community colleges in prime time

Let’s face it, community colleges are often the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education on film and TV. I have cringed at the cheap shots.

But I get it.

Community colleges began in 1901 and swelled in the 1960s and ’70s, some 200 years after the first public US university opened. Until this current generation, two-year colleges were largely overlooked, serving primarily students with no other options. It was only a generation ago that most were junior colleges that looked a whole lot like 13th and 14th grades.

My how times have changed. Public community colleges are now the predominant mode of higher education nationwide and in Florida, enrolling 46 percent of all U.S. undergraduates. There are many other wondrous facts I could share with you about university-transfer rates,  closing achievement gaps, affordability, honors opportunities, diversity, lifelong learning and the like — but I’m really preaching to the converted here.

I raise the issue because NBC is unveiling a new fall show on Thursday nights, “Community,” debuting Sept. 17 at 9:30. I find it encouraging that we’re working our way into prime time; after all, most educational sitcoms take place in high schools. Is this a sign of our ubiquity?

It stars Chevy Chase. I’m not sure what that means exactly; I’m afraid I’m having a “Caddy Shack” flashback. The early previews (“a place where anyone can begin again”) are somewhat promising, though the description on the NBC website plays up the stereotypes. Of course comedy relies heavily on underdogs, and you’ll find a whole study group full of them on “Community.” (Think Isle of Misfit Toys).

Here is one preview.

What do you think?

We know that our colleges are places of hope and opportunity. I’m hopeful we’ll see some of that experience reflected here.

I’m willing to keep an open mind.

courageous conversations to support our learners

I read an article this weekend in the New York Times about how the economy is impacting the ability of students to afford tuition and of foundations and colleges to offer scholarships.

The article, “Scholarships for College Dwindle as Providers Pull Back Their Support,” paints a dismal picture of a perfect storm: At the same time families are struggling financially, institutions are cutting back on private student aid.

There’s a logic to a conservative approach by the leaders in higher education and nonprofits, to ensure their sustainability and long-term fiscal health.

Yet, if our mission is to serve students, how do we back down when the need has never been more urgent?

Valencia Foundation’s board asked itself that same question in many discussions over the past six months. They weren’t always easy conversations and the questions were challenging: Are we who we say we are if we take the easy way out? How do we ensure we meet our fiduciary responsibility for the financial future of the foundation? What if things get worse?

My observation is that the questions were a necessary part of the board’s due diligence but, as I watched, the outcome seemed to be a forgone conclusion. Their intention was to meet our mission and assist our students, whatever it takes.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some “yikes” moments along the way.

The next question was how, and that was a little simpler: We will raise the necessary unrestricted, new dollars to maintain our support from last year — and maybe even increase it a bit. That allows the endowment to recover at the same time that students are served.

The next steps will be less simple, securing those dollars. Over the past five years, the foundation tripled its disbursement of scholarship dollars, so the price tag is not modest and donors are tightening their philanthropic belts. (This reality inspired most of the yikes moments. :-))

It was a courageous commitment — official early this month — that runs counter to the strategy many nonprofits are taking, which is to await the economic upturn so they can return to normalcy. I can’t help wondering: At what price comes safety?

We have a volunteer board of 60 local leaders who “get it.” They are in this for the students and never forget they are our first priority.

Together with our loyal donors, we’ll make it happen. I have no doubt.

for students: sos funds may help in a pinch

Many of our students face sudden life crises that may force them out of school. Often they are an unexpected car bill, a change in child care arrangements, an insurance premium increase or other expenses that occur when “life happens.”

Too many times, a relatively minor expense looms large, and forces a student out of school.

The foundation makes available modest SOS grants — which don’t impact financial aid eligibility — of up to $300 to assist eligible students based on the recommendation of Valencia student advisers. The turnaround is typically just a few days.

The intention is to keep our students learning and enrolled in class, making progress toward their ultimate goals.

If you need a hand, please visit the student Answer Desk on campus to speak with an adviser and apply.

share your view

If you have a Valencia experience, we’d like to share it.

You might be a student, a professor, an alum or a donor.

Just send your post to and we will be sure to share.

it’s not because of us . . .

This month has really impressed upon me how much of the foundation’s good work isn’t of our own design but that of small community groups working for a larger purpose.

