UCF Alumna is an Ally to Orlando


At eleven years old Nilmarie Zapata, ’07, ’09, moved from Puerto Rico to Central Florida with her family. Since then, she has become a leader in the Central Florida community.

Zapata earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.

One of the main differences she has noted between the United States and Puerto Rico is the sense of family and kinship. Due to being a smaller Island, Zapata says that there was a very strong unity among families that she believes is difficult to maintain with the urban sprawl found in most areas of the United States.

“It was a very beautiful thing,” Zapata said.  “Now I live 45 minutes from my mom and it feels so far!”

Her family being one of Zapata’s top priorities led her to attend UCF to stay close to her loved ones.

Zapata does not regret her decision. She explained, “UCF has provided me the solid foundation of knowledge and support to pursue a life of public service.”

While attending UCF, Zapata made an intentional effort to form friendships and learn from distinct cultures.

“It was a blessing to be exposed to diverse cultural and social backgrounds,” Zapata said. “I see Orlando as a perfect snapshot of the world.”

Zapata continues to stay involved with the UCF community by opening up opportunities for alumni and students. She continuously creates employment, internship, and mentoring opportunities for her Knight family.

Since graduating from UCF Zapata has accomplished much at her young age. She has served as a graduate professor for public and non-profit management for master’s students at Ana G Mendez University System. In 2013 she founded the Global Shapers Orlando Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum where she served as one of the youngest international curators. And in 2015 she graduated from class 24 of Leadership Seminole.

Zapata currently serves as the Site Director for Public Allies Central Florida (PACF), an AmeriCorps program focused on providing young emerging leaders with professional development opportunities through a ten-month apprenticeship with a local non-profit organization.

Zapata explained that in the past few years of her employment the program has changed the path of over 150 individuals.

Zapata worked determinedly with PACF to increase the program’s low socio economic background representation to 70%. The program also increased its number of participating men of color and achieved 100% retention twice in the last three years. And over 90% of PACF alumni continued on with their studies or have obtained employment within 90 days of the program.

“Yet, the most important aspect of my job is instilling in our allies a culture of values based on leadership and personal responsibility,” Zapata explained.

Zapata holds the hope and resilience of the program’s participants close to her heart.

“They are my heroes,” Zapata said. “To be part of enhancing a process that disrupts poverty and generational trauma will forever guide any future choices I may take.”

In January 2016 Zapata was selected as one of the top 25 influential Hispanics within the Central Florida Region by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. She was selected by the Chamber’s editorial board based on her professional contributions, accomplishments, and demonstrated leadership.

This leadership was evident when tragedy struck Orlando with the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Zapata immediately went to ground zero to see how she could be of service. Her knowledge of cultural competency, sensitivity in the Latino community surrounding sexuality, and the Spanish language helped in the aftermath when trying to contact and reunite families with their loved ones.

“I wanted to ensure that the Hispanic culture was not kept out of the narrative,” Zapata explained. “Culture has to be taken into account to respond most effectively in emergency management situations. You cannot get the message across if you are not speaking in the language your audience is comfortable with or acknowledging cultural nuances and how they may differ from your own.”

Zapata serves as a shining example in the Orlando community. When asked to share her advice to current UCF students and alumni, she said:

“If you want to change the world, then start by changing yourself and bringing light to the darkest places of your own life. Exemplify a life lived with love, emotional intelligence, and personal responsibility.”

View original story Community Based Care of Central Florida. 

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