College Update: Planning for Fall 2021

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Special Message from Sandy Shugart, Valencia College President

In early February, I shared with you our plan to move into Phase 3 of our Roadmap for Reopening operations, beginning Monday, May 10, 2021, with expanded options for students’ learning and engagement on campus, while we continue to prioritize the health and safety of you and our students, as well as the continuity of our students’ learning.

Last month, at the start of our spring break, Valencia College received game-changing news — college and university employees were made eligible to receive the vaccine at our West Campus state/FEMA COVID site. Since that time, state eligibility has opened to include anyone 18 or older. Having vaccines available for our employees is a critical step in our reopening, and we hope you’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated. Vaccines continue to be available to growing numbers of citizens, and experts predict that by the end of summer, anyone who wants to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so.

In light of this, and in consultation with Orlando Health, we are announcing a move to a cautious Phase 4 opening, effective Sunday, August 1, 2021. This is the next step of our transition back to a new Valencia. I invite you to watch this video as Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske and I share details about planning for Phase 4.

I recognize that you might have many questions and concerns about this Phase 4 announcement. Please know that there are many questions to which we do not yet have answers. But by making this decision now, we will have the time to carefully develop plans for a return to a more full opening. Here’s what I can tell you so far.

What does this mean for classes?

At this time, we are planning our fall schedule to meet current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which means we will be planning for reduced onsite and mixed-mode class capacity and, as a result, we will still offer a robust schedule of online classes. We also anticipate enrollment growth and the need to offer additional sections, due to reduced onsite class capacities. We are currently exploring ways to meet the need for additional faculty.

Given our current best thinking, we anticipate that mask wearing will still be required indoors. We await new guidance from the CDC and will adjust our plans accordingly, though we are committed to keeping our fall onsite classes smaller to aid in the transition back for both students and faculty.

What does this mean for services?

All Valencia College campuses will be open and operating in Phase 4. We will create plans — under current CDC guidelines but will adjust given any changes to the guidance — for how we will offer services in a hybrid way for fall so that we can continue realizing the tremendous opportunities we’ve seen through connecting with students virtually AND provide onsite opportunities for those students who desire a face-to-face experience.

What does this mean for me?

Some of our colleagues have been on campus since the beginning of the pandemic, and many more have returned through Phase 2 and will be returning as part of Phase 3 this summer. During Phase 4, our operations will not be “opt-in” as they will be for Phase 3, as we will need to be open and ready to serve our students through a combination of on-campus and online classes and services.

All full-time faculty will be notified of their schedule by Monday, May 17, 2021, and all staff members will have received expectations for fall by Thursday, July 1, 2021.

We understand that this transition may be challenging for many reasons as we know some employees are still less comfortable with interactions because of the virus. For those of you who have a medical concern and are unable to be vaccinated, we will help you through our Americans With Disabilities Act process to determine if reasonable accommodations are needed.

We also recognize that the public schools in our area start on Tuesday, August 10, 2021. We commit to working with you if you need flexibility between August 1 and August 10 to meet your family’s needs.

In addition, we know that many of you have realized tremendous benefits from working remotely over the past year and don’t want to return to life exactly the way it was. The Senior Team is having on-going conversations to craft design principles that we’ll use to determine how we might integrate flexible work arrangements for positions where it makes sense AND we can ensure that our students’ needs are met.

We have a lot of redesign work ahead of us, and it won’t all be completed by fall, but rest assured that plans will be developed in Valencia’s collaborative nature. We’ll keep taking steps as we emerge from the pandemic to reshape Valencia in a way that serves our mission and our students in a contemporary way and look forward to partnering with you in that journey.

John Scolaro’s Opinion Piece Published in Community Paper

Thursday, April 8, 2021

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

Kudos to John Scolaro, part-time faculty, humanities, and senior teaching fellow, for his article, “Celebrating the first woman president of Valencia College” which appeared in The Community Paper. John wrote this opinion piece about our incoming college president Kathleen Pliinske.

View the article here.

