Featured Colleague: Jenniffer Fernandez Toribio Draws on Her Own Experiences to Guide Students

Monday, September 21, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

Jenniffer Fernandez Toribio, student services advisor, remembers what it was like to be a newcomer to the United States. Arriving in New York City in 2004 from the Dominican Republic, followed by a move to Florida a year later, she had to learn to fit into a new and environment with lots of unknowns quickly.

“I was a high school sophomore when I moved here, and I didn’t speak any English at all,” Jenniffer shared. “I had to take EAP [English for Academic Purposes] classes at Valencia; I didn’t have a car. I would have to be on campus two hours before class time because that’s when my parents could drop me off.”

That experience, however, serves her well at the Poinciana Campus, where, today, she works as an advisor to students, many of whom are new to the continental United States and are grappling with similar obstacles.

“I love the Poinciana Campus. That is my community,” said Jenniffer, who also lives in Poinciana. “Now I get to help the students who were just like me. And not just students, but families. There are so many families new to the enrollment process; so I get to explain to them how it’s different here.”

Her supervisor, Mary McGowan, director, student services, described Jenniffer as “enthusiastic, hungry and super intelligent; always ready to learn something new. She’s one of those backbone employees — reliable, trustworthy, hard-working, good at everything she does. She exceeds my expectations again and again. She is also a great mentor for Poinciana students — always encouraging them, helping them see their challenges from a different perspective.”

For Jenniffer, working at Valencia is both personal and a point of pride as well. As a student services advisor, she helps students through the steps of enrollment, answering residency, financial aid and orientation questions, among others. Before COVID, she also advised for Valencia’s Study Abroad program, conducted in-person orientations and provided academic advice to students.

“Valencia gives the community the opportunity to accomplish their goals. It opens the doors to higher education, and tells the community that everyone is ‘college material,’” she said. “Just as I received that opportunity, others receive it now, and I get to help them accomplish that.”

Jenniffer mentioned that she was instrumental in front-line efforts to open the Poinciana Campus three years ago, which involved participating in multiple community events as well as high school visits, an accomplishment she’s proud of.

In addition, she feels a great sense of pride in having completed her master’s in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida in 2018, a challenging pursuit as she balanced full-time work and motherhood. She said she was encouraged to do it after seeing so many of her colleagues doing the same and reaping the career benefits.

“I would see people working on their master’s and I never thought I would be that person,” she said. “But it’s is a great accomplishment, and I got inspired to do it just because I worked at Valencia.”

Jenniffer, who started working at the College as an enrollment services advisor in 2015, later held a position as a graduation and records specialist before moving into her current role. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in health services administration and an Associate in Arts from Valencia College.

She said she was drawn to the institution after some of her friends told her about the collegial environment found here as well as the College’s robust benefits. And she’s glad she chose Valencia.

“I just want to say that with all the uncertainties in this world, it is nice to know that I work for an organization that cares so much about its employees,” said Jenniffer, who is currently assisting students virtually while simultaneously helping her three school-aged children succeed in their own online courses.

Specifically, she mentioned how, after COVID hit and all classes moved online, including her children’s, she was able to request emergency family leave and take some time off to organize her life and help her children adjust to a new routine when schools were closed. She also praised her supervisor, Mary, for offering flexibility and allowing her to modify her work schedule when needed.

“I was so concerned and had so many questions,” she said. “But I feel Valencia has done such as great job in helping answer them … Many organizations are closing down and even laying off employees, and here is Valencia still offering a pay increase and working with parents whose kids’ school schedule completely changed.”

In her free time, Jenniffer loves to spend time with her family, particularly exploring new places and the outdoors.

“I am a ‘travel junkie.’ We love to travel and explore different places here in Florida or outside the U.S. I even have an Instagram account dedicated to travel ideas and saving money while doing it.”

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.

3 Comments

  • Heidi Ovalles said:

    Congratulations Jenniffer! Well deserved feature, students are lucky to have you as an advisor and we're lucky to have you as a colleague!

    PMTue, 22 Sep 2020 15:47:00 +0000Tue, 22 Sep 2020 15:47:00 +0000pm20,3:47 pm

  • Mireya Willems said:

    Woohoo!!! Congratulations!!! So proud of you. 🙂

    PMTue, 22 Sep 2020 15:51:48 +0000Tue, 22 Sep 2020 15:51:48 +0000pm20,3:51 pm

  • Lindi Kourtellis said:

    Thank you for supporting study abroad students, Jenniffer!! You are wonderful. 🙂

    PMMon, 28 Sep 2020 17:16:05 +0000Mon, 28 Sep 2020 17:16:05 +0000pm20,5:16 pm

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