September 2015, Volume 19, Number 4

Making Their Mark


Alumni Answer the Call to Serve

Miami-Dade County’s public defender, police director, state attorney, commission chair, CEO at Jackson Health System and PortMiami director each day do their part to improve life in our community. What do they have in common besides their mission to serve? The answer is the firm foundation they established at Miami Dade College, where they and 2 million others in our community began their journey to higher education.

His Life Changed at the Pump

Carlos J. Martínez, public defender for Florida’s 11th Judicial Court in Miami-Dade County, said his life changed forever while working at an Exxon gas station.

There, when he was in high school, he met Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, who later became president of Miami Dade College.

“I started as a carwash attendant, then became a shift manager,” Martínez said. “Dr. Padrón would get self-service gas, which was new at the time. We struck up some conversations, and he said I should consider studying at MDC.”

Martínez, who came to Miami from Cuba at age 9 in 1969, followed this sage advice.

“My MDC professors taught me to think critically, a skill I hadn’t yet developed,” he said.

While life was tough financially, getting a college degree was imperative.

“My parents instilled in me that education was something no one can take away,” said Martínez, whose family had had their homes confiscated by the Castro regime.

Martínez now manages nearly 400 employees and 90,000 cases annually at the largest of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. He has instituted numerous programs to help troubled youth by addressing the crisis of minority children cycled from schools to prisons.

Coming full circle, on Jan. 28, 2009 – the birthday of Cuban patriot José Martí – Martínez was sworn in as a U.S. citizen at MDC’s National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, where he was processed when he first arrived in the U.S.

“I look back at my time at MDC fondly,” he said. “It was an excellent experience.”

Keeping the County Safe

Miami-Dade Police Department Director (MDPD) J.D. Patterson Jr., who has been on the force for 30 years, is a proud MDC graduate.

“Miami Dade College is the springboard to go forward in life,” said Patterson, a life-long Miamian who attended Jackson High School. “MDC is the place to go to blossom.”

After MDC, Patterson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees before serving four years in the military, reaching the rank of staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He also attended the FBI National Academy and joined the MDPD in 1985. He went on to serve as a police officer in various communities and neighborhoods, including Kendall, Carol City, Doral and Miami Lakes.

In 2004, he was appointed assistant director of Support Services, developing the budget for the eighth largest police force in the Southeastern United States. In 2012, he was appointed acting director of the MDPD.

“This is one of the greatest jobs in America to hold,” Patterson said when he was named the official director on Feb. 1, 2013.

Reflecting on his time at MDC, he said, “Education means everything to me. It is the key that unlocks the door if you want to go through it.”

Road to Justice Started at MDC

Known as a relentless crime fighter, Katherine Fernández Rundle said MDC “will always hold a special place in my heart.”

It helped launch her career as Miami-Dade County state attorney for the past 22 years, which she took on after serving as an assistant state attorney for 15 years.

Since earning an associate degree at MDC, a bachelor’s at the University of Miami, and master’s and law degrees at the University of Cambridge in England, she has dedicated her life to ensuring that the guilty are convicted while the rights of the innocent are protected.

At the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the fourth largest in the nation with more than 1,200 employees, Fernández Rundle has established numerous crime prevention and rehabilitation initiatives, including a drug court and juvenile gun offenders program. She also has pioneered work on issues such as domestic violence, child support, human trafficking, victim’s rights, public corruption and teen truancy.

“MDC has long been recognized for laying the groundwork for many in our community to excel in their respective fields,” she said. “This wonderful institution laid the foundation for my higher learning.”

Commission Chair Thankful Every Day to MDC

Jean Monestime, who is the first Haitian-American to serve on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, is grateful to Miami Dade College.

A native of Haiti who speaks both English and Creole, Monestime arrived in Miami at age 17, without his parents or a grasp of the English language. He got his GED from Miami’s Edison High School and soon began taking remedial English classes at MDC. To make ends meet, he drove a taxi cab and did other odd jobs.

“Miami Dade College gave me confidence,” said Monestime, who went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in finance then an MBA. “MDC had a team of dedicated professors and advisers who helped me meet my challenges and take my first steps in my journey.”

After working as a Miami-Dade County school teacher, Monestime reached a career milestone in 2010 when he was elected to represent District 2 on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. Now the unanimous choice as chairman, he represents more than 2.5 million people and presides over a commission budget larger than that of 17 states. He is also president of JEMO Realty, a real estate and insurance company.

As the commission chairman, one of Monestime’s pet projects is helping to reduce the income inequality gap in Miami. Despite his success, he has not forgotten his humble beginnings, including his time at MDC.

“I’m grateful there is an MDC for individuals like me,” Monestime said. “I thank God every day because something like this could only happen in America.”

Saving Millions in Health Care

Jackson Health System President and CEO Carlos A. Migoya left no stone unturned when he attended MDC in the late ’60s. Studying full time, he made much-needed money racing cars and drumming in a rock-and-roll band.

“Miami Dade College formulated the foundation of my education,” said Migoya, who arrived from Cuba as a boy and attended Miami High.

After graduating from MDC, he earned an MBA in finance and started his career as a bank teller, rising through the ranks to become regional president of Wachovia in North Carolina and CEO for the Atlantic region, responsible for banking in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. He also served as city manager in Miami, successfully tackling enormous budget issues.

Since May 2011, he has led massive positive change at Jackson, one of the nation’s largest, most respected public health care networks. Jackson, which suffered an $82 million loss the year before Migoya arrived, produced an $8 million surplus in his first year there. Twelve months later, the surplus increased to $51 million.

While improving the financials, Migoya also helped Jackson increase patient satisfaction and health care quality.

“Jackson does so much for our community,” he said. “It’s a place where miracles happen daily.”

At the Helm of PortMiami

As director of PortMiami, MDC alumnus Juan Kuryla runs the largest cruise port in the world. In 2014, more than 4.77 million passengers passed through PortMiami, which generates more than 207,000 jobs and has an economic impact of $28 billion. Among his many responsibilities, he oversees operations and capital development.

Kuryla, who graduated from MDC and went on to earn an MBA, started his career in 1987 with the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department.

“Miami Dade College was a great fit for me,” said Kuryla. “The quality of teachers made me want to attend school.”

Moving up the ranks, he was appointed to the county’s finance department in 1993, then in 1998, he began his steady climb at PortMiami. He served first as assistant to the director, progressing through the roles of leading intergovernmental affairs and promotions to being named assistant port director for Maritime Services, followed by deputy port director. In 2013, he was named seaport director designee, and he took on his current role in 2014.

Reflecting on his time at MDC, Kuryla said, “It was the place I started to learn to be a professional and a responsible individual.”

More Making Their Mark Articles

Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.
Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Miami Dade College.
Miami Dade College is an equal access/equal opportunity institution which does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, marital status, age, religion, national origin,
disability, veteran’s status, ethnicity, pregnancy, sexual orientation or genetic information. Additional information may be obtained by contacting the
Office of Equal Opportunity Programs/ADA Coordinator/Title IX Coordinator, at 305.237.2577.