women behind liberia’s peace movement inspire students and faculty

The scenes were heartbreaking. Little boys carrying guns, bragging about how many people they’d killed. Children on crutches, missing limbs that had been chopped off by soldiers. Women recounting how their husbands were killed and their daughters raped by soldiers.

All were victims of a civil war that raged in Liberia for 14 years. The war engulfed the nation and destroyed families — until ordinary women banded together to demand peace.

More than 150 students, faculty and members of the public gathered at Valencia’s West Campus on Jan. 26 to watch and discuss ”Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” an award-winning documentary that tells the gripping account of a brave group of women whose sit-ins and demonstrations finally led to peace for their war-torn country.

The leader of that movement, Leymah Roberts Gbowee, was one of the three women who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Gbowee helped organize the women’s Mass Action Campaign, which started in one community and spread to over 50 communities across Liberia. They dressed in white T-shirts and white headbands and confronted warlords, demanding peace. They sat in the sun and rain in markets and on the sides of roads, demanding that leaders listen. 

When peace talks in nearby Ghana stalled, the women protesters surrounded the building, linking arms and refusing to let the different parties leave until they hammered out an agreement. Finally, after more than two years of protests, President Charles Taylor was exiled and the West African nation elected a new president,  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in Africa.

The one-hour documentary, which has won a string of awards at film festivals around the world, is an uplifting look at how ordinary people can band together to change the world.

After watching the 60-minute documentary, students and members of the public participated in a discussion led by Agnes Kamara-Umunna, a Liberian radio host and author of the book, “And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation.”

Umunna, whose visit was part of a three-day residency called “Conversation on Compassion,” served as a statement taker for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission after that country’s brutal civil war. In Liberia, she works with the child soldiers who were co-opted to fight in the war — but who have been rejected by their families and much of Liberian society. They are victims too, said Umunna.

Many now live on the streets of Monrovia, homeless, doing drugs and drinking alcohol, though Umunna has built a center in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, to help them. “I talk to them, one-on-one,” she told the audience. “It’s hard…. Because these kids are ex-fighters, nobody wants to donate money to help them.”

Although Liberia has made progress, she warned the audience that the peace there is fragile. ”We are sitting on a time bomb right now. There is real tension between the presidential candidates,” Umunna said. (Because no candidate received a majority of the votes in the presidential election held in October, a run-off election was held in November — and president Sirleaf won the runoff, but the results have been contested by her opponent.)

For audience members, the film was touching and inspiring. ”These women were heroes,” said Valencia student Juanita Islam. “I don’t know if I could have done that.”

But the discussion, and the failure of the West to intervene in a war that ravaged the country, was eye-opening to many. ”We say that Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini could not happen today,” said Valencia student Kris Boodooram, “but why didn’t anyone stop these men (in Liberia)? This happened in this millennium.”

The event was sponsored by Valencia’s Peace and Justice Initiative, the Global Peace Film Festival and the West Campus Human Empathy & Rights Organization.

Source: Linda Shrieves Beaty

npr story has a valencia connection

Valencia’s Lisa Macon featured in NPR story about worker retraining.


what is the aspen award?

Valencia College was recently awarded the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.  This award is based on student performance and graduation data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

Colleges recognized by the Aspen Prize serve as models and laboratories for identifying practices that can elevate community college education. This is extremely meaningful to the 6 million students who rely on the nearly 1,200 community colleges nationwide, particularly students who are under-represented in higher education.

Walter Isaacson serves as the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute.  The Aspen Institute board of trustees is made up of high-level individuals from the public and private sectors and include Madeleine K. Albright, Michael D. Eisner, Henry Louis Gates Jr., David Koch and Condoleezza Rice just to name a few. 

In selecting Valencia as the best community college in America, Aspen officials noted that over half of the college’s full-time students graduate or transfer within three years of entering the school, a rate significantly higher than the national average (51 percent versus 39 percent).

At a time when data show an increasing number of students nationwide are not ready for college-level work – and that the U.S. has slipped to 12th globally in the percentage of young adults who hold at least an associate degree – Valencia is experiencing rising graduation rates among all students, including minorities.

  • Valencia has experienced dramatic increases in graduation rates among college-ready African American students, nearly tripling in the last decade from 15.4 percent to 44.3 percent today.
  • Graduation rates for college-ready Hispanic students have similarly impressive gains, jumping from 38.7 to 45.5 percent in the last decade.

Because community colleges also train students for the workforce, Aspen judges focused on the college’s workforce training programs and the likelihood of graduates landing jobs. They noted that Valencia graduates “are employed at rates higher than graduates from any of the other 10 Aspen Prize finalists. This is especially impressive given the region’s unusually high unemployment rate and low job growth rate.”

