By Dani Moritz-Long
“I am happiest when the people around me are happy.”
This simple, but genuine statement perfectly illustrates the persona of Coordinator of Academic Affairs Susan Howard. A nurturer by nature, Susan has tirelessly devoted her career and education to empowering others, always finding opportunities to build connections and lift up the people around her.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Susan realized her childhood dream of teaching as an educator in Winter Park. Meanwhile, she earned her master’s degree in educational media before accepting a training role with Sonitrol Corporation, a nationwide security systems corporation. For 17 years, she embraced her role training colleagues across the country and internationally. Fondly reminiscing about those travels, which opened her eyes to diverse cultures and ways of life, Susan says some of her favorite training locations included Arizona; Hawaii; London, England; and Leon, France (where she experienced a peculiar pizza topped with raw egg and craw fish that she’ll never forget).
But, traveling the world becomes less appealing when you’re raising young children. So, Susan traded her frequent flyer miles to return to teaching for the next 15 years.
Primarily a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, she focused on teaching English and writing, and reveled in the opportunity to empower children with disabilities to learn along-side their peers. Inspired by Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger’s novel about his life-saving landing on the Hudson River, her most important lesson was that of integrity.
“My speech at the graduation each year was always do the right thing when no one is looking,” she said.
This mantra also, of course, features prominently in Susan’s own values and is evident in her everyday commitment to serve others.
Toward the end of her teaching career, Susan found herself searching for a new challenge. She just wasn’t entirely sure how that challenge might manifest, and she certainly didn’t expect it to come to her as she hobbled off a plane from a Bahamian vacation with an injured knee. Fate can be peculiar, however, and that’s exactly how she discovered her next career.
Upon her return to the states, Susan attended a Valencia parent orientation where she met her future supervisor, Campus Dean of Academic Affairs Michelle Foster.
“I sat there and listened to Michelle explain all the services Valencia provides and I was wowed,” Susan recalled. “I went home and I couldn’t sleep that night thinking Valencia is the place for me.”
The next day, Susan emailed Michelle, complimenting her on her presentation and asking about job openings. One thing led to another and Susan accepted a role under Michelle’s leadership as the coordinator of academic affairs.
“It was absolutely meant to be,” she said. “This is the place for me.”
In her Valencia role, Susan says, she’s found the perfect opportunity to combine her quest for a challenge and her love of helping others. And while others may find the infamous “other duties as assigned” bullet in our job descriptions less than desirable, Susan embraces her jack-of-all-trades status. From planning events to taking photos to writing for the East and Winter Park Campus Concentrate, Susan says she wakes up each day invigorated, ready and proud to serve.
“Susan is one of the most positive, supportive and helpful individuals that I have had the pleasure to work with,” Michelle said. “As the East Campus academic affairs coordinator, Susan works in support of campus and college initiatives and always has a can do attitude. She takes her work very seriously and is an exemplary member of our team. Susan is a Valencia East Campus ambassador extraordinaire!”
In her free time, you can find Susan lost in literature (especially mystery novels), gardening, visiting New Smyrna Beach or traveling.
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.