By Dani Moritz-Long
Growing up with her dad in the Air Force, Mona Liza Colon, compliance inspector, spent most of her youth in Europe hopping from country to country. As she traveled to places like Germany, Holland and Italy, she gained exposure to unique cultures and peoples — both of which ultimately helped define her personality as a people person and lifelong learner.
This multicultural upbringing and passion for diversity also made her a perfect fit for Valencia, which she describes as a community of inclusiveness.
“There are so many people from different backgrounds here,” she explained. “I’ve met other people who came from corrections, law enforcement and hospitals. And when I was in my last profession, everyone came from the same thing — they had a background in military or other law enforcement. Here, I’ve met so many different people, professionally and personally.”
Prior to beginning her role at the College two years ago, Mona Liza worked in Orange County Corrections for nine years. While there, she earned numerous certifications in areas such as fire safety, security inspections and sanitation inspections and her associates degree in fire science.
Throughout her correctional tenure, she continued to gain exposure to diverse groups of people, especially while working as a correctional officer in the booking and release center.
“It taught me a lot about people,” she said. “Already coming from a world of meeting different people was great for me, because I got to see every kind of person in there. I saw things in there that I would have never been able to see outside.”
Like with her experience traveling the world, these experiences helped make her an ideal candidate for Valencia since her role as a compliance inspector brings her to a different campus or building every day and connects her with many different Valencia colleagues.
“I have met so many people,” she said, adding with a laugh that, “In two years, I think I know more people than people who have been here 15 or 20 years.”
In her Valencia role, Mona Liza connects with collegewide partners to help promote the safety of colleagues and students by ensuring campuses and buildings meet county, state and federal regulations. Her work takes her everywhere from the construction site of the new Poinciana Campus to little-known places like the Valencia-owned McCoy Center near the airport.
She explains that she loves the opportunity to be a resource for so many and learn alongside her colleagues as she discovers new ways to keep the College operational, safe and efficient.
One of her fondest memories of collaborating with others at the College stems from the introduction of Loren Bender, who joined the College as vice president of business operations and finance in June 2015. As Mona Liza briefed him on the College’s annual inspection, in which outside inspectors usually find between 100 and 200 deficiencies (which Mona Liza describes as industry standard for a college this size), Loren posed a challenge thought to be unattainable.
Mona Liza chuckled as she recalls the innocent statement that led to a serious mission. “He asked a lot of questions and made a comment that he would like to see zero deficiencies.”
Equipped with a can-do attitude, she took that as a challenge. She connected with custodial, security and other collegewide departments to train her colleagues on the top 10 historical deficiencies and invited maintenance and custodial supervisors with her to the audit in March 2016. This way, they could resolve issues as they came up during the audit to avoid any deficiencies officially going on record.
The result was something not even Loren anticipated. The team did what it thought was impossible. The 2016 audit reported zero deficiencies.
“When I initially challenged Mona Liza and team to eliminate deficiencies in the next audit, I knew it may be an impossible goal,” Loren said. “But, thanks to Mona Liza’s leadership and a collegwide commitment to ensuring our campuses and buildings comply with regulations, Valencia was able to achieve the impossible.”
While that success felt amazing, the best part for Mona Liza was the thrill it gave her colleagues.
“It was so cool because the morale in custodial and maintenance increased. The people who work hard every day to make sure the place is safe, and don’t usually see that what they’re doing is part of the bigger picture, did see that,” she said. “Everyone was high-fiving, and we all celebrated. They were all so proud of what they accomplished.”
And in the spirit of putting people first, nothing could have made Mona Liza prouder.
When she isn’t hustling from campus to campus, you can find her enjoying family time and playing what has become the family’s sport of choice — soccer. Whether playing herself or watching from the sidelines as her 12- and 15-year-old daughters play, she very much enjoys the family affair.
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.