I recently traveled to the Osceola/Kissimmee area for a meeting of the Hispanic Business Council. This didn’t seem to be formal meeting with strict adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order (although I’m sure Robert was there somewhere) and I was awed by the camaraderie of individuals gathered. They shared—not reported—with each other updates on government budgets and spending, with guidance from representatives from local agencies and, my favorite, discussed what could be done to continue to support students with scholarships. I witnessed community and business leaders coming together for more than just business networking and lunch – they were coming together for the good of their community and all it encompassed.

Every year two organizations, Commercial Real Estate of Woman and American Institute of Architects, each hold a golf tournament using their organization’s resources and membership to host the event. Last Friday at the AIA tournament, Valencia student Dominique Walker thanked AIA for the opportunity to continue his studies in building construction. These two groups, seemingly unrelated to Valencia, do more with these tournaments than fund membership event, they fund a future for students.

Tuesday I met with three Rotary Club of Southwest Orlando members to look at how they can effectively utilize their current scholarship budget to help students defer college costs.  Over a glass of iced tea these gentlemen impressed upon me that they really take the Rotary club’s motto  ‘service above self’ to heart. This group is committed to making the world around them just a bit better — in any modest way they can.

These groups and organizations aren’t doing good work because of the Valencia Foundation. They are preparing their community, no matter how it’s defined, for a better future. It’s the leadership, guidance, and foresight of our donors, people just like you, who want to create a better place for others.  The support Valencia Foundation provides to students: It’s not because of us . . . it’s because of you.

— Donna

lisa macon: the inspiration of students who defy the odds


As a child, I was often labeled “overachiever,” or, sometimes, “geek.” The term applied depended on who was doing the labeling. None of these semi-derogatory names vexed me in the slightest, because I knew I was going places. I was going to do the big things and, consequently, make the big bucks. I knew this without a doubt and no one dared to contradict me.

Flash forward to the year 1995, and my life was proceeding as planned. Following my BS degree – completed in 3.5 years, thank you very much – and my first master’s degree, I was working in a very exciting, fast-paced environment as a software developer for a highly priced, highly skilled consulting firm. We were doing cutting-edge work for high-profile clients and there was never a dull moment. My paychecks were big and my skill set was growing ever larger.

And I wanted to throw myself out of a fourth-story window every single day.

Here is what they don’t tell you in school – or at least, they didn’t tell you back then. Bosses are demanding and very often, mean. Your best work, which you were taught to produce as a student, is TOO good, and it won’t encourage the clients to call us back in to do more work and pay us more money later on. Profit-oriented business can be cut-throat, painful and completely unfriendly. I was making all the money in the world, but I had no will to spend it and my child was growing up behind my back while I missed most of the experience. It is difficult to explain how much I hated my work environment without resorting to some sort of profanity.

So, I left the business, went into temporary financial ruin, and re-evaluated my situation.

Life can take some strange and interesting routes to get you where you are meant to be. Following certain events such as divorce, moving to another state to sponge off very wonderful parents and learning to deal with single-motherhood, I found myself standing in front of a classroom of somewhat willing yet none-too-eager finite mathematics students at UCF when the thought occurred to me that for the first time in a long time, I was doing something I actually felt good about. And there was icing on the cake – I was getting paid to do it. Not much, mind you. But, still… getting paid, and most importantly, feeling good about it and not at all like jumping out of a window. This, my friends, was progress.

Continue reading

mdc invests $1 million in valencia and florida

MDC Inc. this week committed more than $1 million to Valencia and the state of Florida to expand groundbreaking developmental education programs that promise to boost the college completion rates of low-income students and students of color.

Every year, roughly 375,000 Florida degree-seeking students attend a local community college, with nearly 40 percent of them having to take remedial classes to build basic academic skills. Many are unable to meet their goal of completing college. National studies have shown that nearly two-thirds of those who take remedial classes never graduate. However, successful programs at several colleges demonstrate that these numbers can be improved.

The grants announced will support innovative remedial programs developed by Valencia Community College through Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a multi-year national initiative that is aiming to dramatically boost college graduation rates among low-income students and students of color. The remedial education models pioneered by these colleges represent some of the most promising work in the country for boosting college completion rates among struggling students.