This is not the first time that Valencia has made national news. In November, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named Valencia ESL professor James May the 2011 Florida Professor of the Year. May was one of only 27 state professors selected to represent the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country.

In 2009, Valencia won the inaugural Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Success Leadership Award for helping minority students succeed. In 2007, the New York Times named Valencia as one of the nation’s leading community colleges, and in 2001, Valencia was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the nation’s best schools at helping first-year students excel.

fafsa frenzy february

Interested in a new laptop computer? Sure you are!

Register today for FAFSA Frenzy February – a program offered by Valencia’s financial aid department to educate students about the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA), college goal sunday in Florida, veteran’s affairs and much more.

So why should you attend? A FAFSA must be submitted every year to receive financial aid. Applying early can increase your financial aid award and you’ll have experts in this department to assist you! Drawings for laptops will occur for students who complete their FAFSA onsite.

Help is available on the following campuses, dates and times:

West Campus
Student Services Building (SSB), Room 142
February 8, 2012
1:00-7:00 p.m.

Osceola Campus
Building 3, Room 100
February 17, 2012
10:00-7:00 p.m.

East Campus
Building 4, Room 122
February 22, 2012
1:00-7:00 p.m.

What are you waiting for? Visit http://valenciacollege.edu/finaid/fafsafrenzy.cfm to register today!

bernice king, daughter of martin luther king jr., at valencia tomorrow


Dr. Bernice King, speaker, author, minister and daughter of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will speak at Valencia College tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the East Campus Performing Arts Center (PAC).


King’s presentation, titled “Raising the Standard,” is meant to be a call to action—especially for students—to become more civically engaged in their communities and lead others to achieve the dreams and ideals of her father.


Her visit is being sponsored by Valencia’s office of Student Development. As space in the PAC is limited and available on a first-come, first-seated basis, the college will offer live streaming in an overflow area as well as at locations on other Valencia campuses: West Campus, HSB 105; Osceola Campus, Bldg. 1 Auditorium; or Winter Park Campus, Rms. 224, 225 & 226.


Valencia’s East Campus is located at 701 N. Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando. The talk is free and open to the public. For more information, call 407-582-2313.


Source: Marketing and Strategic Communications, Valencia Community College; Valencia News; http://news.valenciacollege.edu


got compassion?

Valencia will host a series of activities next week, January 23rd – 26th  based on the work of internationally acclaimed scholar of religion, Karen Armstrong and her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. 

The program schedule offers a unique opportunity to join Valencia colleagues and expose yourself to subjects like Socratic dialogue, compassionate listening, ahimsa, the Buddhist notion of non-self, Islam, Ayurveda, self-leadership, peacebuilding, meditation and mindfulness.

 Valencia’s Peace and Justice program also host a Multifaith Forum with Imam Musri, Rabbi David Kay and Father William Holiday discussing the relevance of religion in the 21st Century on Wednesday afternoon from 1:00-2: 15 PM.   All events will be held on East in 3-113 and are free and open to all.

In addition, Osceola and West Campuses will host Agnes Umunna, Liberian radio host and author of And Still Peace Did Not Come.  A free and public film screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, hosted by the HEROS club will take place on West Campus in the Special Events Center, building 8 on Thursday evening from 6:30-9:00 PM.  The discussion following the film will be led by Ms. Umunna.

The community, Valencia Students faculty, staff, alumni and friends are invited to these events .  The schedule of events is available through the link below.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact the Peace and Justice Office at 407-582-2291 or peaceandjustice@valenciacollege.edu.

 For the full schedule of events, visit online at:

orlando declares monday ‘valencia college day’

Orlando Declares Monday ‘Valencia College Day’

In honor of Valencia College winning the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Orlando City Commission on Jan. 9 paid tribute to the college that has been recognized as being the top two-year college in the nation.

“They were not named one of the best community colleges in the nation, but the best, number one community college in the entire nation,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, proclaiming that Jan. 9 would be recognized as Valencia College Day in the city of Orlando.

Last month, Valencia was named the winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence at a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. The award comes with $600,000 in prize money.

During Monday’s city commission meeting, Dyer and members of the commission said the nation is finally discovering what they’ve known for a long time: the excellent reputation of Valencia.

“Congratulations to Valencia College,” said Commissioner Samuel B. Ings. “It was Valencia Community College when I was there and graduated from Valencia in the 1970s. It was really great that the Aspen institute recognized the great things they’re doing.”

Ings noted that Valencia prepares a lot of minority students for the job market and helps them find employment as they near graduation. “They really do move a lot of students along, particularly African-Americans,” Ings said.

