is lucky to have Jenny.

    PMTue, 03 Jan 2017 15:17:49 +0000Tue, 03 Jan 2017 15:17:49 +0000pm17,3:17 pm

  • Danielle McKinnon said:

    As a former co-worker at another institution, I was elated to be reunited with Jenny at Valencia this past year. With such a well-written article of a deserving colleague, I am proud that I can also call her a friend. Congratulations!

    PMTue, 03 Jan 2017 19:07:15 +0000Tue, 03 Jan 2017 19:07:15 +0000pm17,7:07 pm

  • Christy Cheney said:

    Congrats Jenny! Go Gators!

    AMWed, 04 Jan 2017 07:28:38 +0000Wed, 04 Jan 2017 07:28:38 +0000am17,7:28 am

  • Mike Bosley said:

    SO glad you are with us! Thanks for all you do to make a difference in the lives of our students.

    AMWed, 04 Jan 2017 08:22:35 +0000Wed, 04 Jan 2017 08:22:35 +0000am17,8:22 am

  • Alex Penn said:

    Congratulations, Jenny! You are an amazing faculty member and college-wide collaborator and I am fortunate to be able to continue to work with you! Thank you for your contributions to the many NSE work teams! As others have said, Valencia is lucky to have you!

    AMWed, 04 Jan 2017 09:20:38 +0000Wed, 04 Jan 2017 09:20:38 +0000am17,9:20 am

  • Marshada Clarke said:

    Congrats Jenny! 🙂

    AMWed, 04 Jan 2017 11:08:10 +0000Wed, 04 Jan 2017 11:08:10 +0000am17,11:08 am

  • Samanta Matadin said:

    I recently met Jenny and can say she is very authentic and a joy to be around! Congratulations on your accomplishment and finding your passion.

    PMWed, 04 Jan 2017 16:48:14 +0000Wed, 04 Jan 2017 16:48:14 +0000pm17,4:48 pm

  • Shara Lee said:

    Thank you for making our name look soooooo good. 😉 You are amazing and wonderful!

    PMMon, 09 Jan 2017 18:38:18 +0000Mon, 09 Jan 2017 18:38:18 +0000pm17,6:38 pm

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