Valencia will receive $743,000 over three years. Continue reading

we are lost, but somehow found … each other!

This past Friday was the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Orlando golf tournament. The outing was great; it was at Reunion Resort which is absolutely gorgeous! A lot of golfers and good times and scholarships raised for students. All in all a fantastic day. I’m sure we’ll get a great recap from Anissa when all the numbers are in – today I wanted to chat about a funny story from the day that really made me think.

As volunteers for the outing, we were dispatched out on the course, and entered the course from a kind of side road that led to the morning’s registration area. It was not a difficult road to find, but at the fork, you were tempted to go the other way which eventually took you over a very cool bridge while enjoying natural Florida landscaping (as I said before, Reunion is gorgeous). Celica and I did indeed fall to that temptation and took the road better traveled. Soon realized we were about seven holes away from where we needed to be and the tournament was ending!

An anxiousness set in – would we get back in time? We needed to get raffle prizes out of our cars and help with the luncheon! Nervously we headed over the horizon, perhaps we could backtrack on the main road. Suddenly, up over the next small hill, comes a golf cart – and in it we see two red shirts and two big smiles. We had found some of our fellow Valencia Foundation team! They had re-routed as well and had come the other way. After a few minutes, we figured out which fork we should have taken and headed back with quick determination.

All was well … we got back just in time and finished the day. Looking around the room at lunch I realized, isn’t that just how it is for a team at work? We all set out on our own path, in our own “life cart.” Some of us drive fast, some slow and there may be some wrong turns and nervous times along the way. And yet, we all found each other – of all the people out there, we came together to form this amazing team of people who achieve good things, really good things, to further the mission of Valencia Foundation. Anything we do is touched by, shaped by, driven by this team and it amazes me what an impact everyone’s work has on our students and community. And… there is no better group to spend the day on the golf course with!

change a life: be a mentor

Perhaps my singular seminal experience (other than being a godmom) has been serving as a mentor.

Ashley and I were matched when she was 7 through Big Brothers Big Sisters in Houston. I still remember our first walk through a park (when she was getting to know me and we had the option of choosing another match opportunity if it was not a good “fit”), and she explained the entire ecosystem to me. Today she is 19 and we’ve shared so many priceless experiences.

I would not trade our time together for the world.

The ironic part is that you walk into this thinking you might be helping another person. What I discovered is that it had a tremendous impact on me. Some days I was sure that I was getting back way more than I was giving.

You, too, can become a mentor who has the opportunity to impact the life of a child through Take Stock in Children. This program is a little different, requiring just an hour a week onsite at the child’s school.

Valencia recently adopted the program, which offers middle school students a coach and a full 2+2 scholarship once they graduate from high school after having fulfilled their covenant of good grades and solid discipline.

We need more mentors.

Are you the one?

Please check out the Valencia site and apply if it seems like a good fit for your life. Details also are below.

As many of you know, Valencia is in its second year of implementing the Orange County Take Stock in Children initiative.  We recruited 65 mentors to kick off last year and we are welcoming 40 new mentors for the 2009-2010 school year. Continue reading

freddie filmore jr. scholarship

SunGard Public Sector recently announced the first award for the Freddie Filmore Jr. Memorial Scholarship through Valencia Foundation.

The scholarship recipient, Tonia Henselin, is a Valencia Community College student working toward her associate of applied science degree in criminal justice. She plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida and continue her education to become a juvenile probation officer.

This scholarship was developed in partnership with Valencia Foundation and is designated for students registered for the Law Enforcement Academy through the Criminal Justice Institute. The family of Freddie Filmore Jr. screens and selects the recipient for the scholarship, which offers financial assistance for tuition, books, fees and materials. Mr. Filmore was a long-time employee of SunGard Public Sector who passed away suddenly in 2007. SunGard Public Sector provides technology and software solutions to help public safety and justice agencies, city and county governments, and K-12 school districts improve the lives of the citizens they serve. These solutions impact more than 140 million citizens in North America.

Continue reading

easy way to help raise scholarships

A Taste for Learning will be Oct.17 at Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.

If you are wondering how you can help: Here’s an easy way.

