Honors Student Serves Valencia and Holocaust Center Remotely

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Message from Terri Graham, Interim President, West and Downtown Campuses

Honors student Joao De Mendonca Salim has not let the pandemic stop him from giving back to the Valencia community. Joao completed 95 hours of service learning over the summer while working remotely from Brazil.

Joao, an international student studying at Valencia, returned to Brazil at the start of Spring Break for what would have been a brief two-week visit to see his family. With the lockdown on international travel due to COVID-19 enacted shortly after he arrived home, Joao was unable to return to Orlando as scheduled and had to complete his spring courses online from Brazil. In May, a presidential proclamation banned travel from Brazil and Joao’s hopes of returning to Orlando were slashed yet again.

Joao decided to make the most of his situation by maximizing his opportunities for remote experiential learning at the College by enrolling in our service learning course. A portion of his service learning hours were spent working with Robyn Brighton, director, strategic learning, to create and implement an honors ambassador program for the Seneff Honors College. The new program is set to begin in the fall semester. The other portion of his service learning was completed through the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida. Working remotely, Joao assisted the center with creating audio elements and exhibit design for their upcoming exhibition, “Uprooting Prejudice: Conversations for Change.”

Joao chose to work with community partners with whom he felt a personal connection. The Seneff Honors College work allowed him the opportunity to help create a bridge between the current honors student body and prospective honors students both on- and off-campus.

“I see so many students in my non-honors classes who would enjoy the opportunities presented by Honors, and I am glad there will now be advocates among the student body to get them involved,” said Joao.

The work with the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Educational Center of Florida was personally important, as Joao was the recipient of a Valencia Foundation scholarship from The Fanny Landwirth Foundation. The foundation was established in 1982 by Henri Landwirth, founder of Give Kids the World, in memory of his mother, who was killed in the Holocaust.

“I felt incredibly grateful and inspired to have received [this scholarship] and be able to pay it forward through my service learning experience by working together with the Holocaust Center to help create an exhibit for an upcoming project that is meant to reduce prejudice, racism and hate crimes,” said Joao.

The center featured Joao on its Instagram page to highlight his contributions to the project. His mentor, Adrienne Mathews, professor, political science, was equally impressed by his dedication and perseverance to engage in service over the summer, stating, “Joao is the perfect example of what makes Valencia College an amazing place to work and learn.”

Entry into the United States from Brazil remains barred and Joao remains in Brazil, preparing to start yet another semester away from many of his peers in the Honors College. The uncertainty surrounding international students has been unsettling not just for Joao, but many other students in his circle of friends who planned to study in the United States.

“It is hard being an international student; we pay out-of-state tuition, are ineligible for many opportunities because we are foreign, must comply with lots of bureaucracy and limitations. Because of COVID, we were significantly impacted; I had to manage moving out of a lease, paying rent and bills not being in the U.S., having to finding storage and dealing with mass fluctuations in the economy … As us Brazilians like to say it, [we] become able to tie knots in water drops … [International students] work hard and we wish to help improve and create a better Valencia and future to the country that hosts us, even if sometimes not as enthusiastically as we embrace it.”

As a peer advisor at the College, Joao is currently helping Valencia students remotely by co-hosting webinars for registration, hosting virtual advising meetings and calling students to help them register. Joao’s story is just one of many that demonstrate the talents our international students bring to Valencia College.


  • CINDY E TORRES said:


    Thank you for your perseverance and contribution during this very difficult time. you are a true testament to the power of the human spirit and its unlimited love that overcomes all obstacles. I have no doubt that that your hard work will pay off for you.

    Enthusiastically cheering you on!

    AMMon, 17 Aug 2020 09:45:10 +0000Mon, 17 Aug 2020 09:45:10 +0000am20,9:45 am

  • Susan Dunn said:

    Joao is an incredible student. I am amazed at his ingenuity and ability to remain engaged in this project while he remained thousands of miles away. We hope to be able to welcome him back to campus soon, but until then, I am sure that he will be successful from afar!

    Congratulations, Joao, and thank you for contributing to this very important project!

    PMMon, 17 Aug 2020 15:51:42 +0000Mon, 17 Aug 2020 15:51:42 +0000pm20,3:51 pm

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