This past fall, in preparation for the opening of Valencia’s new Downtown Campus in partnership with the University of Central Florida (UCF), general education faculty from across the College were invited to help expand access, cultivate innovation and create impact by applying for a faculty transfer to work at the Downtown Campus.
Six faculty members were selected from that process to teach Downtown, and they’ve already been busy learning more about the campus and making connections with the community.
Meet this first cohort of passionate professors who will teach general education in the disciplines of English, humanities, mathematics and the New Student Experience, and find out why they are so excited about going Downtown.
An English professor on West Campus, Rudy Darden’s approach to teaching and learning is to not only teach the mechanics of grammar and composition, but to help students discover their voice and grasp the value of living an examined life. Though he readily admits that it’s a tall order, it is work he feels he is called to do. Rudy’s connection to the Downtown Campus began in 2015 with his work on the steering committee for the campus. “Foundationally, what the campus stands for,” he shares, “excites me.”
Rudy is seeking to deepen his connection with the Parramore community in a tangible way and views the opportunity to teach at the campus, as a way to be present in the community with many of the students who Valencia serves, and to help those students to know that college is for them.
“There’s no greater joy than doing work that’s tied to my beliefs, and it’s great to be given the platform to do the things that matter to me in my in my job, in my community and in my church. Life doesn’t present us at the starting line at the same place. People of color and women very often start behind. Valencia speaks to that kind of disparity and says that no matter where you are, we can level the playing field in education. People are really carrying that charge, and I believe that mine is to model it.”
Currently the Campus Dean of Academic Affairs on West Campus, Nick Bekas began his career at Valencia in 1998 as a tenured faculty member in English. In 2001, he became the collegewide coordinator for college preparatory reading and writing. Through the years, Nick has grown and served in several capacities and roles at Valencia, including launching and serving as the director of the Educator Preparation Institute in 2006, before transitioning to lead Valencia’s Developmental Education Initiative in 2009 – the role he held prior to becoming campus dean in 2011.
This year, Nick will transition once again and return to the classroom and looks forward to the Downtown Campus. “Being on a large campus [on West], yet still feeling the family atmosphere is appealing to me,” shares Nick. He’s excited about the “chance to cultivate that same feeling of family with a small group of faculty on a smaller campus.”
Going Downtown, he’s most excited about the “opportunity to be a part of Valencia’s work in the community, in addition to teaching.”
Roberta Carew (Mathematics)
A proud product of an HBCU (Historically Black College and University), Roberta Carew, professor, mathematics, on West Campus, credits her college experience for saving her life. “As a first-generation college student and single parent,” Roberta shared that “the faculty and staff at Florida A&M University [offered her] support, patience, understanding and guidance that inspired and motivated [her],” and transferring to Valencia’s Downtown Campus, she says, will give her the opportunity “to be that person for someone else.”
Roberta started at Valencia in 2005 as an adjunct professor teaching algebra and eventually became a full-time professor who has taught both developmental and college credit mathematics. Prior to her current position on West Campus, she also served as the assistant director of learning assessment at Valencia and as a math faculty member on the East Campus.
Being on West Campus, Roberta shares that she currently teaches many of the students who would likely be enrolled at the Downtown Campus. “Teaching at Valencia, and especially on the West Campus, has been such a rewarding experience. Moving Downtown will give me an opportunity to reach out to these students in an even greater way. We will be right there in their neighborhood and can work with them more organically.”
Ryan Sandefur, professor of mathematics on the West Campus, was drawn to the Downtown Campus by “the opportunity to serve the diverse needs of the downtown community, while collaborating with fellow Valencia colleagues and University faculty.”
Hailing from Kentucky, Ryan has a long history as an educator, serving as a math teacher at both Russellville and Greenwood high schools before moving into post-secondary education as a math professor at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College for 10 years. There, he also served in an administrative capacity as the assistant to the dean in the Division of Math and Science prior to coming to Valencia in 2016 in his current role.
“The state-of-the-art facilities and focus on technology and innovation in the classroom,” Ryan shared is a key part of what enticed him to want to go Downtown, knowing that it “would work well with my teaching style and strengths.” He feels “excited and honored to part of the unique campus ecosystem that will exist at the Downtown Campus and looks forward to continue working with such an amazing team of faculty and staff who will help make the transition a smooth and enjoyable process.”
Mia Pierre-Wall (New Student Experience)
Mia Pierre-Wall, currently a New Student Experience faculty member and part-time faculty for the Communications Department on the Osceola Campus, joined Valencia College in 2006.
As a part of her work at Valencia, Mia coordinates college tours for students to have the opportunity to visit various colleges throughout Florida. This experience for students motivates them to find their pathway on their educational journey. Along with her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Costume Design and Master of Arts in Teaching Communications and Aesthetic Education from Webster University, Mia also completed her dissertation at Nova Southeastern University in Higher Educational Leadership.
Mia shares that “the experience to be a part of the growing and developing downtown community” is why she chose to teach downtown and is excited about the “opportunity to contribute to a diverse community of learners.”
Vishma Kunu (Humanities)
Beginning at Valencia in 2006 on the Osceola Campus as an adjunct professor, Vishma moved to West Campus in 2014 as a full-time faculty member where she’s currently a professor of humanities.
Vishma has extensive experience in teaching humanities, religion and courses in Asian studies. With her breadth of cultural knowledge, Vishma is especially looking for ways to connect to the arts community in downtown Orlando. “As a Humanities faculty member,” she shares, “I am looking forward to taking advantage of the numerous cultural events the downtown arena offers for the benefit of our students.” In addition, “the potential to collaborate with colleagues at Valencia and UCF to create new learning experiences is exciting.”
For Vishma, going Downtown “is a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of a major urban, academic center in Orlando.” And she is up to the challenge. “Growing up in New York City,” says Vishma, “taught me the value of learning in a stimulating environment where diversity is the norm, and I feel I will flourish there.”
Are you interested in teaching at Valencia College Downtown? Four full-time faculty positions in biology, chemistry, psychology and speech are currently available. Positions will remain open through Wednesday, February 21, 2018.
To keep up with the latest developments, follow the Valencia College Downtown Campus Facebook and track the progress using the hashtag #ValenciaDowntown.