Marichu Valencia’s journey to professional success and fulfillment can be summed up in two words: bold and adventurous. It paid off. Earlier this fall, she shared her inspirational story with students, faculty, administrators and executives at the University of Delaware during a fireside chat to kickoff this year’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) ASCEND certificate program.
WLI’s ASCEND certificate program is a year-long program open to all students who have a demonstrated interest in the development of leadership skills for women. The program, which is part of UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, connects participants with executives to build critical skills for success. The goal is for students to get inspired, feel more confident in their career goals and focus on all the possibilities for the future.
As the daughter of a civil engineer and a homemaker, Valencia, who was one of seven children, came to the United States from the Philippines in 1984. She had always dreamed of such an adventure and decided it was time to make the leap in search of something new.
“I came for an adventure and sort of forged my own independence in this country. I didn’t really have any plans,” Valencia said.
With $600 in her pocket, she stayed in northern Virginia with a friend from high school, but quickly went looking for a job. Her first position was as an assistant concierge at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C.
“I felt bold and adventurous,” Valencia said. But as she explained to WLI’s Director Lynn Evans, who hosted the fireside chat, Valencia was also determined to convince the hiring manager that she was a hard worker and quick learner – even if it meant learning to read a map upside down.
Confidence and experience from that first job led to more opportunities in the hospitality industry, ultimately enabling her to expand her competencies and professional network to earn international recognition for her contributions.
Valencia, who received a bachelor’s degree in interior design from the College of Holy Spirit in Manila, established a career in design and worked for Marriott International. She designed and managed hospitality projects in the U.S. and abroad. She also served as senior interior designer with the U.S. Department of State, where she designed U.S. Chief of Mission (ambassadors) residences internationally. She has been retired since 2013 and continues to serve on several boards. Currently she serves on the UD President’s Leadership Council, the board of directors for the Ronald McDonald House and the Boys and Girls Club of Delaware. She also serves on the advisory board for the National Museum of Women in The Arts.
“Of course, there are many lessons but most important to me are hard work, humility, empathy, integrity, keeping your word and, very importantly, self-awareness,” Valencia said.
Valencia encouraged students to take risks and cultivate relationships. She noted how the successes of her three-decade career emerged because she said yes to many opportunities in life, which allowed her to constantly learn, grow and meet new people. She advised students in the audience to perform their professional jobs with service in mind, tackling each assignment with an empathetic perspective. She encouraged them to be innovative and creative in seeking mentors out across levels and disciplines to build their professional networks.
Valencia concluded the discussion by sharing stories of three extraordinary people in her life whom she has always admired for their courage and simplicity. Her grandmother epitomized resilience in raising three children alone after being widowed during World War II. Her younger brother Joey reflected joy and fortitude to push forward in living his life despite being born with cerebral palsy that required him to depend on others for ongoing care. Her step granddaughter, Maggie, who has spina bifida and is wheelchair bound, has boldly taught Valencia about perseverance and independence, against all odds. Today, Maggie is able to access public transportation on her own, and recently opened a home baking business that was featured in broadcast media.
Corrine Meinsen, a junior finance and marketing major, attended and networked with others during the reception following the fireside chat.
“I thought it was very impactful and I really took what Valencia said to heart,” said Meinsen, who said she wants to work in private equity or investment banking after she graduates. “I think I will take a lot of what she said and apply it to the business world. She talked about how she took that one step in D.C., and she didn’t know what was going to happen. I think I need to find that one step, just as she did, and that’ll lead me to success, not only in my professional life but also my personal life.”
Rebecca Meeks, a junior economics major, participated in ASCEND during her sophomore year and went on to become secretary of the Women in Economics student organization. She told Meinsen to join to meet new people. She also attended the fireside chat.
“I thought she had a lot of good advice and life experience. She’s very well composed and that was something that I took away from her,” Meeks said of Valencia’s talk.
One powerful comment for Meeks was when Valencia talked about being confident.
“I feel like she emphasized how you carry yourself and having confidence and having self-awareness, that was a big takeaway for me.”
In addition to participating in WLI’s ASCEND program, Valencia was also the keynote speaker at a reception for WLI’s RiseUP leadership forum on Nov. 10. The RiseUp leadership forum is designed for mid-career professionals who are looking to advance their leadership journey. Past and current participants are invited to the reception along with business and community leaders to come together in support of one another and the collective efforts to advance gender equity.