For Juan Fernando Pineda, a trained engineer turned life coach turned admissions counselor, the path to Emily Griffith seems oddly inevitable.
Born in Colombia, Juan grew up in the Miami area and attended a McFatter High School, a magnate high school where he experienced first-hand the kind of career-focused education promulgated by schools like Emily Griffith (he specialized in graphic design). He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Florida State University and began a career which took him to Argentina and Mexico where he helped teams develop complex project proposals, managed project support planning and generally, as he explained it, worked on “making processes more efficient and optimizing systems, which is a lot of what we do in Admissions right now.”
After years in multinational business working on initiatives involving hundreds of millions of dollars, Juan wanted to make a difference for people on a more personal level. So equipped with insight from managing people and systems—and training from Academia de Coaching y Capacitación Americana, he started helping people all over the world make similar shifts as a certified professional coach. And when COVID hit, it once again gave him the chance to take all of his life experience—immigrant, engineer, manager, traveler and coach—and rethink what he really wanted to do.
“Throughout my career I’ve had good teachers,” he said. “But I felt there was something lacking in my experience and that was mentoring and guidance.” He wondered whether education, particularly higher education, might bridge his disparate experience and interests by giving him the opportunity to help students establish more purposeful lives. Emily Griffith’s identity as a technical college that serves immigrants and others looking to establish sustainable careers touched him, and five months ago he came on board as a career navigator working with GED and Pre-Academic and Community English (PACE) students.
Starting in the midst of the pandemic, Juan began working with students virtually. “My first term I had to pick everything up really quickly,” he said, “and get up and running.” Support from his manager Josh Jones and team members helped. Now that he’s been at it for a while, his technology and engineering background helped him streamline some of the logistical aspects of his job and develop Google tools that facilitate student communication, something that’s critical during the crunch times before term starts. He estimates that he helps as many as 200 students enroll at Emily Griffith in a given term, most of whom matriculate in the final two weeks before classes begin.
As part of the enrollment process, Juan connects with every student individually whether it’s by email, telephone or video conferences. That he speaks Spanish and conversational Portuguese, allows him to engage with some students in their own language, and now that he’s on campus four days a week, he also meets with students in person.
“Something I really enjoy is the values Emily Griffith talks about as an organization,” he said, pointing to the College’s diversity and willingness to continually improve. “In past experiences, it’s been sometimes difficult to see. But here it’s seen and felt, and I really admire that.”