Dr. Maria Vallejo, Palm Beach State College’s vice president for growth and expansion and provost of the Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves campuses, talked to the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board on Monday about the need for partnerships with the community.
Vallejo is especially interested in finding businesses and other entities that can offer internships for students at the new Loxahatchee Groves campus, which is set to open on Feb. 27.
“We are very excited to be joining your community here, and I wanted to share something with you here about the Loxahatchee campus and also about the entire Palm Beach State College,” Vallejo said.
Vallejo, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York City, learned English as a second language and has lived in Wellington for 18 years.
“I am very experienced with many of our students, most of our students, in fact, who either are first-generation students or come from another country to try and get a better education and a better life,” she said. “I learned very early in life, because I was the translator for my family, as many of our students are. Even though my parents finished not even seventh grade, they felt there was no excuse for ignorance and really pushed us to get our education. I believe that education is the leveling of the playing field for Americans. Without education, it’s very hard to go beyond your means that your families gave you and move ahead.”
Vallejo believes that collaboration with the local communities is integral to what the college does.
“I tried to model that at Lake Worth, and it has been very successful, and I want our team to nurture that, and that’s why I’m here,” she said. “I want to nurture our teams and create an environment at our campus where the focus will be health and technology, but it’s with you all. It’s a partnership. You’ve heard the old adage that two heads are better than one, and I truly believe in that. There’s no need to re-create a wheel, and there’s no need to try and do something that hasn’t been done before, unless you have the people supporting you who want the same vision.”
Vallejo said she wants Royal Palm Beach to see the college as an integral part of the community and to explore how they can learn from each other.
“You have the business acumen, you have the experience, and our students need that very much,” she said. “We can do a lot of book learning with them. We can try and expose them, but we need the sites for whether it’s internships, shadowing, etc., because that not only helps the students to narrow down their particular major, but also to make decisions about what they do and don’t like before they finish college.”
Palm Beach State College has an annual enrollment of about 49,000 students and offers an associate in arts degree with credits transferrable to all state four-year universities. It also offers some four-year degrees in nursing, information systems and management, and will be looking at creating more four-year degrees.
“The way the system works with the state colleges is that the state has to tell us whether that degree is a viable degree, and that there are jobs where the salaries are appropriate before they give the OK for us to move forward,” she said.
This requires each degree proposal to be justified by the college when making the request for approval.
“We really have to look at what is being done statewide, how accessible it is, how many graduates they have, how many jobs are there locally and statewide before the state will say we can go ahead and move forward with this particular degree or program.”
The college also offers associate in science degrees, which actually train students to get ready for work.
“Even though many of those students also transfer to universities, the guarantee of getting into a state university is based on the AA,” she said, explaining that with an AS, a university can require a student to repeat certain courses.
Palm Beach State College also offers 90 technical certificates, including creative arts, public safety, childcare, science and environment, human services and education.
The Loxahatchee Groves campus will focus on health sciences and technology.
“Based on the needs in the community, if there is a particular program or course that students want and we have enough, then we can bring that particular course, whether or not the particular program exists at that campus,” Vallejo said.
The county’s population is estimated to grow by 10 percent in the near future, and most of that growth is expected to occur in the western communities.
“That is why we chose this particular campus, and that is why the state allowed us to move forward with that particular goal,” Vallejo said.
To learn more about the new campus, visit www.palmbeachstate.edu/locations/loxahatchee.