A Q&A with new Valencia College President, Dr. Kathleen Plinske
Like many of her students, Dr. Kathleen Plinske was working full-time while finishing her most recent degree during the pandemic. In May 2021, she completed her Master of Science in industrial and systems engineering. Before that, she received an MBA, a doctorate in educational technology, and a master’s in Spanish – all while working full-time.
She is new to her role at Valencia College, but she is not new to the Lake Nona community. She and her husband have lived in the Lake Nona area since 2010 when she became campus president of the college’s Osceola campus. Shortly after, she served as the campus president of the Lake Nona campus when it opened in 2012 and then the Poinciana location when it opened in 2017.
Now, she serves as the president of the college’s eight campuses throughout Orange and Osceola counties. As a lifelong learner, Plinske is passionate about education and the importance of community involvement in higher education.
In this Q&A, she shares some of her favorite memories at our Lake Nona campus, how it might expand, and she offers some advice to students returning to school this year.
What drew you to education as a career path?
I’ve always loved school and remember wanting to become a teacher when I grew up. I had this passion for learning, education and teaching, but no master plan.
I’m a first generation college graduate and while my family values education, neither my parents, grandparents, nor earlier generations earned their college degree. Because of this, I’ve always felt a calling and sense of purpose to create opportunities for others to continue their education.
I have never really stopped learning. Aside from my bachelor’s, I earned all of my degrees while working full-time. Most recently, I completed my Master of Science in industrial engineering during the pandemic. This first-hand awareness of the current challenges our students face has really helped me respond to their concerns.
What’s your favorite memory from your time serving as the Valencia Lake Nona Campus President?
One of my favorite memories as president of Valencia’s Lake Nona campus was researching the creation of our biotechnology degree program. One time, we took three flights in 36 hours to visit schools in North Carolina and Maryland that had two-year degree programs in biotechnology. It was amazing to see how their labs were set up and the types of industry partnerships they had to make their programs successful.
What makes the Lake Nona Campus unique?
Fun fact – while we offer intro to biotech at every Valencia campus, our biotech degree program is only available in Lake Nona.
By design, our Lake Nona Campus was built next door to Lake Nona High School. This way, transportation doesn’t stand in the way of our students participating in dual enrollment so they can take college classes while they’re still in high school.
We also have a Collegiate Academy which provides a combination of dual enrollment courses and advanced placement courses that allow many of our students to graduate from Valencia with an associate degree at the same time they graduate high school.
It’s truly amazing to see how students can achieve these extraordinary levels of success with the opportunities we are able to provide for them.
Can you tell us more about efforts to expand the Lake Nona campus and what your future vision is for that campus?
Our Lake Nona Campus is one of our busiest and while some things may shift post pandemic, the Lake Nona area will continue to grow. In response to that growth, one of our top legislative priorities has been funding for a second building on our Lake Nona Campus. My vision for the new space includes the potential expansion of our programs in biotechnology as well as nursing and other medical related programs because of our proximity to Medical City.
What do you like about living in the Lake Nona area? Favorite things to do in the neighborhood?
One of my favorite things to do in Lake Nona has been to volunteer at Nemours Children’s Hospital with my husband, Larry Tyree, and our dog Cooper. He’s an eight-year-old King Charles Spaniel and a trained therapy dog. Unfortunately, we had to pause during the pandemic, but it is such a powerful experience to see the impact Cooper has on patients and how intuitively he responds to them.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as College President?
When I was in college, I didn’t know what a college president was, much less what a college president did. They’re often invisible to students and that’s something I’m very intentional about doing differently.
In my new role, I’ll be visiting our campuses as regularly as possible and continuing to create opportunities to interact and engage with students and hear directly from them about their experiences. Their input helps us make more informed decisions for the college that positively impact them and the community.
Any advice for students coming back to school this year during such a stressful time?
Know that we’ve got your back! Reach out to us if you’re struggling or running into roadblocks. And don’t worry about who you reach out to. We’ll make sure you get connected with someone who can help with your specific concern. I know there is so much anxiety and uncertainty in our world today, but we’re always here for you.