West Region Learning Support Updates — April 2021

Thursday, April 8, 2021

A Message from Jennifer Tomlinson, Interim Dean, Learning Support

Please enjoy the news and highlights from the West Campus Learning Support department.


Valencia College Library Receives a $92,383 Grant

Recently our library applied for and received a grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Sciences (DLIS).

The library faculty and staff collegewide have been working to meet the three priorities of the grant.

  • Priority #1: HotSpot program at Valencia College — Valencia launched a hotspot borrowing program starting in spring 2021 at the recommendation of a team of librarians who researched and planned how to address the challenge of students’ inadequate Wi-Fi access. The goal of this activity is to support student access to online courses and learning support via Wi-Fi access during the COVID-19 crisis. A total of 175 hotspots were obtained through the end of fall 2021. So far, 142 out of 175 hotspots have been loaned at no cost to students.
  • Priority #2: Technical Support Services — The goal of this activity is to support student access to digital content via their devices during the COVID-19 crisis. The library developed a free technical assistance service for students in partnership with the College’s Office of Information Technology pre-COVID-19. The library has expanded virtual technical support hours in response to the growing need caused by the College’s migration to a majority digital learning environment and increased enrollment.
  • Priority #3: Virtual Big Read Event — The goal of this activity is to engage students in a virtual, collective discussion of social justice issues via a Big Read event. The library will identify an author and a book that focus on the social justice issues currently experienced by Valencia students, the community and the country. Up to 400 books will be provided to students at no cost to them. A contract for the book and author is currently in review by our legal department in preparation for the summer 2021 kickoff, read and post-read Zoom event.

New Ask a Librarian Widget

The librarians have added an Ask-a-Librarian chat widget to our LibGuides. When visiting any Valencia LibGuide, after three minutes, the widget will pop up and invite the user to chat live with a librarian. We hope this will help direct students to our virtual reference services. Some of the serendipity of having a librarian visible while working in the library is lost in the virtual environment. This widget should increase our visibility to students.

A reminder that Zoom is now integrated within Ask a Librarian. Once in a live chat session, students and librarians have the option to open a Zoom session so they can interact face-to-face, with voice and screen share, if desired. This allows our Ask-a-Librarian chats to more closely resemble traditional walk-in reference services. Students who would like to schedule a Zoom appointment with a librarian can also do so at our bookings page here.


Distance Tutoring

We have received positive feedback from our students about our Distance Tutoring service.

  • Distance Tutoring and Tech Support: “Every tutor you meet is really awesome, and they break down everything to help you with your schoolwork, to able to understand.” —Valencia student
  • Asynchronous Writing Support: “This is the absolute best resource I have used, and I have already told so many classmates! Thank you for everything!” —Valencia student

Distance Tutoring Numbers

As of Friday, March 5, 2021, we have served more than 5,900 students in Distance Tutoring in our spring semester alone.

New Student Experience

New Student Experience (NSE) faculty collegewide are designing a summer high school outreach program called Valencia Voyage. The program is designed for high school seniors who have applied to Valencia College and will be enrolling in classes for the Summer and Fall 2021 terms.

Students participating in the Valencia Voyage program will complete the enrollment process after finishing a series of Canvas learning modules — utilizing College resources to navigate the registration process — and develop a finalized course schedule. This program will serve as an individualized orientation to the College with a designated NSE faculty member’s support.

Students who complete the Valencia Voyage program will be eligible for a $500 scholarship.

Benefits of the Valencia Voyage program include:

  • Having a course schedule before the end of summer;
  • Working with Valencia NSE faculty;
  • Having access to College resources;
  • Experiencing Valencia’s online learning tool; and
  • Meeting other Valencia students.

Stay Tuned!

The West Campus Learning Support department and International Students Services present the First Annual Summer Scholarship Series.

Yonitha Berryhill, coordinator, international students, and Melissa Shank, administrative assistant, are working on a scholarship series that will be offered to all Valencia College students this summer. The purpose of the series is to engage students in scholarship conversations that go beyond simply encouraging them to apply, with the aim of all students participating in the program and submitting a Valencia College Foundation Scholarship application. The series will be held from 1 – 3 p.m. on Thursdays, May 20 and on May 27, 2021; and on Thursdays, June 10 and June 17, 2021.

