Featured Colleague: Noraida Velez Uses Her Own Story to Inspire Students

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

By Jennifer Keefe

Many of our students fall in love with the Valencia experience and decide they later want to work at the College.

Noraida Velez did that, but she also hit the jackpot and fell in love at the College, too.

She explains, “My husband and I are Valencia sweethearts.”

“We met at Valencia in 2010, and the rest is history. If I hadn’t chosen Valencia, I wouldn’t have met my soulmate,” she adds.

Noraida joined the Financial Aid office at the Osceola Campus in 2012 as a part-time financial aid specialist and moved into a full-time role in 2015.

While she was a student earning her associate degree, Noraida also served as a financial learning ambassador and was a member of Valencia Volunteers.

She then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology and education from the University of Central Florida.

Today, Noraida is co-advisor for the Osceola Region Financial Learning Ambassador Program (FLAPP), where she has mentored dozens of students in the program.

She explains, “We promote financial awareness amongst the student body through peer-to-peer learning.”

Topics covered by FLAPP include financial aid, loan awareness, scholarship resources, budgeting and saving.

“Although I have worked in financial aid and with FLAPP for a decade, it never gets old, and I still get so excited in seeing students succeed,” Noraida explains.

Something you might not know about Noraida is that she was a first-generation college student.

It’s a part of her history that helps motivate her in her work today.

“I’m proud to have overcome many adversities as the first student in my household to complete her college education and continue on that journey by giving back and helping others reach their education goals as well,” she explains.

Like money in the bank, Noraida considers her work at the College essential to student success.

“Financial aid is essential because without financial aid, it would be challenging for most of our students to pay for college,” she explains.

Noraida’s supervisor, Assistant Director of Financial Aid Services Ilia Cordero agrees that she is a valuable asset to the campus and the collegewide financial aid team.

“I am very proud to have Noraida as part of my team,” Ilia explains. “Her dedication to financial aid and financial literacy has changed student lives these past 10 years.”

Noraida really appreciates the role she plays in our students’ journey through college from their first federal financial aid application (FAFSA) all the way to graduation.

She’s also inspired by what she calls the “yes you can” philosophy of the College.

“I love the fact that Valencia gives all students the opportunity to get a great college education and a new beginning in launching their endeavors,” she explains.

That’s exactly what the College did for her.

In her free time, Noraida likes spending time with her family, which includes her dogs. She also likes riding her bike, going to the beach, practicing self-care and creating new things.

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.


Osceola Prosper Announcement Results in Happy Students and Media Coverage

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Last week, on Monday, March 21, 2022, Osceola County Commissioners announced that they will provide free college or technical training to the Osceola County Class of 2022 high school graduates through a new program called Osceola Prosper.

At pep rallies held at Osceola high schools bright and early that Monday morning, graduating seniors learned that they have the opportunity to earn a degree, certificate or industry certification at Valencia College or Osceola Technical College (oTECH) at no out-of-pocket cost. Take a look at some of the photos from those pep rallies.

Liberty High School pep rally

Poinciana High School pep rally

Additionally, the news was announced during a press conference at the Osceola County Courthouse.

Osceola Prosper press conference

A dedicated team in the call centers and across the College is currently following up with students to assist them with enrollment for summer and fall 2022. Our Outreach and Recruitment team will be offering application workshops throughout the Osceola County School district. On-campus Prosper Experiences are also being developed to welcome parents and students to our Valencia campuses.

If you are interested in volunteering for the upcoming events, please email Nelson Sepulveda,  director, student development, at nsepulved@valenciacollege.edu

The announcement was covered on the following news outlets:

A special thank you to all who helped make this such a special announcement, including our Courier Services and Security teams who delivered t-shirts to 14 Osceola County High Schools between 6 and 6:30 a.m. on the day of the announcement.

Provide Feedback on the Student Experience Statement

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Thank you to all who participated with CampusWorks in the Student Experience Visioning sessions held in February. The participation among students, faculty, staff and the entire Student Affairs team led to robust conversations, rich feedback and the creation of a vision statement for what we want our students to experience at Valencia.

CampusWorks is collecting feedback on the draft statement and will use the responses to help refine the statement. We invite you to share your feedback via the survey below by Friday, April 8, 2022.
After your feedback is collected, CampusWorks will share a revised statement with Student Affairs leadership and with College President Kathleen Plinske for final approval. The statement will be used to guide the work of the Student Affairs business process redesign.