Ask your routine service providers (nails, hair. spa, house cleaning, car maintenance, restaurants, golf, yard, a/c, plumbing (etc.) if they would offer a gift certificate.

Every dollar doubles through the first generation grant.

golf and scholarships: a good day

The American Institute of Architects’ Orlando chapter organized yet another wonderful round of golf, benefiting student scholarships. To date they’ve raised $115,000, not counting today’s earnings.

It was a toasty day but the event was amazing and perfect!

I’d like to thank Michael Lingerfelt and his AIA volunteers for orchestrating. I appreciate Anissa Alvarez, on our foundation team, for her leadership. And I cannot forget CT Hsu and Alan Helman, who brought the idea to me about eight years ago, inspired by CREW’s awesome history of tournament fundraising that has generated an endowment of about a quarter of a  million dollars.

It takes a village to raise children. It also takes a village to raise the scholarships we need to ensure that deserving students stand a chance. So many people invested in this tournament, and I am very grateful to each of you.

our students thank you

I receive many thank you notes from students. Sometimes they come in the form of those singing cards that I open again and again (I readily admit that I am easily amused; I was drawn for days to a friend’s work website that offered me a standing ovation and applause every time I visited).

But each student note is special. And each one tells a story.

Over time, we will share many of the messages we receive from students — and encourage those who are willing to post directly here.

But in the meantime, here are a few excerpts I’d like to share:

Thank you for believing in humanity. At this time in every aspect of society the financial crunch is being felt by all. The funds you have donated will be well spent by me and will surely be appreciated. Again, I must thank you for believing. – J. Bryan

It is an honor to be recognized for my hard work, and receiving this scholarship motivates me to continue to strive for excellence. Your generosity has made a profound impact on my life, and I am truly grateful to be the recipient of this scholarship. I thank you for your confidence and willingness to help me achieve my educational goals. – D. Ross

I would like to thank you for being chosen as a recipient for your scholarship. This scholarship will help with books and supplies for my education. Earning my degree will be very rewarding, but knowing that there are people who care and will be there for you means a lot. I would like to express my deepest appreciation for your sincere kindness. – L. James

As a single mother of five children, attending Valencia is a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. Juggling the demands of a full-time job, parenting and being a student requires a lot of energy, faith and support. Your assistance means a great deal to me and my children, as I always remind them that my education has been a team effort between all of us. Thank you for your continued support. – A. Llorca

To each of you who has invested in the life of another, I thank you. Our students thank you. If we had a standing ovation/applause widget, it would honor you!

please give us your opinion

on gratitude: featuring poetry by sandy

One of the great joys of my work is that every day is different. But amid the diversity a common theme emerges: Every day I get to help make people’s dreams come true. It’s nourishing work.

Sometimes it’s the donor who is able to honor the immigrant parents who ensured she went to college by endowing a scholarship in their memory. Or a benefactor who wishes to provide the opportunities for students that he never had growing up.

Many times it means that a young man will be able to attend college and break the cycle of poverty, or a single mom can balance her life with her studies to earn a degree, serving as a role model for her little ones.

A young man who grew up on food stamps and free lunches is able to visit South America to study abroad, soaking up the culture, history, politics, arts and language in a way that just can’t happen from reading a book. Or a woman experiences the bone-chilling concentration camps first hand, bringing history to life.

A midlife parent realizes that there is opportunity beyond the recession, as he trains for and builds a new career to support his family. A mother flees with her children and the clothes on her back to escape abuse and start anew. The life stories of so many of our students demonstrate triumph over adversity. Continue reading

i like to move it, move it

At our board meeting recently, the inevitable discussion of the economy came up. Thankfully, our foundation’s wise and prudent investment strategy has softened the blow for our foundation, and thus for the students we serve. And though the discussion was focused on financial aspects, I found my mind wandering to economic coping strategies on a more personal level. How do I deal with the stress and the strife when things seem a bit overwhelming and the bottom line is looming?

Well, I like to move it, move it!

As a staff member, sometimes I feel the effects of the “behind the desk syndrome,” where my view seems clouded by my desk and papers and deadlines and oh gosh! all that intense stuff! During those times, it is so important for me to physically move myself out from behind my desk and into the community where I can see our mission in action. I had the pleasure of doing that twice recently, at a Take Stock in Children celebration event and at Valencia’s Alumni Achievers Reception.

