On her nineteenth birthday, Dalis Cruz won $250,000 from a lottery ticket that she purchased at a store in her neighborhood.
“I was so thrilled! Back then, that was a lot of money,” she said. “I bought my mother a new house in Puerto Rico and put myself through college.”
Dalis was born in Puerto Rico, but her family moved to New York City when she was just an infant. She grew up in the Bronx and returned to Puerto Rico with her mother after her parents divorced.
She used some of her lotto winnings to pay for tuition at the University of Puerto Rico. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing – an investment in herself that would continue to pay dividends for years and, little did she know at the time, would open doors for a new career later in her life.
After graduating, Dalis started a career as a Registered Nurse (RN) in Puerto Rico. She got married and eventually moved to Florida with her husband, where she continued working as a nurse and also became a mother.
A Chance Encounter
Dalis was working as a nurse at a South Florida hospital when a patient that she was caring for made a bold suggestion. He asked her to come and speak with students who were pursuing careers in health care.
At the time, that patient happened to be the campus president at Florida Career College.
“He told me that I was a very good nurse and my outgoing personality would make me a great guest speaker, so he asked if I would come visit FCC and talk with students in the medical assistant technician program,” Dalis said. “He said students would love to hear about my career, and I thought sure, why not. That sounds fun!”
Just as predicted, Dalis was a hit with students at FCC. In fact, she made several more visits as a guest speaker. After one of those visits, the campus leader and former patient asked if she had any interest in substitute teaching classes at FCC.
“I had never taught before, so at first I wasn’t sure about it. But he really encouraged me to give it a try,” Dalis said. “FCC provides great training for experienced health care professionals who have an interest in educating students. I filled in for a few classes and ended up falling in love with teaching. I went from being a substitute to part-time instructor, which I could do in addition to my nursing job.”
After a decade as an RN, however, Dalis decided to pivot to teaching full-time at FCC in Lauderdale Lakes.
“My love and enjoyment for teaching continued to grow, and I was totally hooked on it,” Dalis said. “I really enjoyed the diversity of the students and their eagerness to make something of themselves. I always enjoyed working as a nurse because I was drawn to a career where I could help others, but teaching sparked such joy for me that I wanted to change careers.”
Dalis taught at the Lauderdale Lakes campus and earned a master’s degree in education while working full-time. Eventually, she was promoted to Program Chair for the Medical Assistant Program (MAT Program), then Director of Education at the Lauderdale Lakes campus. Working at FCC also became a family affair when her daughter, Veronica, was hired at FCC Lauderdale Lakes, where she has served for 14 years.
Now in her 15th year of service at FCC, Dalis is the Director of Education at the Margate campus. She is also pursuing a doctorate degree in education.
“Dalis is a noticeable, enthusiastic and positive presence at the Margate campus,” said Campus President Mikkel Dixon. “She has this sort of sixth sense about students; she knows when they are struggling and goes out of her way to help them.”
“The Margate campus is like a big family here,” Dalis said. “Our students … we think of them like family. We get to know them. I know every single one of my students by name. We really care about the students, and they see how we as colleagues really care about each other.”
“I love working here because of Ms. Cruz’s leadership, passion, and genuine love for her staff,” said Tanya, Medical Assistant Instructor.
“Dalis has always been a teacher at heart who sees potential in every single student and helps them visualize and actualize that potential through her leadership,” said Ally Vaaler, Vice President of Academic Operations. “She believes in her students until they learn to believe in themselves and then she believes in them some more. That is the true goal of an educator and Dalis is an educator in character and actions.”
Honored With FAPSC Award
FCC is a member of the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC), which serves as an advocate for high-quality career schools and colleges in the state. FAPSC, established in 1956, recognizes excellence in the educational sector with awards during its annual conference.
On August 6, Dalis was honored with the FAPSC Administrator of the Year Award for 2021.
“FAPSC values the contributions its members make to grow and improve private postsecondary education in Florida,” says the FAPSC website. “In recognition of that value, FAPSC is privileged to recognize those administrators who epitomize commitment and excellence. The Administrator of the Year Award recognizes administrators who demonstrate outstanding performance, provide exemplary support, encourage excellence, and contribute to the attainment of institutional goals.”
“Congratulations to Dalis for this well-deserved honor,” Mikkel said. “Her commitment to student success is infectious at the Margate campus, and we are privileged to have her serving as our Director of Education.”
“At Florida Career College we are obsessed with student success and Dalis exemplifies that motto,” said Dr. Fardad Fateri, President and CEO. “We are all very proud of her personal accomplishments, her impact in the community through her dedicated service to students, and the contributions she makes at the Margate campus every day.”
“It really warms my heart to be honored with this award,” Dalis said. “I always try to do what makes me happy, and being at FCC makes me happy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I feel very lucky to be here.”