Monday, December 12, 2011

Valencia wins first Aspen Institute prize, $600,000

Valencia College was acknowledged as one of the top educational institutions in the nation after wining the inaugural Aspen Award for Community College Excellence. Along with the award comes a grant of $600,000 that Valencia can spend to expand on its future goals in education. 

Valencia was given this honor because of striving to improve what really matters in a community college. Valencia’s degree awards rates are one of the best nationally for a community college. Graduates get employed at a higher rate then any other Aspen finalist and the school boasts the highest number of four year college transfer students in the nation.

“If it can be done at a community college setting, they’re doing at Valencia, and they’re doing it very very well,” said former Michigan Governor, John Engler. Engler and former South Carolina Senator, Richard Riley, presented the award to Valencia’s President, Sandy Shugart during the Monday morning ceremony at Washington, DC.

“We have this unique instrument at hand unlike any other institution anywhere else in the world,” said Shugart, speaking to the crowd at the ceremony after receiving the award. “Where excellence is not defined by exclusivity or expensiveness, and where opportunity is genuine.”

Millions of students have shared in this unique opportunity since the founding of Valencia in Orlando, Florida in 1967. Valencia ranked number one last year for awarding the most Associate degrees in the nation for a two-year institution. There is a current annual enrollment of over 70,000 students and an operating annual budget over $160 million.

Global educational trends show that the U.S has falling to twelfth place for young adults with Associate degrees, and nationally there is an increase of students dropping out of high school or considered unprepared to attend college after graduation. Despite this fact, Valencia projects to expanded on its number of graduates through programs committed to equitable outcomes and success plans for lower income and minority students.

Community colleges furthering the skills of American workers is a strong focal point for fixing the woes of the recent economic recession. With so many people today out of work or underemployed, continued educational programs like the one offered at Valencia are encouraged and supported by many in government.

“It’s incumbent on us to keep our country strong. We are really fighting for our country here,” said Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, at the award ceremony. “Keep those jobs here and the only way we can do that is through great community colleges.”

Currently around 60% of available jobs require advanced degrees, while only 40% of adult American workers have those degrees. If Americans don’t step up to fill theses jobs they will migrate overseas and continue the general economic downturn in the near future.

The Aspen Institute hopes to continue awarding future institutions by furthering this into a yearly prize. Founded in 1950 this organization's goals are "fostering enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues."

By James Tutten

(Published: Dec. 14, 2011 issue of  "Valencia Voice" on page 1.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Unorthodox speech at Muslim student conference

      The Muslim Student Association at Valencia’s East Campus hosted its first conference, highlighted by Wisam Sharieff, a prominent Muslim American with an unorthodox speaking style and an ambitious plan for international peace.

     “We don’t need more words; we need more love,” said Sharieff. “But love doesn’t have its own language, yet.” He addressed the gathering of more than 500 Muslim Americans from the local community and MSA groups from UCF, USF, Rollins and more. They came out to this conference to address complicated religious issues such as the proper use of modern technology.

     Sharieff has an idea that expands the United Nations International Day of Peace to a long break in the near future of up to four months of international peace. The concept was equated to parents that have children who are fighting will separate them to let their tempers cool down. He is planning to meet and speak with Arabic leaders in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, London, and elsewhere to expand on this concept of unified peace.

      Though it can be dismissed as an over-zealous or unattainable goal, you can not deny that it’s ambitious, especially for a young anthropologist relatively new to public speaking. For 10 years Sharieff was in and out of hospitals battling illnesses, and spent his time studying the lessons of the Bible, Torah, and Koran. It was during this period he developed his plan for peace and an international language (like American Sign Language) to unify the world through basic human understanding.

     Other topics addressed at Saturday’s conference were staying away from being judgmental, stereotypical, or negative and how to deal with situations involving these behaviors. Included in the agenda was a long discussion on “The Beauty of Hijab” with its dress and personal requirements, purpose and function.
     Another topic of discussion included the relatively new stigma of finding a balance in the over saturation from social media web sites and smart phones. Some participants fear many younger Muslims are acting conservative in public, but behaving differently behind the anonymity of a computer screen.
     This is tied directly into the goal of the Muslim Student Association to inform, educate, and enlighten others concerning the Islamic religion.
     “Our goals are dispelling misconceptions that people may have about our religion,” said Amir Khan, president of MSA on East Campus. “People think we’re all like terrorists, or all Muslims are from the Middle East, it’s obvious that’s not the case.” Khan’s family is originally from South America and has no family ties to anyone overseas.
     There is a general frustration with misconceptions that Muslims face in a post 9/11 world. “It’s the only religion this day that has to defend itself,” said Dainia Abu Jubara. “If you say that person is Christian or that person is Jewish no one cares, but if you say they are Muslim then you have to defend or justify that.”