Scholarship dollars don’t just go to those students with the best grades and best test scores; they can also go to those who know how to find and win scholarships. In this four-session series, we will show students tools and tips on how to win scholarships. Content covered will include:

  • What scholarships, grants and financial aid are;
  • Scholarship myths, scams and success stories, including common mistakes made by students when applying for scholarships;
  • How the Career and Writing Centers can assist students with scholarship applications;
  • Real example scholarship essays and tips on scholarship letters of recommendation;
  • Crafting a personal story to use in answering common scholarship essay prompts;
  • Using a combination of the internet, books and local research to create a personal scholarship application list;
  • Hearing from Valencia College students who have earned scholarships;
  • Guest speaker presentations from various areas in the Valencia community (i.e. Valencia College Foundation, Career Center, Learning Support, Honors College), as well as the University of Central Florida and Rollins; and
  • Hand-on assistance completing and submitting the Valencia College Foundation Scholarship application.

In our April update in the West and Downtown Campus Concentrate and in The Grove, we will share a flyer containing all the information students need to sign up for this beneficial series.

If you have any questions regarding this program, please contact Yonitha at and Melissa at

Learning Support Leadership Team

  • Marg Lamb and Melissa Shank – administrative assistants
  • Ruth Smith – campus director, library
  • Michael Winters – interim manager, learning support services
  • Marsha Butler – faculty, New Student Experience and discipline coordinator

Downtown Campus Learning Support Partners

  • Mia Pierre-Wall – faculty, New Student Experience, and discipline coordinator
  • Angela Hall – librarian
  • Ning Christopher – manager, learning support services

Downtown Campus COVID-19 Mobile Vaccine Site Available April 14

Wednesday, April 14, 2021 Update: This event has been canceled. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

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

A state mobile vaccine unit will be on the Downtown Campus on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, from 10 a.m – 7 p.m. or until vaccines are all distributed. The unit will provide COVID-19 vaccinations to the Parramore community and eligible Downtown Campus students and employees.

If you have already scheduled an appointment with another provider, please keep that appointment so that we can reach as many people in the Parramore community as possible.

The mobile unit will be located on the pedestrian walkway between the Parramore Garage and the City of Orlando’s Downtown Recreation Complex. Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be distributed on a first-come first-served, walk-up basis.

For eligibility criteria, please visit

Free parking for the mobile vaccination unit for community members is available on the first floor of the Parramore Parking Garage.

For details on the West Campus state/FEMA COVID site, click here.

Roadmap for Reopening: Phase 3 Update

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The end of the spring term marks the end of Phase 2 of our Roadmap for Reopening. Some faculty and staff members are preparing for the transition to Phase 3 operations, which will begin at the start of the summer term on Monday, May 10, 2021. Phase 3 operations include a limited number of face-to-face classes and in-person student services.

A limited number of faculty and staff will return to working on campus this summer to support student learning and support. As Phase 3 is an opt-in experience, all employees who will be returning to working on campus for summer have elected to do so.

Full-time faculty members who have a contracted assignment to teach classes in the summer, as well as part-time faculty in a limited number of disciplines at East, Osceola, West and Poinciana campuses, received a survey to express their interest in teaching this summer. With registration for summer courses now open, those faculty who are teaching on campus should have received their assignments for summer.

In addition, select staff members within the Student Affairs division received a survey to gauge their interest in working on-site to provide student services in the areas of advising, Answer Center, financial aid, the Office of Students with Disabilities, and testing and assessment — specifically standardized testing, i.e. PERT. Decisions are currently being finalized on which of these services will be provided and who will support students on campus based on the survey responses.

The Conditions to Reopen team has also approved a proposal submitted by Learning Support Services to offer staffed study spaces for students this summer. Team members within Learning Support will be surveyed to opt-in to staff these areas.

If you are a faculty member and have questions about your teaching assignment or a student services staff member with questions about on-campus services, please contact your respective dean or division leader.