While your feedback on the draft statement is being collected, the business process redesign is moving forward. CampusWorks is currently undertaking a thorough review of the process maps, standard operating procedures and feedback collected from our Student Affairs colleagues about their work.

On Monday, April 4 and Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the CampusWorks team will be on-site for a “big table” meeting with the Student Affairs leadership team and other members of the Senior Team to share its findings from the review of our existing documentation, make initial recommendations and identify areas where additional inquiry is needed. After the “big table,” we will schedule Process Reimagine and Redesign (PRR) sessions in focused areas. We are on track to have final recommendations from CampusWorks in July but will begin sharing and prioritizing its initial recommendations after the April meeting.

If you have any questions about the business process review, please connect with a member of the Student Affairs leadership team or with Amy Bosley, vice president, institutional planning and development and chief of staff at abosley@valenciacollege.edu.

We are excited about finalizing our vision statement and using it to guide our work ahead.

In Memory of Barbara C. Roper

Monday, March 28, 2022

Barbara Cruciger Roper, a philanthropist who served on the Valencia College Foundation board of directors for many years, passed away on Monday, March 7, 2022, in her home on Lake Butler where she’d lived for nearly 72 years. Barbara served on the Valencia College Foundation board from 2005 to 2017, after which she served as a board member emeritus until she passed.

“Barbara Roper’s support for our students and their dreams was extraordinary! I had the honor to spend time with her recently, and she spoke so highly of Valencia and our impact on the community. She was a very special individual with an amazing heart who made a tremendous impact,” shared Kathleen Plinske, college president.

Barbara and her family supported the creation of Valencia College to ensure everyone in the community had the opportunity to attend college. She was deeply involved in nursing and other programs that provided clear pathways for women to enter and be successful in the workforce.

“Barbara was the matriarch of West Orange County as she created many opportunities through Valencia College for people in our community,” shared Jay Galbraith, vice president, public affairs and advancement. “In many ways, Central Florida stands on her shoulders. It has been an honor to call her a friend.”

Jay Galbraith and Barbara Roper during the 2011 Valencia College Foundation Board and President’s Circle Kickoff Reception at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando.

Barbara, who was born in 1928, attended the Ellis School, later graduating from Penn State as one of the first women with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. She taught first grade at the original Tildenville School for several years before she and her husband started their family of four children.

Her service to the community began as a founding member of the West Orange Junior Service League, where she served as president in 1957. After her children became a bit older, Barbara decided she did not want to go back to teaching in the school; however, she was always very active in Central Florida, putting her pedagogical skills to work in teaching adults how to read — starting the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, using the Laubach Literacy “Each One Teach One” method.

Barbara became a certified volunteer tutor trainer for Laubach Literacy, traveling across the United States and Canada starting Literacy Councils and serving as a trustee for Laubach Literacy International based in Syracuse, New York. She also started a travel agency, Tops-N-Travel, in Winter Garden, which she owned, often personally operated, and served as president for 18 years.

In 1967, Barbara was asked to join the board of the Central Florida YMCA, representing West Orange County. She and her colleagues were instrumental in starting the West Orange YMCA in 1971. Today that Y is called the Roper YMCA in Winter Garden and is part of the 23 family centers operated by the Central Florida YMCA.

Due to her continuing interest in the YMCA, both in Florida and nationally, Barbara was elected the chair of the national board of the YMCA of the USA in 1991, the first woman in the Y’s history to hold the position, and served a two-year term presiding over the first Y National Assembly in Anaheim, California. For many years, Barbara was the only woman to head that 16 million-member not-for-profit association.

For eight years, Barbara also represented the YMCA of the USA on the Executive Committee of the World Alliance of YMCAs, based in Geneva, Switzerland. During those years with the YMCA of the USA, Barbara traveled extensively, representing both the YMCA of the USA as well as the World Alliance of YMCAs, visiting well over 50 countries where YMCAs are established. At the 2019 General Assembly, Barbara was inducted into the National YMCA Hall of Fame for a lifetime of commitment to the mission and cause of the Y.

Along the way, Barbara was asked to join the board of the newly established public broadcasting station (WMFE) in Orlando where she served as the first woman to chair that board in 1970 and 1971. She was elected to the national board of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1972 and served on that board for 11 years.

