By Dani Moritz-Long
A timid high school senior considering becoming the first in his family to attend college. A young woman interested in an Accelerated Skills Training (AST) program — determined to create a better life for herself and her family. No matter their reason for walking through the front doors of the Poinciana Campus, Paz Palacios Rodriguez, student services representative, is often the first face they see.
“I have the great joy and responsibility of being the first person people are greeted by when they walk into the Poinciana Campus or leave,” Paz explained. “I greet everyone that enters and leaves the main lobby.”
Listing the types of people she encounters, Paz said, “I sign in students who need services from our Answer Center, our Continuing Education program, financial aid coordinator, Career Advising team or Office of Students with Disabilities. Future students stop at my desk, and I can give them information about steps to enroll, information about Dual Enrollment and other programs Valencia offers. Community leaders, visitors, faculty and staff all stop at my desk to receive information about the campus, Valencia or guidance to class locations.”
It’s a role Paz — a name that can be translated from Spanish to English as peace — is ideally suited to.
A perfect reflection of her name, Paz is a sincerely friendly face, who can easily make people feel comfortable and feel at home. She’s also deeply committed to Valencia’s values and enjoys finding ways to foster inclusion.
“I am inspired that Valencia offers something for everyone,” she said. “Be it that a person is looking for a degree, a certification, looking to learn English or needing to enter the workforce immediately by completing our AST programs, Valencia has something to offer everyone.”
She’s also an ideal person for the role as she’s able to leverage her skills as a bilingual communicator to make people in the Poinciana community feel welcome whether they speak English or Spanish — which is particularly important in Poinciana, as approximately 20 percent of its residents were born in a country other than the U.S and more than 50 percent of its residents speak a language other than English at home.
“The majority of the people that walk through the doors of the Poinciana Campus speak languages other than English,” Paz said. “I am bilingual, and I get to see the relief of someone who doesn’t speak English when I can quickly change from English greetings to Spanish ones. Valencia has truly impacted the community in a positive way.”
But while greeting people and creating a positive initial experience is an essential part of her role, Paz also supports the Poinciana Campus in a variety of other ways. This includes collecting and analyzing data, supporting outreach efforts to area K-12 schools, scanning and indexing admissions documents and even supporting the campus’ First Alert program, which is an outreach effort designed to connect struggling students to the appropriate resources as soon as possible.
Mary McGowan, director of student services at the Poinciana Campus, says Paz’s can-do attitude makes her a vital part of the Poinciana team.
“Paz’s warmth and cheerful demeanor provide a great welcome to students and visitors at the Poinciana Campus Check-in Station,” Mary said. “Paz has a great rapport with students, staff and faculty. Additionally, Paz provides vital support services to the Answer Center and cheerfully participates in many of the ongoing projects related to helping us understand and better serve our student population.”
That can-do attitude and cheerful demeanor earned Paz a Best Spirit Award from the Poinciana Student Development team during its Thursday, April 11, 2019, Student Leaders Appreciation Day. The award recognizes an individual that truly embodies the definition of Poinciana Pride and brings great spirit to the students and staff of Valencia.
“It was an amazing honor and wonderful evening celebrating our student leaders,” Paz shared.
Outside of Valencia, you’ll find Paz dedicating time to her family — of whom Paz says drives all of her goals. Specifically, she says, you’ll often find her preparing meals based on her mom’s recipes for her entire extended family (24+ people).
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for at least one year? 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.