As the operational details are being decided, the following resources and guidance will be provided in preparation for the Summer 2021 term and the start of Phase 3:

  1. Town hall events and information sessions: A variety of additional town hall meetings will be offered later this month and in May for employees returning to work on campus this summer and their supervisors. Details for these upcoming events will be shared next week. Also, you can plan to attend the Orlando Health Phase 3 Town Hall meeting scheduled for Monday, April 19, 2021.
  2. Talent sharing will continue through the summer: Valencia’s Talent Sharing program, which was introduced last summer, will continue in Phase 3. This program is designed to help connect employees who have availability and capacity with teams and departments that have a need for additional support. Click here for additional information, including frequently asked questions.
  3. Vaccine Availability and Paid Leave: As we look toward the ending of the pandemic, you are encouraged to receive the vaccination for COVID-19. West Campus is currently serving as a COVID-19 vaccination site, and if you are unable to get vaccinated during non-work hours or become sick after receiving the vaccine, the College now has paid vaccine leave.
  4. Daily Health Assessment continues: During Phase 3, all individuals, including employees, students and vendors, coming onsite will continue to complete the Daily Health Assessment using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Self-Checker for COVID-19 symptoms prior to arriving to campus, and, if appropriate after a self-assessment, stay home and contact a medical professional for evaluation. Know the symptoms of COVID-19. Stay home if you feel sick and seek medical attention if necessary.
  5. Plan your day on campus: If you will be on campus for an extended period of time, remember to pack a lunch or make arrangements for meals, as there is limited food and vending available on the campuses.
  6. Continue to wear a mask while on campus: To protect ourselves and each other, all employees, students and vendors on campus are required to wear face masks that cover the mouth and nose while indoors and outdoors, where physical distancing is not possible.
  7. Maintain physical distance: Valencia is continuing to follow CDC guidelines including those for social distancing. When possible, please maintain physical distance of at least six feet and avoid congregating as much as possible.
  8. Wash hands frequently: Remember to keep hands clean while on campus and wash your hands regularly. Hand sanitizing stations have been placed on campus so you can keep hands clean when hand washing with soap and water is not convenient.
  9. Illness reporting protocols are still in effect: Valencia is here to support you if you do not pass the self-assessment, become ill, test positive, come in close contact to someone who tests positive or must provide care for someone with COVID-19. Please follow our illness reporting protocols and contact Tanya Mahan, HR analyst and Valencia’s specially trained COVID-19 case manager at or 407-299-5000, extension 3047 to report illness.

Thank you for your continued diligence and vigilance as we embark on Phase 3 of our Roadmap for Reopening plans. You are our first defense in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and in keeping the Valencia community healthy. Please be assured that as we continue to make decisions and finalize our plans for summer and fall terms that you will receive timely updates as our plans unfold.

If you have questions or would like additional information, contact Organizational Development and Human Resources at or call the HR4U helpline at 407-299-5000, extension HR4U (4748).

Join the Institutional Planning Equity Plan Work Team

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

A Message from Amy Bosley, Organizational Development and Human Resources, and Stanton Reed, Past President, Faculty Association, and Professor Business/Accounting

As we continue the work on our Opportunity and Equity Initiative and progress the work of our Strategic Impact Plan, we invite you to join us to serve on the Equity Plan Work Team.

The Equity Plan work team is one of five Institutional Planning teams that are tasked with developing the plans that will inform our Impact Plan goals. In a message last monthBrandon McKelvey, vice president, analytics and planning, shared an initial call for participation on one of the teams. We appreciate the response received, and are now looking to expand the work team for the Equity Plan.

Equity Plan Work Team Explained

Stanton Reed and I will serve as co-chairs for the Equity Plan work team, which will consist of up to13 other members representing the full talents, skills and insights of the College community. Specifically, we seek broad perspectives and mindsets from those who are deeply engaged in the work of creating more equitable organizations and communities.

We are interested in finding partners who represent the full spectrum of thinking and engagement on the topic of equity. This includes, but is not limited to, those who identify as Black, White, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Pacific Islander, Native/Indigenous, Bi/Multi-racial or other forms of racial identity. Additionally, we seek the perspectives of those who remain skeptical, questioning and are not quite sure what this work is all about or what it means.