In addition to the Valencia College Foundation board of directors, Barbara served on the board of various Central Florida civic and not-for-profit organizations such as Loch Haven Museum, Eckerd College, Community Foundation of Central Florida, National Safety Council, First National Bank of Winter Park, Blue Ridge Assembly, Winter Garden Heritage Foundation and Health Central Foundation. Barbara was also instrumental in the formation of the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden’s rejuvenated historic downtown, where she was recognized as a founding member and emeritus trustee.

Barbara received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Piedmont College as well as other recognitions.

A celebration of life will be held in the near future. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be directed in Barbara’s name to a few of the organizations that she cherished:

Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: Distinguished Graduate Chooses a Career Path to Help Others

Monday, March 28, 2022

When Leah Basaria arrived on campus at Valencia College, she took one look around and decided to get her credits and degree and graduate as quickly as possible.

“Coming into Valencia, I was very apprehensive,” she says. “In my first class, New Student Experience, I was older than the professor.”

But Leah Basaria had come to Valencia at a crucial juncture in her life — after a family tragedy that sent shock waves through their family. In 2015, her brother-in-law died by suicide, but it also sent her mother-in-law into a deep depression, and she too would later take her own life.

Determined to learn how to help people battling depression and dedicating everything she does to her brother-in-law and mother-in-law, Leah began taking psychology classes at Valencia, but along the way, she discovered a support system at the College that gave her a new direction.

And now, Leah has been named the Valencia College Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate for 2022. Read more about Leah on the Valencia News site.

Spotlight on Undergraduate Research — Kevin Rivera-Lopez

Monday, March 28, 2022

Valencia College has developed an undergraduate research initiative — based on nationally recognized models — that expands opportunities for students to partner meaningfully with faculty members to pursue a specific course of research. As most community colleges only offer undergraduate research as a very small boutique opportunity for a few students, Valencia has become a leader in community college research. Last year, hundreds of Valencia students worked in one or more modalities of research. This is vital for students exploring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) -related professions through transfer, both to better discern their purpose and pathway, and to have experiences comparable to their peers at the university to which they transfer.

When student Kevin Rivera-Lopez graduates from Valencia College with an associate degree in general studies in summer 2022, he plans to enroll in the University of Central Florida Physics bachelor’s program with the end goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in physics.

Kevin has have been involved in scientific research since he was in middle school.

“I have a passion for unveiling the mysteries that surround us,” shared Kevin, who worked on projects regarding ethnoastronomy, engineering, chemistry and statistics. “As soon as I knew about the Honors Research class, I applied as an Honors student and signed up for it.”

For his independent research project, Kevin worked closely with Jay Perez, professor, physics at Osceola Campus. Kevin‘s research focuses on the importance and application of symmetries as a theoretical tool, highlighting the importance of the discoveries made by Emmy Noether by using group theory to write a mock potential. This past fall, Kevin presented his research at the bi-annual Undergraduate Research Showcase, where he won first place.

“Research is an amazing experience that challenges you to go out of your comfort zone and think outside of the box by using your academic skill to work on real-life applications and generating a final product that you can be proud of,” Kevin said. “It has allowed me to learn about time management, being a leader, planning long-term projects, and it has significantly helped me improve my academic writing skills. It is an experience unlike the classroom type, which I would highly suggest for anyone to try at least once.”

To nominate a student doing great undergraduate research or for questions about Valencia’s undergraduate research initiative, contact Melonie Sexton, professor, psychology, and coordinator of undergraduate research, at UR@valenciacollege.edu or 407-582-5632.

In Memory: Chris Russom

Monday, March 28, 2022

Chris Russom, part-time faculty, culinary management, passed away on Monday, March  21, 2022, after a short battle with brain cancer.

Chris taught Advanced Decorating Skills at the Downtown Campus since August 2019, and the creation of 3-D cakes was an essential component of his curriculum.

Chris launched “Let Them Eat Cake,” his first bakery and coffee house, in 1998. The bakery grew into an international success and eventually became Christopher Garren’s Inc., a corporation that executed thousands of celebration cakes yearly for corporations, design houses, movie premieres and movie and television personalities, from Will Smith to Oprah Winfrey. He retired from retail service in 2013.

He and his wife participated in multiple Food Network competitions from 2002 to 2007, and from 2008 to 2011, he filmed four seasons of the reality television show “Amazing Wedding Cakes.”

