Madeline Pumariega: A Passion for Education and its Transformative Power

The Most Successful Women in Business to Follow in 2024

Madeline Pumariega holds dear the cherished memories of her childhood spent alongside her mother, a dedicated Miami-Dade Public School teacher.

“My mother’s dedication continues to inspire me, instilling within me a deep passion for education and a steadfast belief in the profound impact of hard work and perseverance.”

Fast forward to present day, Madeline is the fifth and first female President of Miami Dade College (MDC).

“It’s my honor and privilege to lead such a remarkable institution that continues to strive for excellence in providing pathways to the American Dream to countless individuals,” Madeline said.

Now in her third year of her presidency, Madeline reflects on her journey from growing up in Hialeah, a working-class suburb in Miami-Dade County, to leading one of the largest and most diverse institutions in the country.

“As a proud alumna of Miami Dade College, I’ve experienced firsthand the opportunities that higher education can bring to individuals and communities,” she explained. “For me, my passion for education and its transformative power is embedded in my DNA. I am inspired by the belief that every student deserves a chance to achieve economic mobility and secure a path to prosperity.”

Preparing the Talent for the Future of Work

Under her leadership, MDC has grown exponentially, becoming a national model for excellence and innovative programs. To achieve this, she instituted a strategic plan following five pillars, including: reimagining student success, accelerating academic excellence, fueling the talent needs of a global economy, and valuing a “culture of care” among faculty and staff, where people feel empowered and inspired to carry out MDC’s mission of changing lives through accessible, high-quality teaching and learning experiences.

One of her top priorities is to fuel innovation and create programs that strengthen the community while aligning with industry needs, especially in growing and emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, and fintech, among others. Years ago, before AI became a daily topic of discussion, MDC was already training professors and developing curriculum to prepare the local workforce.

This fall, MDC will begin offering Florida’s first bachelor’s degree in applied artificial intelligence (AI), in addition to an existing associate degree in AI and certificates options.

“The future of work is right now with digitization, automation and the rise in AI,” she said.

“How will we turn vision into reality? We will do it together through education and by building strong relationships with industry partners.”

As the workforce engine of the community, another goal is to help address the nursing and teacher shortages. The college has pledged to grow its nursing programs by 40% over the next few years, with support from the state, industry partners, and organizations.

MDC offers several stackable nursing credentials that allow students to begin working and earning as they progress. Students who complete the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program can transition to the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program and earn a career technical certificate in just three semesters. The curriculum also prepares them for the state board examination for practical nurse licensure. Both the CNA and LPN programs allow graduates to begin working right after. The College also is adding an LPN-to-RN program that is designed to be completed in just one year.

“We are strongly committed to addressing the local and national nursing shortage and meeting the needs of the healthcare community. That begins at home, in our own backyard, by offering top-quality education and establishing partnerships with area hospitals and medical providers to ensure students are exceptionally trained in all areas of patient care,” Madeline said.

Last year, MDC’s School of Education announced a new partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to place MDC education majors in classrooms while they complete a bachelor’s degree.

“This first-of-its-kind initiative provides MDC students with paid internships in the M-DCPS system, where they have the opportunity of learning and receiving the support they need to ensure they become the best teacher they can be,” she added.

During a historic announcement in 2023, Madeline also collaborated with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, to establish the Future Ready Scholarship Program, which will provide county residents access to an associate degree at MDC debt-free, opening MDC’s doors to many more students.

Since it opened its doors in 1960, MDC has admitted more than 2,500,000 students and counting. Its alumni and employees contribute more than $3 billion annually to the local economy, and its graduates occupy top leadership positions in every major industry.

The Community’s College

With support from administrators, faculty and staff, Madeline has secured significant state funding to fuel the development of workforce programs, as well as forged partnerships with key partners and stakeholders. As a result, students have access to Google courses, Bloomberg and Amazon certifications, numerous internships, and other valuable opportunities. They can learn how to combat cyber-attacks at the College’s Cybersecurity Center of the Americas, a one-of-a-kind training center designated a Center of Excellence by the National Security Agency. Most recently,  MDC received a second validation from the National Security Agency (NSA) for the Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity through 2029. This validation was granted as part of MDC’s designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), complementing the validation of the Associate in Science in Cybersecurity received two years ago. With this new recognition, MDC has become the first institution in Florida with  associate and bachelor’s degree programs validated by the NSA.

MDC’s eight campuses and outreach centers offer more than 300 distinct degree pathways, including associate and bachelor’s degrees, career certificates and apprenticeships. Other cutting-edge facilities include the Miami Culinary Institute, the Miami Animation & Gaming International Complex, the Eig-Watson School of Aviation, Cybersecurity Center of the Americas, the Cloud Computing Center and the Center for Learning, Innovation and Simulation at the Medical Campus, among others. The new Construction Trades Institute is currently under development at the North Campus and will offer programs in construction, HVAC and electrical.

MDC is also renowned for its rich cultural programming. Last year, the Miami Book Fair, widely regarded as the largest literary gathering in the country, celebrated its 40th anniversary. The college also produces the annual Miami Film Festival, now celebrating its 41st anniversary. Other cultural programs include the Museum of Art and Design, the National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, Live Arts Miami, a sculpture park, and gallery spaces.

Students are a Source of Inspiration

For Madeline, everything she does centers around the students, who she calls “our why.” She is committed to ensuring that MDC continues to serve as an engine of opportunity for anyone who seeks it, just as it did for her.

“The personal connections I build with students and witnessing their growth and success fuels my motivation,” Madeline said. “Knowing that our collective efforts contribute to shaping brighter futures for these individuals reinforces our dedication to delivering service excellence.”

Having attended MDC, she can attest to how opportunity changes everything. During her time at MDC, she was a student-athlete and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and secondary education from St. Thomas University. At Florida Atlantic University, she completed a master’s degree in higher education, and is currently a doctoral candidate in higher education at Barry University.  Prior to her role as president, she served as the first female Hispanic Chancellor of the Florida College System, and in 2019, she was appointed the Executive Vice President and Provost of Tallahassee Community College.

Embracing the Career Journey

As Madeline transitioned through various roles, from faculty to academic advisor, dean of students, campus president, and eventually college provost and chancellor, each step brought its own opportunities to learn and grow. Throughout her career she’s always remembered to value the “importance of adaptability.”

“Through resilience, adaptability, and a positive mindset, I have transformed what could have been perceived as roadblocks into stepping stones for my growth,” said Madeline.

Looking Ahead

Madeline points out that MDC is the community’s college, so first and foremost, her vision is to continue serving the community. In addition, she is also focused on ushering in another era of excellence, continuing to grow the college, and preparing the future workforce.

“How will we turn vision into reality? We will do it together, and through leadership, we will create trust and build relationships,” she says.

Madeline feels “very special” being the first woman president to lead MDC. “I hope that I may be the first, but certainly not the last,” she says. She also hopes that she is able to be a role model to students and help them realize that they too can reach their goals at MDC and beyond.

And she wants to keep finding opportunities to learn and grow, and use that knowledge to not only enhance her expertise but also to empower and inspire others around her.

Message to Aspiring Businesswomen

It takes a village to create a leader. Madeline expresses deep gratitude to her “village” for helping her in more ways than one – whether it is offering advice or helping her navigate complex situations by providing feedback. She advises aspiring businesswomen to have a strong network of mentors and advisors as they are crucial for their personal and professional growth.  “It’s about bringing people along,” she says. “It’s important to note that building your network is not a one-time activity, but rather a continuous process.”

“By staying open and receptive to new perspectives and insights, you can continue to grow and develop your skills as you lead,” Madeline adds.