We recognize that the categories of organizational life (employee group, division, role/responsibility) are important in this work but frequently reinforce old patterns and systems that have not yet yielded the equitable organization that we desire for ourselves and our students. As such, those categories will be considered in developing the membership of this team but are not the primary lens through which we are building the team. We look forward to the challenging work ahead and to creating a team that represents the breadth of our colleagues’ thinking, scholarship, perspectives and experiences.

Sign Up to Join the Equity Plan Work Team

Whether you feel called to the equity work at the Valencia, have never volunteered for this type of work or feel skeptical about the overall direction, we invite you to consider joining this team.

If you are interested in helping us advance our equity initiatives, be sure to submit your interest by completing this brief survey. We ask that you submit the completed interest form by Tuesday, April 13, 2021.

Thank you, in advance, for helping us to create an optimal and equitable work and learning environment for our staff, faculty and students.

SGA and Honors Students Meet With Florida Lawmakers

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Last week, on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, our Student Government Association (SGA) leaders met with our Florida legislators during a virtual Meet Your Legislators Event.

The event kicked off with a welcome from Jay Galbraith, vice president, public affairs and marketing, and Courtney James, paralegal, before offering students a primer on how a bill becomes a law. Students then attended a live session with the Senate Education Committee.

Several Florida legislators, lawmakers and lobbyists participated in the event, including Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who led a discussion on current events and legislative issues. Following a lunch break students reconvened for a series of workshops including:

    • A Day in the Life of a Florida State Legislator with Rep. Rene Plasencia
    • Government Affairs from Disney with Director of Government Affairs at Disney Jose Gonzalez
    • Overview of National and State Politics with Democratic Strategist Steve Schale
    • How to Get Started in the Business with Author and Lobbyist Carlos Cruz
    • A Conversation with Politico Florida Education Reporter Andrew Atterbury

The event concluded with a keynote presentation by the Secretary of the Florida Lottery and Valencia College District Board of Trustees Member John Davis.

One student shared “I wasn’t sure what to expect and was really surprised with how the virtual agenda came together.”

On Monday, April 5, 2021, Valencia College hosted a Congressional Town Hall with U.S. Congressman Darren Soto for our SGA leaders and Honors students. The Congressman gave a congressional update and had a lively question and answer session with students.

These events provided a great opportunity for our students to connect with legislators on a human level. They spent time listening, asking questions and engaging in generative dialogue. From legislator to lobbyist, students had an opportunity to learn how our state government operates. The guests provided inspiration, knowledge of current events and real insights into the Florida legislative process.

Casting Call: You Could Be in Valencia College’s Next Television Commercial

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Valencia College is launching a new advertising and marketing campaign and is looking for faculty and staff to take part in our video commercials. No acting experience is needed, and no on-camera speaking is required. Just submit a video audition by Sunday, April 18, 2021, to be considered.

Here are details on how to submit your video audition:

  • Use a smart phone to record your video audition, but please shoot in horizontal/landscape mode, not vertical.
  • Say your first and last name and what your role is at Valencia College.
  • Then tell us a little about yourself and why you love being a part of Valencia College.
  • Next, pretend to perform your everyday tasks as faculty/staff (advising students, grading papers, working on a computer, etc.).
  • Feel free to use props, such as a notepad, books, a laptop, etc. Just be yourself and act natural, like you’re really doing the things you actually do.
  • We suggest you do a test recording and review for eye-level camera placement, framing the camera from the top of your head to your waist.
  • Make sure you are well lit from the front, and avoid harsh light from behind that will cast you into shadows. Remember to check for good sound.
  • Take your time and do two takes if you like, but keep your total video to a maximum of two minutes in length.
  • Check your video before submitting.

The official video production will take place on Tuesday, May 18; Wednesday, May 19; Thursday, May 20; and Friday, May 21, 2021. Please only submit an audition if you are available during these days. Most commitments are for one day and usually only for a portion of the day. Production will take place on or near various Valencia College campuses. All roles will be cast by Friday, April 23, 2021.

