Dr. Vilma Fuentes Joins LSI As Program Director Of The FSU Ukraine Task Force

March 18, 2024

By Larissa MartinsLSI Communications Assistant

Born and raised in Miami, Dr. Vilma Fuentes grew up in a multicultural hub that sparked her interest in international affairs at an early age. Her father, a Cuban political refugee, and her mother, a Honduran who came to the U.S. to pursue her education, influenced Fuentes' perception of global interconnections. The global perspectives she experienced within her family and hometown led to her eventual career.

"I wanted to understand why my father and mother had come to a different country and settled there. I wanted to understand why I was getting neighbors from different parts of the world, so I pursued a Masters in International Studies and then a Ph.D. in Political Science with a focus on International Relations and Comparative Politics."

As the newly appointed Program Director for FSU's Ukraine Task Force, Dr. Fuentes is responsible for facilitating connections between Ukrainian universities and FSU faculty. Although she has only recently joined the Learning Systems Institute (LSI), she has been actively collaborating in the U.S. Department of State-sponsored Community College Administrator Program (CCAP) led by former LSI Director Jeffrey Milligan since 2014. CCAP hosts cohorts from around the globe to showcase U.S. community college systems while providing them with insight into administrative aspects and academic opportunities.

CCAP partially takes place at Santa Fe College, where Dr. Fuentes was formerly the Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs. She was crucial in implementing 15 CCAP projects, two of which hosted Ukrainians. CCAP opened the door to Fuentes' connection to Ukrainian educators. She served as a Fulbright Specialist in Ukraine and directed a U.S. Embassy grant focused on inclusive education. Through these experiences, she was able to visit the country five times and form relationships with multiple Ukrainian colleges and higher education officials. 

When LSI Director Rabieh Razzouk asked if she was interested in serving as the program director for the Ukraine task force at FSU, she couldn't resist."Graphic with the LSI logo and a photo of Dr. Vilma Fuentes. The text is Dr. Vilma Fuentes Joins LSI As Program Director Of The FSU Ukraine Task Force"

"I just wanted to know that I can make a difference in some way, that I can somehow help my colleagues in Ukraine," said Dr. Fuentes. "It's work I was already doing at Santa Fe through my role there, but to know that my job now is to connect people with Ukraine and see what projects we can do together and what grants we could pursue is really exciting."

Dr. Fuentes commends FSU Provost Jim Clark for creating the task force in 2022 to explore how the university could engage with peer institutions and colleagues in Ukraine to support them through these difficult times.

She expressed, "I don't know how many other universities in the United States have that level of commitment, so I was very excited about the possibility of being part of this team to learn more about FSU and its strengths."

Filled with ambitions for her future at LSI, one of Dr. Fuentes' most significant goals is to create a project that will help pilot some of the first centers for military veterans in Ukraine.

"My dream is to develop a project with multiple Ukrainian colleagues wherein we highlight how we in the United States serve our military veterans and also serve people with disabilities, help them obtain an education, get retrained if necessary, and then help connect them to good viable jobs," said Dr. Fuentes.

Whether Dr. Fuentes is meeting with Ukrainian educators, practicing Ukrainian in FSU courses, reading Ukrainian literature, or sitting in on Dr. Robert Romanchuk's classes on the Slavic Vampire, she is committed to learning as much as possible about Ukraine to continue assisting their needs to the best of her ability.

When asked about her thoughts on joining LSI, Dr. Fuentes answered, "It's a very large and impressive team with a wealth of experience in education, both domestically and internationally. It's inspiring to be surrounded by a team that's this good at what they do, and I'm hoping that I will be able to come in and complement their work and hopefully be supported by them as well."