making a difference

Pic 2 i really like this one

(L to R; Melissa Pedone, Barbara Shell and Katherine Pedone at
the Valencia College 9th Annual 5K Run, Walk & Roll)

BY JOY S. JONES

Barbara Shell teams with valued community partners and a host of volunteers in her role as the director of community and alumni relations. It’s a position where the sky’s the limit. After all, her goal of providing lifelong personal educational and professional growth for alumni and students of Valencia College can take many forms when dealing with a group as far reaching and diverse.

Just this week, two Valencia alums, Dick Batchelor, business and political consultant, and State Senator Andy Gardiner were listed in “Orlando Magazine’s” 2014 “50 Most Powerful List.” And new alumnus Angel Sanchez, Valencia’s 2014 “Distinguished Graduate,” is speaking at Blackboard World’s 2014 conference today.

It’s a huge responsibility and a welcome career for anyone who relishes no two days at work being the same, which is how she describes what she does.

“A true advocate of Valencia and our wonderful alumni, I’ve worked closely with Barbara the last few years and am always impressed with how well she works with so many different types of people and personalities,” says Michelle Matis, foundation vice president and chief operating officer. “She is very patient and compassionate and truly believes in developing authentic relationships with everyone she meets.”

Any wonder that Barbara’s work in alumni and community relations keeps her extremely busy with numerous meetings and events. “Many of these happen after hours and on weekends and she tirelessly keeps up with managing all of them and always with a smile on her face,” Michelle continued.

“The challenge is to find opportunities that will appeal to everyone — all different ages and interests, but fun. And any success that I might have is thanks to the many community volunteers with whom I work,” Barbara says. Those volunteers include current students and alumni.

One such opportunity is the TEDxOrlando partnership, with TEDxOrlandoSalons.

“TEDxOrlando has been very successful for over four years and held the organization’s TEDxOrlandoSalons monthly at a restaurant in College Park that closed down in December 2013,” says Barbara. “Many of our alumni, retirees, employees and students were involved and loved the TEDxOrlandoSalon experience, including me, and I was able to develop a partnership to bring the Salons to Valencia campuses. Now instead of offering them at only one location, it expands the opportunity for others to more conveniently participate,” she says.

One important factor that drives the success of her office is the database of alumni, now 25,000 members strong, including the 600-member Retiree Connection group. All receive “Vitae” magazine, a part of the glue that keeps alumni connected to the College and each other. They’re an industrious bunch, spread throughout the country and abroad. Barbara struggles to keep up with what’s new with them and their current contact information, to keep the relationships alive, which is something she invites faculty and staff to help her do.

“Whenever anyone is in touch with alums, if you just prompt them to be sure that the alumni office has their current contact information, it will help us a great deal,” she says.

Barbara readily confesses that the work itself isn’t difficult, given Valencia’s outstanding reputation in the community, and nationwide, as a result of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. What’s more, she frequently encounters those who contribute in some way who say they simply want to “pay it forward.”

“Seems that everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who has been impacted by Valencia in a positive way. Most everyone wants to be part of a good investment, which Valencia is,” Barbara says.

In turn, they make investments in the gifts of their time, talent and treasure.

“When a person provides an internship opportunity that will help a student succeed later in life, volunteers with our office or programs, or contributes to student scholarships, they’re making important and valuable investments,” she says. “And our impact as an institution is felt, not just in Central Florida, but in the world community. It’s just very exciting to be a part of it all.”

Among the most prized aspects of her job is coordination of the annual Alumni Achievers Reception held each June where Alumni Association scholarship awards are celebrated.
14396511362_28a686a1a1_o“What’s always fascinating to me is how surprised the recipients are to see themselves as ‘special’,” Barbara says. “With their families looking on, many with children and many more, first generation college students, it is just tremendous to see their level of gratitude that someone believes in them and their abilities. Their example of working to get an education and placing an importance on the value of an education goes a long way for everyone.”

While she shares that it’s a challenge to keep up with it all, she finds it all very rewarding.

“We have the entire spectrum of people who can tell you a compelling story about how Valencia was a significant factor in helping them achieve their educational goals — and the stories just keep growing.”

Barbara has been employed at Valencia since 2004. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and a master’s degree in community health from Plymouth State University.

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3 Responses

  1. Congratulations, Barbara…you are a tremendous asset to Valencia Alumni Association and Valencia College! We appreciate you.

  2. Congratulations, Barbara!

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