CDC guidelines will be followed during the production, including but not limited to: mandatory masks and personal protective equipment, social distancing, environment sanitation, health screenings and rapid testing. All production is monitored by a COVID compliance officer who ensures adherence to all guidelines in order to create a safe environment for everyone involved.

How to Submit Your Audition Materials 

– Please label your files in the following format: firstnamelastname_ValenciaCasting. For example: JanetSmith_ValenciaCasting. File size should be under 1GB and in mov, mp4, avi, dv, m4v, wmv formats only.

– Create a free account on and upload your video.

– Email the following information to

  • Name
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Please tell us your availability during the days of Wednesday, May 12; Thursday, May 13; Tuesday, May 18; Wednesday, May 19; Thursday, May 20; and Friday, May 21, 2021.

If you have any questions or need assistance submitting your video, email or call 407-463-3168.

Videos are due by Sunday, April 18, 2021, at 5 p.m.

Featured Colleague: Julie Montione Brings Worlds Together Through the Humanities

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

By Claudia Zequeira

Glimpses of fascinating, faraway places easily come to mind when reading Julie Montione’s resume. From visits to China, where she was a visiting professor for the Peace Corps, to conferences attended in Romania, to the many languages she’s studied — Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Mandarin Chinese — she certainly has worked on fascinating projects.

“I am not shy about it; I love sharing my Peace Corps service — I was actually evacuated out of China in 2003 during SARS, so this is my second pandemic experience,” said Julie, professor, humanities.

All of these brushes with other cultures make her uniquely poised to be effective at Valencia College, where Julie began teaching humanities and world religions in 2012.

Julie wants to make sure her students develop a deeper connection with classical texts and gain a broader vision of the world. And she’s not afraid to bring those different worlds together.

At the College, she, along with grant partner Sean Lake, professor, humanities, has led important work on a National Endowment for the Humanities project. Awarded though the Dialogues on the Experience of War grant, this project is designed to connect the humanities to the lived veteran experience — promoting dialogue not only among veterans, but also with their civilian peers.

The grant has also allowed her and fellow colleagues to bring world-class actors to recreate Ancient Greek tragedies, through a production team known as Theater of War. Following individual plays, actors, community partners and veteran students engage in a panel discussion where they share how these tragedies have helped them process their own experiences.

“As the wife, daughter and sister of veterans, I have been extremely proud of the work my grant partner Sean Lake and I have accomplished in our National Endowment for Humanities project. We began by teaching a special Humanities Greece and Rome course focusing on veteran issues. Watching our veteran students, as well as their civilian peers have a deeper connection to our classical texts was awesome,” she recounted recently.

“The non-military students seem to develop deeper empathy for veteran struggles and our veterans seem to find relief knowing there are issues veterans have struggled with for thousands of years. Now, we are expanding these lessons to our colleagues through professional development cohorts.”

Humanities professors collegewide have expressed how this grant has offered them and their students an effective and productive learning experience outside the classroom.

“[Julie] has successfully led the NEH’s Experiences of War program for the past two years and is again applying for a new grant for the summer of 2022,” said Julie’s supervisor Ana Caldero Figueroa, dean, arts and humanities. “The program has effectively engaged our veteran students, their families and the community. Valencia College needs projects like this one to support our burgeoning veteran student population and help them find their voice among their peers and the community.”

Ana also said Julie was an “essential” faculty member of the Arts and Humanities department on the West Campus.

“She deeply cares about students’ learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. She has a deep passion for her work and her objective is connecting students to the humanities. Julie is all about creating a sense of community.”

Ana also praised Julie for initiating, designing and organizing a recording of a local National Public Radio (NPR) show titled “Friends Talking Faith” featuring a rabbi, pastor and imam who were joined by world renowned biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan.

Julie, who will be finalizing her tenure process this year, also participated in an Asian Expo, putting together a panel discussion with prominent members of the community titled “Modern Day Marco Polos: East Asia Through a Western Lens.” She has also organized the Religion Diversity Fair and led a workshop titled “Power of Place Names” as part of our Global Peace Week events.

