Miami Dade College and MDC Foundation honored nine outstanding staff members and one student with the MDC Heroes Awards during a virtual celebration on Friday, June 26. The award, created by MDC Foundation Immediate Past Chair Julie Grimes, recognizes and honors members of the MDC family from each campus who have gone above and beyond to serve our students and their community during the pandemic.
MDC Interim President, Dr. Rolando Montoya, gave welcome remarks, thanking the heroes for their service, while each campus president introduced their campus honoree. Grimes also provided awardees with a weekend staycation getaway at a local resort. In their acceptance speeches, the honorees underscored their commitment to MDC students and why they do what they do.
North Campus honoree, Georgette Perez, dean of students, said, “Against all odds, our students are succeeding and thriving. 2020 has been challenging, and we continue to push forward for our students and our community.”
Karla Mendieta, assistant to the dean of faculty, Homestead Campus, added: “Our heroes are our students. They always persist despite living in poverty. Now a pandemic, and they persist.”
Padrón Campus Head Custodian, Hugo Valladares-Pozo, expressed his gratitude for the MDC community’s outpouring of care. “Estoy agradecido por ser parte de MDC, una institución que valora la humanidad.”
Student hero, Jessica Gutierrez, founder of Buddy System and representing Kendall Campus, said the gift from the Foundation and Grimes is “a reminder that we must recharge and rest in order to be a hero.” Well said, Jessica. Thank you to all the honorees for showing us all what it means to be a hero!
Meet the Honorees
Medical Campus: Audrey Cruz, Front Desk Office Assistant
Audrey Cruz is the face of MDC’s School of Health Sciences, making everyone feel welcome and part of the campus community. Cruz has exceptional customer service and problem-solving skills, always willing to find information for students and colleagues, and assists with projects, even those outside her work scope. Over the past several weeks, Cruz has gone above and beyond to support student services personnel with information requests for students. Cruz genuinely cares about the reputation of MDC and is a wonderful example to others.
North Campus: Georgette Perez, Dean of Students
Georgette Perez is the dean of students at North Campus. Kind, passionate and empathetic, Perez is a champion for students, always encouraging them to show their MDC pride and sharing tips and resources to help them along their college journey. Even while remote learning, Perez remains dedicated to maintaining an environment for students to pursue a quality education and personal development, and works tirelessly with faculty and staff to ensure students always have access to tools that will help them succeed.
Padrón Campus: Hugo Valladares-Pozo, Head Custodian
Hugo Valladares-Pozo is head custodian at Padrón Campus. He is relentless in the pursuit of quality, putting in long hours to set up for high profile events and ensure pristine conditions are maintained campus wide. As a supervisor overseeing a large team of custodians, Valladares-Pozo sets high expectations for his staff, while always remaining an ever-present example. When the COVID-19 “alarm” sounded, Valladares-Pozo immediately took action to ramp up sanitation practices and deep frequent cleanings that would ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
North Campus: Janet Mapp, Director of Single Stop
Janet Mapp is MDC’s director of Single Stop, a campus-wide source for students and their immediate family members to connect to public benefits and resources, from financial coaching to health insurance assistance. Passionate about helping those in need, Mapp provides a means for students to stay focused on their academic goals despite untimely financial hardships they may be facing while pursuing their education. Mapp is at the forefront of helping students facing food insecurity, overseeing operations at the College’s various campus food pantries, and connecting students to alternate resources during the pandemic.
Hialeah Campus: Jeremiah Lockett, Public Safety Officer
Jeremiah Lockett joined the MDC family as a full-time public safety officer in January 2020. He was promoted after just six months and during this time, has served as the contact person for all public safety needs on campus. Lockett has played an integral role in ongoing campus operations during the pandemic, often working overnight shifts to ensure Hialeah Campus remains a safe and secure environment for students, staff and visitors.
Kendall Campus: Jessica Gutierrez, Student & Co-founder of the Buddy System
Kendall Campus student Jessica Gutierrez co-founded Buddy System. The group, which officially launched in March, consists of over 120 volunteers who run errands for individuals with health complications in Miami-Dade and Broward counties to reduce their risk of contracting the coronavirus. Volunteers are matched with at-risk individuals in their area. To ensure safety, they wear gloves, sanitize all products and leave packages on the front doorstep to reduce the risk of direct contact with their buddy. This Buddy System has been featured in Miami New Times, Univision and CBS 4 Miami.
Homestead Campus: Karla Mendieta, Assistant to the Dean of Faculty
Karla Mendieta is the assistant to the dean of faculty at Homestead Campus. Often described as kind and empathetic, Mendieta is dedicated to finding resources for our most vulnerable students. During the pandemic, she has helped students facing food insecurity, connecting them to grocery store gift cards made available through the MDC Foundation and sharing information on Farm Share events and other services. Mendieta is known as the go-to person to help students cope with crisis, anxiety and emotional needs. Her genuine interest and positivity are infectious and are greatly appreciated by students and colleagues alike.
Wolfson Campus: Lucia Cedano, Assistant Chief, Public Safety
When the College transitioned to remote operations, Lucia Cedano, Wolfson Campus’ assistant chief of public safety, completely committed to her role as critical MDC personnel. She confidently navigated changes in strict CDC guidelines and displayed outstanding leadership, ensuring students, faculty and staff were provided with timely safety information. Under Cedano’s leadership, the campus’ public safety department has successfully deployed support for curbside cap and gown distribution, and safe access to lockers and labs for students to retrieve books and instructional materials for their classes.
Kendall Campus: Russell Kaufman, Chief Information Officer
Russell Kaufman is Kendall Campus’ chief information officer. An expert at performing under difficult conditions, Kaufman has gone above and beyond during the recent pandemic, leading his team to respond to the needs of over 2,000 employees and 600 students. Kaufman is collaborative, service-driven and resilient, always up for handing new challenges and finding new opportunities. Through his leadership, Kendall Campus was able to uphold exceptional educational quality and offer stability and hope for students and employees during a time of uncertainty.
West Campus: Veronica Gonzalez, Director of Academic and Career Services
Veronica Gonzalez serves as the director of academic and career services at West Campus. A passionate champion for students, she works tirelessly to break down barriers that may be keeping students from achieving their educational goals, from academic to financial challenges. When the College transitioned to remote learning in March, Gonzalez did not skip a beat. She maintained her can-do attitude, training her staff in new tools and assisting countless students to navigate their way through these uncharted waters – all while parenting two toddlers at home.
Written by Chloe Medina, MDC Foundation Digital Marketing Manager