At both events, what struck me was that the achievement and accolades go so beyond just the student being called to the podium. It transcends the room: It is the pride in the faces of the parents, teachers and mentors; it is in the hope of the younger children – siblings, sons and daughters – who now see that education and success are attainable.

As the claps and the hoots and joy rang out at the alumni event, our board chair, Helen, turned to me and said, “This is what it is all about.”

And she’s right – it’s not just about who needs to be called back first or which email I need to respond to…it’s about attending to my daily work with the real purpose in mind – to bring education, and the realized dreams that come with it, to so many in our community.

I’m grateful to have been able to experience those events. Suddenly, my view just got a lot brighter.


what is your high school grad doing this fall?

Here’s a fun little video. A a word to the wise: Classes are filling up quickly and some have already closed out for fall semester. So if you’re planning to attend, be sure to apply and enroll soon.

And if you have any questions, send us a note. We’ll find the answer or get you to the right person.

welcome to second life

Valencia has been busily acquiring property to help accommodate our burgeoning student population. You probably know that we’re planning for new campuses in southeast and southwest Orlando. But the real estate I’m referring to is virtual and resides on Second Life, where the college has a building and is in the process of buying another.

I visited Second Life, and to be perfectly honest I haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it yet. Of course I’m not the target demographic. But it’s intriguing to watch learning change with each new wave of technology. I’ve read about SL over the past few years, as virtual real estate moguls amassed real dollars. I’m not sure if the recession has hit the online real estate market. (For details on the SL campus, see the very end of this post.)

Continue reading

architects raise much needed scholarships


We’re anxiously awaiting the June 19 golf outing with our friends from the local architecture community. Central Florida’s top architectural design professionals have been busily planning the 20th annual AIA Orlando Golf Tournament benefiting Valencia Community College Foundation scholarship fund and the AIA Orlando Chapter. The goal for this tournament is to raise scholarship funds for students in financial need. During the past seven years this tournament has raised more than $115,000 in scholarships!


This year the event will tee off at the The Reunion Resort. Continue reading

nisod recognizes excellence in teaching and learning

Congratulations to five of our talented Valencia employees, nominated by colleagues and selected by a representative group of peers to receive the 2009 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development Excellence in Learning Leadership Award: Priscilla Gray, Linda Hidek, Ilyse Kusnetz, Lisa Macon and James May.

take stock in children celebrates mentoring

Students from Lee Middle School, Lockhart Middle School and Howard Middle School gathered at Valencia Community College for a ceremony celebrating their selection for the 2009-2010 Take Stock in Children program in Orange County.


Take Stock in Children is a statewide initiative that provides underserved students with a college scholarship and a mentor in the effort to help them stay in school, earn a high school diploma, graduate from college and enter the workforce.
Participating students are recruited in the seventh grade and continue on until they graduate high school. Students and parents must sign performance contracts agreeing to get good grades, exhibit positive behaviors and remain drug and crime free.
“These students are making a covenantal commitment – a promise to do their best and achieve at their highest potential,” said Valencia President Sanford Shugart. “We make the promise that if you make that commitment, college is here for you.” Continue reading

how do today’s students learn?

Is it true that the only constant is change? The world is changing. With Web 2.0 engrossing people all over the globe, the way students learn is changing very dramatically too. Valencia’s professors have been embarking on creative delivery of learning to engage today’s students. Over the past few years our endowed faculty chair applications have shown increasing levels of innovation designed to facilitate learning.

Here is an insightful video that demonstrates the new learning dynamic occurring every day in our classrooms.

What do you think?

board members enjoying taste 3

Our foundation board members took a minute from the festivities to pose for the camera. Don’t miss the opportunity to join us for Taste 4, benefiting 2+2 scholarships for Valencia students planning to transfer to UCF. Join us Oct. 17 at Rosen Shingle Creek.

the story behind taste for learning


Perhaps the biggest misconception about the green phenomenon is that it requires enormous sacrifice. Yet the contributions of many working together create renewable resources and sustainability, leading to a healthier planet and a brighter future.

Nowhere is that alchemy truer than in philanthropy. Donors to endowment sustain communities for generations to come.

