Welcome to the Poinciana Campus: Mary McGowan on her Journey to Poinciana

As we celebrate the opening of our new Poinciana Campus, we introduce a weekly series that will feature important information about this newest Valencia addition. This week, we’re featuring Poinciana Campus Director of Student Services Mary McGowan, who transferred from Osceola Campus to serve the Poinciana community.

By Dani Moritz-Long

Once a high school drop-out working odd jobs in retail and restaurants, there was a time when Director of Student Services Mary McGowan would never have dreamed of a career in higher education. But, that was before she encountered Valencia.

In 2005, after earning her GED in Virginia, Mary moved to Orlando — inspired by Valencia’s promise to provide a better place to start. Little did she know, however, she would not only discover a passion for learning, but also a passion for serving.

Recalling Valencia mentors who helped Mary navigate challenges like attaining Florida residency and receiving financial aid, Mary says she knew early on in her educational career that she wanted to give back to help students overcome their own challenges.

“Those mentors ignited the desire to pass it on, because it’s not easy coming into the community college environment,” she said.

Whether students are starting college later in life, like she did, come from families without a background in higher education or they struggled through high school, Mary knew she wanted to serve as a bridge to overcome those barriers and serve as a living example of the transformational power of education. To do that, she began her Valencia journey as a peer educator on the Osceola Campus, and she never turned back.

Today, a Valencia alumna who proudly holds an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in educational leadership, Mary manages student services on the new Poinciana Campus. While Mary admits to once considering moving back to Virginia to empower students who lacked access to higher education, she said she’s now driven to serve right here in Central Florida where so many Poinciana students require the type of inspiration and empowerment higher education can offer.

Committed to increasing the community’s college-going rate and strengthening the Poinciana community, she says there’s lot of work to be done.

“We have a lot of discussions about how to retain our students, how to encourage them and how to help them because many of them come from families who are new to the U.S. or have financial issues,” she explained. “It’s hard. You’re working, you’re trying to raise a family and go back to school, or you’re 18 years old and you have to help support your family. All of these different things [complicate going to school]. So, that’s a big issue here at Poinciana Campus. We’re trying to anticipate these issues and support our students.”

Fortunately, Mary says, she has a dedicated, motivated and empathetic team to work with. With most of her staff residents of the Poinciana community, her team understands barriers to access and how the Valencia community can rally behind Poinciana to realize our mission of transforming lives. And that’s exactly what Mary sets out to do.

4 Comments

  • Eva A. said:

    Great things to be done at Poinciana, Mary! So excited that you get to be a part of that! 🙂

    PMTue, 26 Sep 2017 18:45:17 +0000Tue, 26 Sep 2017 18:45:17 +0000pm17,6:45 pm

  • Nicholle said:

    Mary,
    We miss you soooo much at Osceola but Poinciana Campus is a whole new world for our community! Thank you for your student advocacy and leadership!

    AMWed, 27 Sep 2017 08:04:02 +0000Wed, 27 Sep 2017 08:04:02 +0000am17,8:04 am

  • Catherine R. said:

    I foresee many great things to happen at Poinciana with your leadership and passion on helping our students 🙂

    AMWed, 27 Sep 2017 10:03:51 +0000Wed, 27 Sep 2017 10:03:51 +0000am17,10:03 am

  • Eileen Lowe said:

    Mary,
    The faculty, staff, and students are so fortunate to have you:) We miss you on Osceola but take comfort in knowing you are just an IM away.

    PMWed, 27 Sep 2017 14:10:47 +0000Wed, 27 Sep 2017 14:10:47 +0000pm17,2:10 pm

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