By Wendy Jo Moyer
Rita Maldonado started working at Valencia in October 2013 somewhat by accident. When she was a Valencia student, Jorge Valladares, now faculty, New Student Experience, was assisting her in the Answer Center. Jorge asked Rita if she had ever considered a work study and recognized that she may be a good fit for a role in the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). And the rest is history.
“I truly thank him for starting my journey in higher education,” she noted about Jorge. Rita moved into her current position as staff assistant I with the OSD in April 2014.
Rita is very proud of the open and welcoming environment that the OSD provides to students and faculty. “It’s so important to break down barriers that stop students from seeking help and faculty from seeking information,” she shared.
It sounds as if Rita is a big part of creating that open and welcoming environment.
Deborah Larew, director, students with disabilities and Rita’s nominator, said, “Rita is a real joy to have in the OSD. Her genuine smile and concern for students is evident in her welcoming interactions with everyone who walks through our doors.”
Mary Asbury, coordinator, program advisor and Rita’s former supervisor, also praised her for creating that welcoming environment. “This is so important for students with disabilities, who often grow up feeling excluded,” she said. “I know students who come in to OSD just to talk with Rita. Students love her because she’s a great listener but is also no-nonsense. She’s raised twin boys, so she intuitively knows when students exaggerate a situation. Rita pushes all of us to be better. I’m so glad she joined our team and can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.”
Rita certainly has a fan club, as her new supervisor, Lyndsey Durning, coordinator, disability support services, agrees with Deborah and Mary. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about Rita,” Lyndsey affirmed. “I know when I first began my job in the OSD, I felt instantly welcomed and a great sense of comfort, knowing that Rita is a person with a big heart, as well as a person who has a passion for helping our students. She is a wealth of knowledge and an important role model to our staff. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t say, ‘Rita, what would I do without you?'”
Rita’s concerns for people extend worldwide, as for the past two years she has orchestrated and shipped a collection of more than 67 boxes of donations for our service men, women and K-9s serving abroad. “Her desk is decorated with pictures of the happy recipients who write to thank Valencia and the OSD for their participation,” Deborah shared.
Rita has also collaborated with Mary to hold annual holiday OSD open houses and a celebration for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “We did these events together, but I always looked to Rita to lead and organize these celebrations,” Mary commended.
In addition, this past year, Rita participated in a staff development program, led by Linda Herlocker, assistant vice president, admissions and records. “We discussed topics ranging from the college structure, building a professional image, the hiring process and how to take the next steps in our careers,” recounted Rita. “I learned so much from the program.”
Speaking of building a professional image and next steps in careers, working in the OSD is a second career for Rita. After graduating with an associates in hospitality management from her hometown of Toronto, Canada, she launched her career in 1993 in the hospitality industry as a Walt Disney World cultural representative at EPCOT’s World Showcase.
“It was my first time to Florida and to Walt Disney World!” she exclaimed. “It was such a great experience that after my one year was up, I briefly returned home to Toronto and then moved down to Florida permanently in 1995 to work for Disney.”
She worked at Disney for 12 years, in roles at the Canadian Pavilion restaurant, the Wilderness Lodge, Coronado Springs and the Magic Kingdom, eventually finding her calling in training and development supporting food and beverage and merchandise lines of business.
Rita started her new life chapter when she returned to college at Valencia in 2012. “It had been 20 years since I was in college, so it was like starting all over again.”
She completed an Associate in Arts and an Associate in Science in business administration and then transferred to the University of Central Florida for her Bachelor of Arts in business administration, with a minor in political science. She will complete her degree this semester and is looking forward to what is on the horizon.
“We certainly wish the best for her as she looks to continue her career path here at Valencia,” said Deborah.
Rita enjoys that Valencia offers employees many roles to work in within numerous departments that all make an impact on people’s lives. She added, “No matter what your passion is, there is a department here to work in. I hope to continue with Valencia, as my passion is helping students and peers connect with information they need to solve their challenges and be successful.”
She believes that Valencia signifies possibilities to the community. “The possibility of a better future through education for a person and their family, or a promotion from a new skill learned, or certification achieved, or the ability to better communicate by learning a language — I think that enriches a community overall. It gives people options for their future and that is a powerful motivator,” she concluded.
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.