His work was featured on various television networks and shows, including: “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” “Blind Date,” “The Tyra Banks Show” and international TV commercials. He also made numerous appearances on local radio and news programs, and his art found coverage in dozens of national and international magazines.

In addition to teaching at Valencia, he traveled throughout the United States, teaching continuing education and culinary classes.

“Sometimes, even as this comes as a shock to us all, it is hard to find words. As providence would have it, Chris’ life intertwined with our chef team here at Valencia in a way that you can’t make it up. (if that makes sense). Chris was here, out of anywhere he could have gone in the world, he planted his feet at Valencia! We remember as a team coming up with the Advanced Technical Certificate in Cake Artistry just so we could capture Chris’s talent and not lose him to another school. What was crazier to us was that he was willing and really wanted to go in that direction. In three years, he transferred as much knowledge as he could to the students who are better for it. There were many conversations about his wrestling with the feeling that it still wasn’t enough to give back to the students. He stated at one point that teaching here, at Valencia, were the best years of his life ever! So words can’t describe, even in tears, what a privilege it was to have him here! What can we say? When Chef Chris made a decision to do something, he was all in! His cakes and his classes speak for themselves!.” — Kenneth Bourgoin,  professor, culinary management

We will share information about services for Chris as it becomes available.

Cafeterias to Temporarily Close on Friday

Monday, March 28, 2022

Due to a large catering event on West Campus — the Department of Education All-Florida Academic Team Awards Ceremony Lunch —  all cafeterias and cafés will be closed on Friday, April 1, 2022.

This event will require the entire staff of Aladdin to deliver effective, high-quality services for this important and impactful event.

Signage will be posted informing our students and employees of this temporary closure.

Cybersecurity: Protect Yourself From Ransomware and Phishing

Monday, March 28, 2022

A Message from Patrick Criss, Director, Information Security

With the events that are ongoing in Ukraine, it is important that we are vigilant and take extra care to protect ourselves and Valencia College. The most common method of cyberattacks is through email (phishing) — attempts to trick users into clicking a link or downloading a file.

To protect yourself from ransomware and phishing:

  • Pay attention to every email you receive;
  • Look for suspicious wording or grammar within that email;
  • Pay close attention to the URLs you type when going to a website; and
  • Always make sure you have good antivirus software loaded that will help protect you from known ransomware attacks.

If you receive a suspicious email, make sure you report it.

Through Outlook, you can report an email as phishing. This can be done by clicking “Report Message” (on the far right of the “Home” ribbon), expanding the drop-down menu and selecting “Phishing.” Please note the button will only function when the message is open or when using “Preview” mode in Outlook.

If you have any questions, please contact the OIT Service Desk at oitservicedesk@valenciacollege.edu or 407-582-5555.

Why We Engage in Preventative Care No Matter Our Age

Monday, March 28, 2022

A Message from Jessica Johnson, UnitedHealthcare Nurse Liaison  

No matter your age, everyone can benefit from participating in preventive care such as healthy eating, exercise and regular doctors’ visits. The goal of preventive care is to potentially prevent or catch a health-related problem before it becomes a bigger problem.

Preventive care is an investment in your health and well-being, because the reality is there’s no way to predict what will happen in the future and no way to guarantee absolute health. That said, much is known about actions you can take to improve your chances of living a healthy life and avoiding serious health problems. If you happen to have a chronic health condition — and many of us do — there are things you can do to manage that condition and be as healthy as can be. And if you don’t have a chronic health condition yet, embracing wellness can help ensure you stay as healthy as possible.

Everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity by developing and incorporating the following wellness habits:

Along with living a healthy and active lifestyle, certain routine well exams, screenings and immunizations are recommended for all age groups to prevent or avoid illness or other health problems. Biometrics, mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, colon cancer screenings, vaccinations, dental and vision evaluations, and annual wellness exams fall into this “preventative care” category. Click here to determine which tests and screenings are recommended for your age and gender preventive care.

Routine preventive care helps you manage and maintain your health and is generally covered at 100% by your Valencia College UHC insurance plan as long as you see a network provider. Click here for assistance in finding a network provider.

If you have further questions or need additional assistance, call the member services number on the back of your insurance card or contact me at jessica_r_johnson@uhc.com or 407-866-8134.