The “open door policy” of Barbara Alfonso, the chair of the School of Continuing Education and Professional Development at the North and West campuses, will finally close as she retires from Miami Dade College on March 17.
For Alfonso, running her department meant giving people who need enrichment and professional skills the chance to learn and gain credentials in their fields.
“One of the best memories I will take with me was the first GED graduation,” Alfonso said. “Students wore caps and gowns and walked into the auditorium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance [the music traditionally played during graduations].”
Alfonso said one of her biggest accomplishments was creating the Adult Education program that overlooks the General Education Development (GED) and ESOL program and obtaining a $1 million grant to help fund it. Through the Adult Education program, 10,000 students enrolled at all campuses have earned diplomas, successfully transitioned to college and learned English in 2016. That number does not include the Medical Campus.
Before working at MDC, Alfonso lived in Hertfordshire, north of London in the United Kingdom. Alfonso came to the U.S. in 1976 where she earned her doctorate in leadership from Nova Southeastern University in 2014, a master’s in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Florida International University in 1985. She also has bachelor’s in modern language from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, which she earned in 1975.
Academia has always been in her blood. She taught English in Spain and worked at FIU teaching English and linguistics to master’s students.
Alfonso started working at MDC in 1997 at Kendall Campus as the college-wide director of adult education; in 2005 she was invited to become chair of Continuing Education at North Campus. Nine years later, Alfonso took over the post at West Campus as well.
As Chair of the School of Continuing Education and Professional Development, Alfonso works with employers to customize training courses for students in specific fields. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration grant she wrote allows construction students to receive free OSHA training.
Alfonso has written numerous grants and many of them have been approved and funded by state and federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Labor, the Florida Department of Labor, the Florida Department of Agriculture and small foundations.
“We have the opportunity to create programs or classes at any time to respond to community demand, or as a result of environmental scanning to assess what our competitors are successfully offering,” Alfonso said.
Her department offers short term classes, certification programs, summer camps, and services for students to learn skills that will help students find employment. The noncredit courses include child care training, health careers, languages, music, GED, ESOL and writing.
“She will truly be missed by our team,” said Janet Bringuez, the program manager for the OSHA grant at the School of Continuing Education and Professional Development. “She’s been my mentor, teaching me about grant management. She’s in her office early in the morning, and if she needs to stay really late, she does. She just gets things done.”
Alfonso works closely with the Department of Testing and Assessment, which offers testing services to her students so they can receive certifications like passing ESOL and GED courses.
“I always tell her she’s the person that gives me the hardest time and the most work, but I love her anyways because it’s always been for her students,” said Marisel Madrigal, the director of testing and assessment at North Campus. “She’s become a friend over the years.”
Alfonso has helped countless students reach educational and professional goals through non-traditional means. Once she helped a student receive his GED and go on to Harvard Medical school.
She enjoys going beyond the job’s expectations.
“Once a student came to my office—a teenager—who had been abandoned by his mother and was sleeping in the streets. With support he finished his GED and went on to college,” Alfonso said.
The blonde, short-haired Englishwoman’s energy inspired her colleagues to give her the nickname the Energizer Bunny.
“When we heard she was going to overtake West Campus, we said that ‘Hurricane Barbara’ is going to take West Campus by storm,” said Celina Romero, program manager of recreation and leisure under the Department of Continuing Education at North Campus. “She just has so much energy and so much drive, relentless, I swear.”
Alfonso works with multiple departments to execute various events, such as open houses, summer camps for children and teens, and establishing programs like English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses. She also created the Green Urban Living Center at North Campus, an environmental center that houses plants and butterflies for students to learn about sustainability.
Known for her serious drive for academics and resources for students, her colleagues said they will miss her humor.
“She has a great capacity for puns, she’s very witty,” Romero said. “She’ll do this thing where she makes a joke very subtly and when you ask her about it, she’ll pretend that she didn’t say anything, laugh and just go along with her work.”
Alfonso said she is looking forward to spending time with her family and traveling during retirement.
“I love to travel and have already visited about 25 countries with a lot more on the to-do list,” Alfonso said.
She hopes to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Iceland, and teach part-time in the future.
“Barbara is so creative when she redesigns programs to help students in their field,” said Jacqueline Peña, the Dean of Faculty at North Campus, who has known Alfonso for three years. “That support and that passion, that’s what I’ll miss.”’