     Aside from informing students and helping with campus events MSA recently raised $1,000 to help with the people of Somalia. “We have 'Project Downtown' where every two weeks we go to downtown Orlando and cook food, make sandwiches and feed the homeless,” said MSA member Manar Isis. The main goal of MSA is spreading a positive message and helping the college meet its goal of embracing diversity.

     “We have students from around the world, and different cultures within MSA,” said Valencia professor and MSA adviser, Yasmeen Qadri. “It’s so important that we are all on the same page, and working towards the same goals."

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten / Valencia Voice)
East Camps President, Ruth Prather, (left) and other faculty speaking at the conference. 

Students explore new study abroad opportunities

     Valencia College has a long standing rapport from having a highly diverse student body and strong ties with several study abroad educational programs. This was on display last week as Valencia Volunteers worked with multicultural advisers and other guest speakers to inform students about more than 65 different international cultures.

     This was tied into International Eduction Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of State and U.S. Department of Education that works to prepare Americans for a global environment.

     “This is always a great gathering to inform our student about so many diverse aspects of world cultures,” said Bliss Thompson, counselor of international student services at Valencia. “Our goal for next year is to make this a college wide event.”

     This is the fifth year IEW events have been sponsored by the dean of students at West and East Campuses, with an encouragement and emphasis on informing others about lesser known or misunderstood cultural aspects from around the world. Several diverse topics were shared throughout dozens of information stations with project displays, with the general theme of international understanding and cross-boarder cooperation.

     “I’m really interested in different holidays from around the world, like the Chinese New Year,” said nursing major, Zandra Nelson. She was talking with other students and displaying her own project on international holidays.

     “It’s so good to understand the truth about other places around the world,” said international student, Taiama Ferreira. “It’s not always just what you see on television.” Ferreira hopes to study abroad in Rome and Spain when she finishes at Valencia.

     There are currently seven different study abroad short term faculty lead trips planed; India, England, Guyana, Denmark, China, Poland, and the Dominican republic. All trips give college credits and focus on studying specific courses in other countries, like in England where students will be touring British press outlets like the BBC as part of a global immersion in journalism.

     Valencia alumni, Michelle Steffenson, was speaking to student about her own travels around the world. “Research a lot to know what to expect before to travel,” said Steffenson. “That’s the best advice I can give.” Originally born in Denmark, Steffenson came to Valencia through the international exchange student program, and now shares her experience from traveling to dozens of countries.

     Truly understanding and working with other cultures is the key to international cooperation within the global community. To find more information about Valencia’s international programs, visit

By James Tutten

(All photos courtesy of Joseph Morrison / Valencia Voice)

Students experiance affects of hunger, injustice

     “Draw your fate,” the H.E.R.O. crew said, holding bags to participants as they walked into the Oxfam hunger banquet on Thursday, Nov. 17.

     Students drew cards with one of three classifications; high income, middle income, or low income, and took their places in the room according to their class.

     A lucky 15 percent were welcomed to the high class fine- dining table. Seated in chairs around the room was the middle class, representing 33 percent of the diners. More than half of the participants sat on the floor as low income citizens.

     Six lucky low income students were moved to middle class, representatives of real-life people whose stories were shared with the audience. The six represented a group of Mexican workers whose ingenuity and hard work enabled them to start go into business for themselves and quit the factory and farm labor. No one from the high income group was moved.

     For the fortunate six whose lives improved, there were six middle class students who moved to the floor to join to low income group. Two represented African women who operated farms in Ethiopia. One, who did not own her land, was forced off when the government sold it to a Canadian gold mining company. The other was pushed into poverty when the corporation’s factory polluted the water, poisoning her cows and goats.

     “Poverty does not give a damn who you are,” said Subhas Rampersaud, professor of social sciences at Valencia’s West Campus. “Tomorrow we are going to get up and eat; that is what we do every day. We have no idea what poverty is. Poverty here is relative."

     A slide show at the end of the presentation showed pictures of the men and women whose stories were played out by the students representing them, along with happier stories of people who have been helped by Oxfam’s programs.
     Oxfam, started in 1955, is an international confederation of non-profit organizations that works to end hunger, poverty, and social injustice. The idea for the hunger banquet came to Valencia when Valencia Honors students attended an impact conference held by the organization.
     “This event is a metaphor for how food and resources are distributed throughout the world,” said Honors President, Diana Lawrie. “Everyone has the same needs. It is only our circumstances which differ.”
     Representative speakers from all the major Valencia groups worked to educate students about hunger and mistreatment from around the world. In this modern age with bountiful resources a child dies from hunger of preventable diseases every four seconds or 22,000 per day on average.
     “This whole project was part of a bigger project, about bringing awareness about hunger, poverty, and homelessness,” said Diana Lawrie, co-president of H.E.R.O (Human Empathy and Rights Organization.) This Valencia group works to inspire action from students and others about different global injustices like sex trafficking and children’s rights.
     This event was based around another strong belief of the groups; to end hunger locally through the Homeless Coalition of Florida and internationally through the Oxfam organization. An international confederation of 98 countries working to find lasting solutions to hunger and injustice around the world.