Several members of the Valencia College staff attended the city commission meeting to hear Mayor Dyer read the proclamation, including Valencia President Sandy Shugart, who  said his staff was deeply proud of the honor awarded by the Aspen Institute, and equally proud to be serving the Orlando community.

“A great college like Valencia College is only as good as the community we’re in,” Shugart said. “We’re grateful for that honor and that support.”

Dyer said the Aspen recognition is valuable to the city’s business leaders too. In a recent meeting to discuss economic development efforts in the city of Orlando, business leaders said one key to the city’s future growth will be having well-educated students and college graduates, Dyer said. “They talk about education being one of the most critical components,” Dyer said. He noted that Valencia College has a wide curriculum, offering 700 courses each semester, and that the college “produces more associates degrees each semester than any other community college in the nation.” These courses, Dyer said, “link students to well paying jobs” both in Orlando and other parts of Florida and the nation.

Commissioner Daisy W. Lynum also noted that those courses have first-rate reputations as well. “It’s real good to stand for intelligence and brilliance in education,” she said.

developers chase markets for apps

Walter Pacheco, Orlando Sentinel writes about Central Florida’s high-tech companies who face a fast-paced 2012.  As innovations in mobile technology roll out, competition becomes fiercer among the top players.

The complete article can be viewed at:


Dr. Lisa Macon is a professor of Computer Programming and Information Technology at the West Campus, where she also serves as the program chair for Information Technology.

“We’ve been receiving a lot of calls for internships or short-term job placement agencies looking for students who can develop apps,” said Lisa Macon, professor of Information Technology at Valencia College, who teaches a class on app development.

Macon said there are a few local app developers and they charge hefty prices for their services. Teaching students about app development not only serves local companies looking for a less costly alternative, but it also encourages entrepreneurial growth.

By Walter Pacheco, Orlando Sentinel
January 8 2012, 9:21 PM EST

valencia in the spring

As another major term is upon us – I have to ask myself, are students aware of all of the deadlines that come with a brand new semester?

Although registration began in early November, flex courses are still available for the spring term. If you are intersted in searching for possible classes – visit http://net5.valenciacollege.edu/schedule/ to see what’s still available! Monday, January 9, 2012 will start another school term and you have until January 17 to add or drop classes. Please remember that this is a critical deadline, you don’t want to be a “no show” if you decide a class isn’t for you!

Remember to always check www.valenciacollege.edu for important dates and deadlines and login to your atlas account for important announcements from the college, faculty and staff.

Here’s to a healthy, safe and successful school term!

happy new year

Happy 2012! I hope everyone enjoyed a safe and happy holiday season. As this new year starts, back to work and back to schedules, I am going to work hard to keep the spirit of the season alive all year.

This year, as a staff service project, foundation staff volunteered at IDignity. IDignity was created to help the disadvantaged in Central Florida overcome the difficulties of obtaining the personal identification that is crucial to enabling them to become self-sufficient. For more information about the program, visit www.idignity.org.

The December event was held at the Orlando Rescue Mission. As a staff we spread out, working in different areas. I ended up helping with crowd flow as folks went through reception and intake. For some clients, this was a second trip to an IDignity event, they had already processed all of the paperwork and were awaiting a document  (birth certificate, etc.).  Those folks would check in at reception, where there was a door with a window, and a volunteer would often say, “Okay, wait just a second, let me check the list.” The client would wait patiently as the volunteer would check a few places.

If the door opened, it was great news! Document in hand, the volunteer confirmed the client’s identity and handed over the document. This was a celebratory occasion, not enough to just slip the document through the window and please move on your way. Volunteers offered applause, backslaps and cheers, with the clients in the reception area always joining in. For the client, the moment usually brought some tears, along with a story of how long this journey has taken. For some, it was as long as eight years spent trying to get correct documentation.

I joined in the cheering and revelry, but inside I felt a pang of guilt. I remembered back to when I lived in Illinois for a bit and had to get a new driver’s license. I was turned away because I didn’t bring in a certified copy of my birth certificate, just a photocopy. Even with my mom there, vouching the birth certificate was correct (she had been there!), even then they still turned me away. I remember the anger and frustration and inconvenience I felt, and now how out of context that was. All I had to do was wait for my mom to return to Florida, overnight the official copy and that was that.

My experience at IDignity was a great reminder not the let life’s little frustrations get you down. Even those working against insurmountable odds were able to face the day with a smile, a thanks, even a God bless. And I do promise, as one of my new year’s resolutions, to carry that experience in my heart all year as a reminder to always be grateful for what you do have. Happy new year!