More recently, Julie has established a partnership with the School of Public Safety in order to leverage the power and strength of the humanities in other areas.

“I’m so extremely excited about the partnership,” said Julie. “We are recognizing the role of humanities to be proactive in developing a curriculum for professions that will most likely encounter trauma.”

Before joining Valencia, Julie, who holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in religion from Florida State University, worked as a high school teacher at Olympia and Colonial High Schools. She was also a graduate teaching assistant at Florida State University.

Julie is also a National Board Certified teacher, was named Most Adaptable/Flexible Peace Corps Volunteer, was a Fulbright Memorial Teacher in Japan and participated in several National Endowment for the Humanities seminars. She has also volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House and at Princeton Elementary school, among others.

Although she’s always been moved by great works of art, Julie said she is most inspired by her students, who come from all walks of life and thus bring so many rich experiences to the classroom.

“They inspire me to always revamp my classes in ways that will make my curriculum more meaningful in their lives,” she said, adding that she finds few things more gratifying than to run into a former student and hearing what a wonderful experience they had in her classes and at the College.

“I am so proud when I hear from students who are out in the world succeeding and they want to let me know how our course inspired them and contributed to their goals.”

Julie also expressed gratitude to work for an institution where new ideas and initiatives are frequently embraced.

“Valencia is an extremely positive and supportive environment. I am so grateful for my dean and colleagues who are always willing to go the extra mile in supporting projects they see as having value to our students,” she said.

She also views the College as an institution with a “common focus of creating opportunities for our students to succeed.”

“We look for ways to support students and the community in so many different phases of life. I think Valencia is seen as a leader for making positive impact in the community through our courses, degrees, events, the Peace and Justice Institute, etc.”

In her free time away from the classroom, Julie loves road trips, hiking, kayaking and enjoying off-the-beaten-path eateries as well as movie nights with her family.

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 He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.

Congrats to the College’s First Foundations of Creative Thinking Certificate Completers

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Last month, a group of 16 Valencia College employees completed the first-ever Foundations of Creative Thinking Certificate series. This fully virtual series included an exploration of creative problem-solving practices and techniques, reflections on participants’ personal preferences in the creative process and a safe space to step outside of their thinking comfort zones.

The series kicked off with facilitators Katie Tagye, director, organizational design and development; and Michael Blackburn, manager, learning support services, sharing about the ins and outs of creativity and innovation, which led to the exploration of divergent and convergent thinking.

From there, participants had the opportunity to identify where their personal creative thinking preferences lie by taking the FourSight assessment. With that information, and with the assistance of room facilitators Joshua Austin, director, student development; Celeste Henry, counselor, career development; and Allie Yadav, manager, grants development and special projects, engaged participants with many creative thinking tools that can be utilized in each step of the creative problem-solving process. They rounded out the series by practicing where they might have the opportunity to apply these new tools in their everyday roles at the College.

“Thank you for allowing us to part of your learning experience and for being ‘all-in’ as we explored and developed new ways to teach these creative thinking skills virtually,” shared Michael, who leads the certificate series.

A big congratulations to the following Valencia employees who completed the series.

  • Rashida Benjamin, administrative assistant
  • Yonitha Berryhill, coordinator, international students
  • Barry Congressi, coordinator, student development
  • Nelson Sepulveda Fernandez, director, student development
  • Nikkia Gumbs, assistant director, disability services
  • Daniel Iglesias, instructional designer/developer
  • Hans Liburd, assessment coordinator
  • Donna MacDonald, director, student financial operations
  • Lateshia Martin, manager, student services
  • Natasha McIlmurray, coordinator, organizational design and development
  • Sam Meyers, faculty developer/instructional designer
  • Dan Mullins, professor, mathematics
  • Kathy Suarez, assistant director, financial aid services
  • Aixa Rosario, coordinator, college transitions/immersive experience for Transitions Planning
  • Lauren Thomas, professor, mathematics
  • Meena Udho, instructional lab supervisor

Read The Juice and The Grove for future offerings of Foundations of Creative Thinking Certificate series coming this summer.