When Lee Noto started at UCF in 2008, there was no way she thought she’d end up in Hawaii when it was all said and done.
“When I put Hawaii down, it was almost a joke,” said Noto, who now lives in the Aloha State where she’s working for Teach For America, a nonprofit organization equivalent to the Peace Corps for education. “When they asked me to go [there], I was completely shocked.”
For other students, getting selected to work in Hawaii may have been a shocking opportunity, but take a glimpse at Noto’s résumé, which puts most college students’ to shame, and it’s not all that hard to believe. In addition to majoring in management (entrepreneurship) and minoring in Spanish, Noto was a resident assistant for the Hercules dorms, assisted in giving campus tours for Undergraduate Admissions, served on the President’s Leadership Council and was a marketing intern for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
She also received one of the highest honors a UCF student can receive when she was awarded the 2012 Founders’ Day award and was selected to the Order of Pegasus.
“It was cool being one of the only people to stand up [for the award] and wave at my parents [at graduation],” Noto said. “It’s such a humbling experience. It feels good to know that the hard work you put into the four years paid off and was recognized.”
Noto is teaching impoverished elementary school students in Hawaii as part of the Teach for America program. She will soon begin covering math, science and social studies at Schofield Barracks, an army base on the island of Oahu.
“Our main goal is to minimize or try to eliminate the inequity in education," Noto said. “Students facing poverty don’t have the same access to education. There’s no drive for them to get an education outside of school.”
The Boynton Beach native said that adjusting to the weather hasn’t been too hard for her, especially since it’s not as humid. The towering mountains outside her hotel room act as constant reminders that she’s not in her hometown anymore, since “the biggest thing we have in Florida is a landfill.”
Cameron Ford, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, attributes Noto’s success to her go-getter mentality and beaming personality. He first met Noto in a cornerstone class when he showed an instructional video from a New Mexico business entrepreneur, and Noto surprised him when she successfully petitioned the businessman to come to their school. Afterward, Ford hired her as an undergraduate marketing strategist at the Center.
“That’s one of those things I’ll always remember. I thought that was a great leadership moment,” Ford said. “She saw something that could benefit her peers, and she pursued it without thinking about whatever resources might limit her.”
Sean McMahon, who taught Noto in his moral foundations of business class, said that Noto has a level of self-awareness unique for someone her age.
“For someone her age, she has a lot of introspection,” McMahon said. “You don’t see that in people until their late 20s, 30s, sometimes never.”
Some may think Noto didn’t have time to enjoy her college career, but she begs to differ.
“My motto was work hard, play hard,” Noto said. "In my last year, I had more fun than the last three years combined.”
When reflecting back on her time at UCF, Noto simultaneously revealed her biggest fear and her strongest motivation.
“My biggest fear is not failing. It’s being indifferent and not caring. That’s worse than failure in my book.”