Orlando, FL – Valencia College is launching its 50th anniversary celebration this month – and plans a year-long series of events to commemorate the college’s anniversary.
From the start, Valencia was the little college that could. Although the state legislature approved the creation of a public community college in Orange County as early as 1961, political infighting in Orlando halted the progress for more than six years.
Finally, in Feb. 1967, a college president was hired and he was given six months to create a college from scratch. In August 1967, Valencia officially opened, holding classes in 20 portables set up behind Mid-Florida Tech on Oak Ridge Road.
From that inauspicious beginning, Valencia has grown from 500 students that first semester to more than 60,000 students today. The college has grown physically too – from those 20 portables on a temporary campus to a college system of five campuses, with a sixth (Poinciana) being built.
“Great institutions don’t just happen; they are intentionally and carefully built,” said Valencia College President Sandy Shugart, who has served as the college’s president since 2000. “I am continually moved by the importance of the individual contributions of many, many people to founding, building and nourishing Valencia. None of the founders had anything to gain personally from the creation of Valencia, but they were willing to suffer public controversy and invest thousands of hours of personal time to bring the vision to fruition.”
Since its inception, Valencia College has been recognized as a national leader among two-year colleges. In 2001, Time Magazine named Valencia one of the nation’s best schools at helping first-year students excel. In 2007, The New York Times named Valencia one of the best community colleges in the nation. And in 2011, Valencia was the first to win the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
In 2006, Valencia established its groundbreaking, guaranteed transfer agreement with the University of Central Florida, known as DirectConnect to UCF. Today, more than 25 percent of UCF graduates are Valencia graduates who transferred to UCF. And in 2013, Valencia’s groundbreaking transfer partnership with UCF, DirectConnect to UCF, was named the nation’s most successful program at helping Hispanic students earn their college degrees. And, in 2016, Valencia was ranked fourth in the nation for the number of associate degrees it awarded – 51 percent of which were earned by minority students.
In 2011, the college entered a partnership with UCF to provide bachelor’s degrees in targeted workforce areas. As a result, Valencia Community College changed its name to Valencia College.
Despite the many changes, Valencia’s mission has remained the same: To provide all students with an “open door” to college, to offer high-quality education with affordable tuition and to remain focused on student learning.
Here are a few interesting facts about Valencia history:
- Valencia was one of the last community colleges created in the state of Florida – because many of Orlando’s power brokers backed private, segregated Orlando Junior College and a decade-long political stalemate ensued.
- The college – then known as Valencia Junior College – opened its doors in 20 portables in a field behind Mid-Florida Tech (on Oak Ridge Road). Faculty jokingly called the temporary campus “Shoebox University.”
- With the name Orlando Junior College already taken, the new college staff considered naming the college for a type of citrus grown locally. They debated Parson Brown, Hamlin and other citrus names, but finally settled on Valencia, an orange cultivar which accounts for more than 50 percent of all the oranges grown in Florida.
- Within three years, the college grew from 500 students to 3,000 – and, in 1971, built its Kirkman Road campus in what was then the middle of an orange grove. East Campus opened on Econlockhatchee Trail in 1975. Osceola Campus moved from storefronts to its current location in 1997 and the Winter Park Campus opened in 1998. Lake Nona Campus opened in 2012 and the new Poinciana Campus is slated to open in August 2017. Also this fall, Valencia will open its new, state-of-the-art Film, Sound and Music Technology Building on East Campus.
- Valencia students have helped put Orlando on the map. Prominent alumni include: Former Walt Disney World CEO Al Weiss, former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, former State Rep. Dick Batchelor, actress Delta Burke, Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys, Chris Kirkpatrick of ‘N Sync, three members of C Note; and Gregg Hale and Ben Rock, two of the filmmakers behind “The Blair Witch Project.” Valencia’s culinary department has its own stars, including Trina Gregory-Propst of “Se7en Bites” and Camilo Velasco, head chef at Norman Van Aken’s 1921 in Mount Dora.
To celebrate the college’s anniversary, Valencia has planned a series of public events, including:
Black History Month: Member of Little Rock Nine to Speak
Feb. 16, West Campus
Valencia College faced opposition from community leaders who opposed a college that was open to people of all races and religions. To honor the college’s roots in the civil rights movement, Valencia has invited Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the nine African-American children who in 1957 enrolled in Little Rock Central High School to force the government to desegregate public schools in the South.
Throwback Theater: “The Seven Year Itch”
Feb. 17-24, East Campus
In a nod to Valencia’s past, Valencia College’s theater department will produce “The Seven Year Itch,” which the college’s theater students performed on the college’s 25th anniversary.
Engineering Week Project 50 Showcase
Feb. 20, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., West Campus
Valencia College’s engineering and technology student clubs plan to hold an “Engineers Week Project 50 Demo Showcase Day” to showcase a variety of the creative engineering and technology students’ design projects, all related to the number 50.
Spring Dance Concert
Mar. 24-25, 8 p.m., East Campus
To celebrate Valencia’s 50th year, Valencia Dance Theater will reunite former dance students with current dance students to perform Gaîté Parisienne, which will be choreographed by Valencia artistic director Lesley Brasseux Rodgers and was originally performed in 2005 and 2011.
50th Anniversary Showcase
April 11, East Campus
A showcase of arts programs at Valencia’s East Campus, 701 N. Econlockhatchee Trail.
50 Years, 50 Trees
In a celebration timed to Arbor Day and Earth Day, Valencia will commemorate its 50th anniversary with the planting of 50 trees.
“Taste for Learning” Fundraising Gala
May 20, Rosen Shingle Creek Resort
The Valencia Foundation will celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary at its annual fundraising gala. All proceeds go to student scholarships.
Opening Celebration for New Film, Sound and Music Technology Building
August, East Campus
Valencia will celebrate its 50th year and the opening of a new, state-of-the-art entertainment technology building. The new 30,000-square-foot building will house: a 2,500-square-foot sound stage; two recording studios; a film-screening theater with 125 seats; film and music editing suites, a digital media production studio and collaborate work spaces.
Opening of Valencia’s Poinciana Campus
Valencia will begin open the new Poinciana Campus, which features a 60,000 square-foot building, with 12 classrooms, a teaching kitchen, a science lab, two computer labs, library, tutoring center, indoor/outdoor café and a multipurpose room
Summer of Love 1967 Album
Music faculty and staff will record an album of hit songs from 1967, to be released on a commemorative vinyl edition and as a free digital download.