February 10, 2015

Patty Sheehan earned her B.A. in art at UCF back when UCF was a commuter campus. She then went on to serve as President of the Colonialtown North Neighborhood Association and is a former Administrator with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Currently Sheehan is serving as the Orlando Commissioner, of District 4.

Sheehan who has been recognized multiple times by the Orlando Weekly, Orlando Magazine and the Watermark newspaper as Best Elected Official, was also listed in the Top 25 Influential Women in Orlando Life Magazine. She was also awarded the Diversity Champion Award by the Asian American Chamber of Commerce in 2013, and as the first openly-gay elected official in Central Florida, she passed non-discrimination protections and Domestic Partnership legislation for the LGBT community.

In Sheehan’s free time she paints and exhibits her “Bad Kitty” paintings in local clubs and shops, and is also a huge proponent of the arts and culture in Orlando. Sheehan’s career path is an example of the versatility of an art degree, how it can be both a bridge for a future outside of the arts and a resource of experience to tap into when a creative opportunity presents itself.

M.C. Santana, Ph.D., Director, Women’s Studies here at UCF, has invited Sheehan to speak at various events Santana has organized in the past and was very happy to hear that Sheehan was being recognized for her successes. She went on to say that Sheehan, “was a creative student bringing a diverse sensitivity to the Art Department much needed for inclusiveness at the time at UCF. Her empathy for others is evident also in her later political career. It is important to recognize all points of view and creative ideas that highlight the human experience through the concepts of art.”

Yulia Tikhonova, UCF Art Gallery Director, approached Sheehan with a few questions about her time here at UCF. Her answers are an honest look back on her time as a struggling student learning to navigate the discriminatory environment of the 70’s that Sheehan used to her advantage as motivation to bring about certain social changes here in Orlando.

Why did you choose UCF?
I chose UCF because it was convenient and I could continue my community college education there.

What did you like most about it?
I liked the convenience, even though I was doing a lot of driving, being a full time student and working full time. During the 1980’s UCF was a commuter campus, students did not have dorms and live there as they do now.

Most colleges have a specific personality that goes beyond its academic offerings. How would you describe UCF’s personality at that time?
I would have to say, and it would probably upset some folks, that we were known as a party school. Probably not expected from a city leader, but I had a lot of fun in my 20’s!

What would you have changed while you were at UCF, if you could have a power to change things? What would you change now?
It was a very different environment in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Women could get credit on their own, which had been unheard of. I bought a house at 21, and I remember people being very surprised that a single woman could do that, and I was one of the first at the Title Company I bought my home through. Because things were changing rapidly for women, there was a lot of backlash. Older men did not like the young feminists. There was a lot of resentment at the strides women had made. You can imagine how cathartic it was for me to speak to a women’s studies class about women in politics, a couple of years ago. I would never have dreamed at the time that being elected to public office would have been a possibility for me. And to see so many young women who believed they could, well, it was inspiring. So I have seen things change, and for the better. I am glad that my alma mater has also gotten better at understanding LGBT issues and has non-discrimination policies. Those would have been helpful to me as well. I think the entire community, as well as our nation has evolved in acceptance. I think that is a good thing.

What surprises did you experience?
Surprises? Not only that I could be the first of my family to graduate from College, but to have had as successful and enjoyable life as I have. I would have never thought that I would have had the opportunity to serve as a community leader, as a City Commissioner. I would offer the advice to bloom where you are planted, because you never know what awaits you!

What motivations did UCF empower you with?
My time at UCF made me determined to get my degree and be successful. It was hard for me. I worked full time, and paid off my tuition as I went along. I graduated with about $1500.00 in book debt. That was it. That would be pretty much impossible now with how much tuition costs. I wish education was more affordable, and available to everyone who wants it.

How did your time at UCF shape your decisions and choices in your life and your career?
I joke that I was on the eight-year easy payment plan for College. But I learned to never give up. And since it was so hard fought for, I never took my education for granted. I honestly believe that education is the great equalizer, that it opens the heart and mind to great possibilities if you open yourself up to learning.