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Persistence Pays Off

President’s 2017 Classified Employee of the Year Flor Cardona says she is living the American dream

People  |  Aug 2, 2017  |  By Diane Russell
Flor Cardona

CAEO'S Flor Cardona, President's Classified Employee of the Year award winner. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Creative Services)

It’s difficult to have a conversation with Flor Cardona in which the words “persistent” and “positive” don’t pop up repeatedly.

She says she has been persistent in pursuing her dreams — of immigrating to America, of providing a better life for her children, of college degrees for herself and her children, of overcoming cancer, and of helping others.

All this she has achieved, she says, because she tackles challenges with a positive attitude and refuses to give up.

Those are the same qualities she works to instill in the high school students she counsels as a school advisor in the GEAR UP program in UNLV’s Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach (CAEO).

Assigned to Canyon Springs High School, Cardona, a public service intern I with CAEO, helps low-income students find their path to college. She helps them get tutoring, counseling, and after-school classes to make up missed credits — anything they need to complete that high school degree. She also helps them apply to colleges.

Cardona said she tries to make her students understand that they way they see life and the attitude they create are major components of whether they succeed.

“Do not forget to have a positive attitude,” she tells them. “You are going to walk away from my door happy.”

The 2017 President’s Classified Employee of the Year added, “I don’t like my job; I love my job. I am so passionate about serving my community.”

When a student receives a college acceptance letter, she says she feels they both have won.

The Award

Being chosen as the President’s Classified Employee of the Year was “a huge surprise,” she said. “I just came (to the luncheon) to get my five-year pin. At first I thought it was someone else (they were talking about).”

Once she realized that she was being given the award, “I was in tears. I felt like I was at the Grammys or the Oscars. It made me feel like a superstar.”

Arriving in America

She said that after her divorce, she decided the best thing she could do was focus on her two children and providing a better future for them. That, she reasoned, meant leaving Mexico.

“I came to the U.S. from Yucatan 16 years ago with only a bag of dreams. I hoped to live my American dream.” Today she is an American citizen who was proud to vote in her first U.S. presidential election last fall.

“I have two people I admire the most — my mom who’s my role model and inspiration and Martin Luther King who never gave up on his dream.

“I had a dream when I came to the United States,” she said. “Anything is possible if you pursue your dream and you persist. I have conquered my American dream.”

In 2008 she moved to Las Vegas from California and at her son’s middle school learned about UNLV’s GEAR UP program. First, the dedicated mom volunteered with the program. Eventually, program director Jill Triplett offered her a part-time job working for the program’s summer camp and providing tutoring. In 2011, she was hired full time. “I never get tired of saying ‘thank you’ to her or to the center for allowing me to live my dream,” Cardona said.

Today, UNLV plays a major role not only in Cardona’s life, but also in the lives of her children. Daughter Cristina Correa will begin her freshman year at UNLV later this month. Her son, Carlos Correa, a psychology major, will begin his senior year. He hopes to attend law school.

Her children aren’t the family’s only UNLV students. Cardona herself is beginning her senior year. Now a social science studies major, she previously earned an associate’s degree in sociology from CSN.

The “Guerrera” in Her

Cardona says the best word to describe her is “guerrera,” or warrior, because she will fight for what she needs.

Twice she has battled cancer and twice the guerrera has prevailed.

In 2009 she was diagnosed with stage IV, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and told she had less than a month to live. “Doctors said because I am really positive in how I face life, I survived,” she recalled. “When I came back (to work), people couldn’t believe it. Some of my coworkers called me ‘Miss Miracle.’

“Four years ago I got thyroid cancer and had my thyroid removed. It was really close to my vocal cord,” Cardona said. “I talk a lot. I cannot imagine me not talking,” she added with a smile.

“It changes how you view life,” she said of cancer. “Every second means hours. Every hour means weeks.

“I have a new perception of life,” Cardona said. “I want to fully give back.”

What the Person Nominating Her Had to Say

Elsa Macias, academic counselor for the Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach

Ms. Flor Cardona deserves the President's Classified Employee of the Year Award because she is a motivation for her children and students, continuously goes above and beyond her job description to assist the population she serves, and has been able to persevere professionally despite being diagnosed with cancer two times.

I have had the opportunity to work with her for over five years and have witnessed how she has always gone above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference in her students' lives. (The person who previously had her job) had about 15 students in the program. Since Flor took over, that number has grown to over 50. Because her program budget's allowable costs did not include many of the things she wanted for her students...she took it upon herself to find other sources for funds.

(Because of the cancer), Flor has a passion for living her life to the fullest, and she exudes this love with everyone she meets. There is not a day that goes by that this woman is not smiling, for she knows that tomorrow is never promised, and puts in all her efforts to ensure the students she works with can receive the assistance they need. She has an ability to motivate the youth with her personality and genuine caring attitude. She holds students, parents, and staff in high esteem and interacts with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity.

I have personally witnessed Flor in action and can say without a doubt that she is genuine with her words and actions, is determined to continue to make a difference, and maintains a level of humility that is not often seen.