Special event fundraising might not be considered part of the green equation; however, a very organic idea led to Valencia Foundation’s three fundraising events, A Taste for Learning, which have generated $1.2 million in scholarships for deserving students in need. Continue reading

florida citrus sports donates $1 million to take stock


Sandy Shugart, Elisha Gonzalez-Bonnewitz, Chuck Beverly and Chuck Olgilvy

Florida Citrus Sports Chief Executive Officer Steve Hogan announced today that the FCSports Foundation has made a $1 million donation to help Valencia bring Take Stock in Children (TSIC) to Orange County. FCSports, the founding partner, has committed to sponsor children for five years in the program at $200,000 per year.

Take Stock in Children is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing scholarships and mentors to qualifying low-income, at-risk youth in Florida. Since its inception in 1995, it has served more than 17,600 students through use of the Florida pre-paid college fund. Prior to the collaborative effort of Valencia and FCSports, Orange County was the lone county in the state without the widely successful program. Continue reading

campaign raises $27 million

Valencia Foundation recently celebrated the successful culmination of its first-ever campaign to support Valencia Community College (Valencia). With a mid-2004 kick-off, the campaign drew more than $27 million in community support, exceeding its $20 million goal.

This year, the college will serve about 60,000 students, many of whom will need financial assistance to learn, train and retool, particularly in this challenging economic environment.

“Our students need us now more than ever, and we are grateful to our friends and partners in Central Florida for their consistent and increasing support even as they face a tough economy that impacts their own families and businesses,” says Helen Von Dolteren-Fournier, Esq., who serves as the foundation board chairwoman and principal in AEGIS Law Advisers in Winter Park.

Since 2001, the foundation”s endowment has tripled, growing from $17.2 million in 2001 to $52.6 million in 2008. Continue reading

crew golf drives home scholarships

I would like to share my sincerest gratitude to the women (and men) of Commercial Real Estate Women of Orlando for another successful golf tourney, proceeds to benefit student scholarships. They’ve raised about a quarter of a million dollars for Valencia students so far — and are now helping us to provide 2+2 scholarships for Valencia/UCF students, an area of especially urgent need. I appreciate each of you!

gg golf pix

Former CREW golf chair Jim Grumberg

$1 million seneff family gift endows honors college

The foundation celebrated the successful culmination of its $27 million capital campaign, recognizing board members and major donors. Keynoting the event was Jim Seneff, chairman and chief executive officer of CNL Financial Group Inc., who explored the role of Valencia and philanthropy in the community, sharing the reasons his family had made the college a philanthropic priority. The foundation board also recognized the Seneff family for their capstone gift, which created the James M. and Dayle L. Seneff Honors College. Continue reading

mike bosley places first in nursing scholarship dance-off

I’m proud to announce that at the 2009 charity dance-off, choreographed by Femmes de Coeur friends and donors, Valencia was triumphant! Among the four nursing schools competing, our hoofer, Dr. Michael Bosley, assistant provost of our new Lake Nona campus and husband of speech professor and foundation board member, Dr. Amy, WON hands down (or is that feet down)! My sincere gratitude to FDC and Mike! You rock!

welcome and thanks for stopping by

Welcome to our new home on the web. I hope you’ll spend a few minutes exploring and share with us your thoughts on how to make this blog rock. Our five staff bloggers (the Bloggettes?) will be joined occasionally by guest authors. Would you like to be one?

Here is why I care about this college and its people.

Valencia is a place of great hope. You see it in the faces of our students. You witness it in the nurturing hands of faculty and staff members who guide students through their learning odysseys and help them overcome hurdles. On commencement day, hope is manifest as graduates – some proudly, some humbly and others doing a little jig – cross the stage to accept their hard-earned diplomas. Countless, for the first time ever, are optimistic about their futures.

While our nation faces enormous challenges, it is comforting to know that hope abides.

What is even more heartening is to watch our students’ hope evolve, little by little, into faith:  faith that they can withstand challenges and not only survive but thrive; faith in their own abilities and intelligence; faith that allows them to accept help from others.

Among the knowledge gained at Valencia, perhaps the most important lesson a student can learn is to keep faith with himself. Continue reading