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President — Miami Dade College
Who are you?
My life and my work are adventures. As President of Miami Dade College (MDC), I am immersed in the life of this institution and surrounded by a community of true believers passionate about the mission of a college with an open door. The challenge is to balance the time a college president must spend off campus and out of town with the need to be engaged at home.
My life is a whirlwind. I spend as much time as I can with students. Most are at an age I still remember, a time of great self-discoveries. I also make sure to spend time with my grandson, a source of inspiration like no other. He reminds me why I do what I do. Another reminder is my glass collection. Like the students at MDC, the items in my collection are each unique and fragile, yet they represent clarity.
At MDC, I watch many students discover their own sense of accomplishment from education. Graduation day at MDC is one of my favorite days of the year. MDC graduates include Mariel refugees, parents and children receiving diplomas the same day, countless students who couldn't speak English or started in developmental classes, and honors students on their way to the Ivy Leagues. These are the stories that fuel my life.
How did you get to where you are today?
I arrived from Cuba at the age of 15 with little English or understanding of American culture. Life in Cuba had changed considerably and my parents sent me ahead with the hope that I would find a better life. I attended Miami High School and slowly but surely learned English. College was never not a possibility. My mother reminded me every single day that college was a necessity in my life. She was determined that the privilege neither she nor my father had had would not be one that I would miss.
My life that had been thrown in the air over a 90-mile stretch of seawater between Cuba and Miami began to take shape when I entered what was then Dade County Junior College. I found myself in front of a microphone at a campus meeting one day and realized not only that I cared deeply about what was happening in my environment but also that I had something to say. I discovered an important piece of my own puzzle.
So many people affected the development of my life in Miami in those early days. In particular, a professor picked me up each day and drove me to the college because I lacked transportation. He talked to me about life and what I could achieve if I had the desire and the drive. He helped me to understand that much more was possible.
Where do you see education in the future?
This country is at a critical turning point. Our K-12 system is under siege, the door to higher education is narrowing, and the world that awaits our future workforce is more demanding than ever. Without a college education, prospects are very limited. This crisis demands the attention of every sector of society, including private industry and state and federal government. I am kept up at night by the thoughts that my grandson won't have every imaginable chance to find his path in life, that he should grow up in peace on a healthy planet, and that he should dream.
This country's media and communications vehicles encourage a breakneck pace of information and activity but where does it all lead? Each person has a road to travel but to find direction we need to stop the momentum; discover our own inclinations; dream our own dreams; and by all means, ask for help. There are people at every turn in the road who have been around that bend and can help.
The future direction of American education depends on a national call to address a culture and society that is losing its learning edge. And that loss, without question, is the precursor to losing our economic standing.
Q: How would you describe your life and work?
A: For the past 38 years, my life has been one adventure after another in contributing to the development of a learning institution, one that opens the door to the same discovery that I made as a child.
Q: What advice would you offer to others?
A: Dream. Look inside and ask yourself honestly, what is it that I truly want? Each person has a road to travel but to find your direction you need to stop the momentum and discover your own inclinations.
Q: How can we break the barriers to postsecondary education for low-income and first generation college students?
A: Public awareness and a growing public will beget public policy that can make a difference.
Q: What gives you hope?
No matter the crisis in American education, students on the rise are a sight to behold. They are the people who will change the world and you can see that.
The College Keys Compact
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The 2013 Catalog of Effective Practices
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The 2012 Catalog of Effective Practices
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The 2011 Catalog of Effective Practices
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The 2010 Catalog of Effective Practices
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The CollegeKeys Compact: An Open Letter to the Leaders of American Education
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A Review of Barriers, Research and Strategies
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Getting Into College: A Cross-Cohort Examination of College Preparations by Lower-Income Students
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Getting Into College: Postsecondary Academic Undermatch
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