     “We’re trying to bring awareness of whats going on in other areas around the world, and about hunger in the lower class,” said David Rosado Jr., student government president for Valencia’s Osceola Campus.
     A meal of salad, pasta with meat and veggies, and gourmet cake for dessert, was served on a silver platter to the high class, while poor had to eat rice and water with a forced rule of woman eating last. As time went on, some people still hadn’t eaten, and much of the food for the high and middle classes was left for waste.
     “It made me actually feel guilty about sitting in the high income section, so I gave up my seat “ said Kris Boodooram, a second year international business major.
     The students who crossed class lines volunteered by standing up, without knowing their fate. Once some middle class dwellers were forced to leave their chairs, attendees were reluctant to participate.

     “I was disappointed in the people that didn’t stand up,” said Leonidez Santiago, who shared in the plain rice and water with others seated in the low income section. “If you’re not standing up it is because you are afraid of losing what you have.”
     “Poverty exists, and just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” said Victoria Hoa a member of SGA, PTK, and also a member and presenter for H.E.R.O’S. She recently worked with her church to help rebuild a flooded community in Costa Rica. “If everyone worked to help others, they would understand that every little bit makes a difference.“
     Event coordinators urged students to think seriously about the reality of the situation, and encouraged those in attendance to turn awareness into action. A petition was available for to sign in support of legislation funding organizations that fight homelessness and charity.

By James Tutten and Shay Castle

(All photos by James Tutten / Valencia Voice)
Lucky members at the banquet eating at the "VIP "high income table.

Low income people share a large bowl of rice.

Stars shine bright at first ever 'Orlando Calling'

The two day outdoor music festival "Orlando Calling" rocked Central Florida with over 80 bands from around the nation. Thousands attended this event with headline acts like Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Blake Shelton, and The Killers.

Featured in this video are several artiest and groups along with exclusive interviews by James Tutten from the "Valencia Voice" based out of Valencia College in Orlando, Fla.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

(Above Photo courtesy of Sebastian Arbelaez / Valencia Voice)

Talented students rock, backed by latest media

      A talented group of students showcased their musical skills as part of the “Commercial Music Ensemble” presented by the Valencia College music department. This free show also showed off the skilled technical productions Valencia is capable of. 

     “We do two performances a year and in the Black Box we normally have a packed house,” said Musical Director, Troy Gifford.

     The seats filled up quickly for this performance with some audiences members standing off to the side for the entire performance. A team of digital media students, led by Julian Matos, filmed the concert with five large HD cameras, and streamed the show live on Valencia’s website.

     This full live band of music students also had several members switching and playing multiple instruments throughout. The stage, lighting, sound and video set up utilized is valued well over $50,000 worth of professional grade equipment.

     The musical talent and diversity created the magic of the evening. The upbeat and diverse song selection could please everyone’s musical taste, with hits like ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘Clocks’ by Cold Play, and ‘Jammin’ by Bob Marley.

     For only a short few weeks of practice the ensemble gelled as a group and certain members really shined in their personal talent levels. Some members decided to wear some Halloween costumes to add another fun element to the performance.

     “My dream job would be to perform and make money off of that, a way to be simultaneously in a opera and be involved in a rock band,” said Samantha Riling-Lopez. A vocal performance major, Riling- Lopez is currently specializing in classical style, and displayed a pitch perfect, laid-back melodic tone.

     Other musicians switched around between songs and played several different instruments like drummer, singer and bassist Andrew Bosh. “A group that gels really well together, just sounds better, and getting that gel to happen is the most difficult part,” said Bosh.

     The show ended with a standing ovation from the packed house.

     “I think they did a great job,” said audience member, Mike Acavedo. “The horns, drums, vocals, and everything was nice and it just felt comfortable.”

     “I saw this same group perform yesterday, I really like Andrew on the drums and Samantha on the vocals did awesome,” said Marlina Conrad, a second year computer information and technology student.

     If you missed the show or just want to see the ‘Banana Brothers’ rock out in real time, this show is available in the digital media video on-demand section of Valencia’s website. More information can be found at

By James Tutten

(Published: Nov. 9, 2011 issue of "ValenciaVoice" on page 16.)

(Photos by Felicia Roopchand / Valencia Voice)

David Geldert has played trumpet for over 12
years, and just for fun dressed up as a banana.

Juan Rodriguez was also featured singing a Spanish language rock song

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