Florida Gulf Coast University alumna Vanessa Chaviano is making her mark in the Southwest Florida business community while helping others along the way.
Chaviano graduated from FGCU in 2008 with a dual bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and criminal forensics then completed a master’s degree in criminal forensics in 2010.
Despite her educational background, Chaviano ultimately found her passion in a completely different field. While working toward her degrees at FGCU, she also had a full-time job in the automotive industry. That work experience led her to join a local startup marketing agency that supported automotive dealers with advertising and marketing.
During this career change, Chaviano gained additional experience and earned an MBA from Ashford University, which inspired her to start her own firm, LIV Digital Marketing, a full-service marketing and advertising agency based in Cape Coral.
Chaviano admits college wasn’t originally in her plans. She did not want to take on tuition debt at a young age. But with a push from her mom, Chaviano decided that a university degree was in her best interest and moved forward. It was only when she went to register for classes at FGCU that she discovered financial help was waiting.
“I found out I had the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship. I thought that was interesting because I didn’t know I had received it. I never received a letter, and I didn’t find out from my high school,” Chaviano said. “I did not know there was money out there to help.”
Funded by the state, Bright Futures provides scholarships based on high school academic achievement. With additional, smaller scholarships from local organizations, Chaviano was able to pursue multiple degrees and became the first child in her family to graduate from college.
If she was unaware of such financial assistance, Chaviano figured hundreds of other high school students might be overlooking opportunities that would help pay for college. She was determined to make them aware of the possibilities so they would not miss out on the chance to further their education.
“If you’re not familiar with how it works or what you have to do, it can be overwhelming,” Chaviano said. “It’s helping others navigate the process so they can be successful once they graduate from high school.”
To help bridge this gap, Chaviano created Leading Latina, a nonprofit organization promoting the personal and professional growth of its members, men and women, with a focus on women in the Hispanic community. Since its launch 18 months ago, the group has helped students navigate the college application process. Last October, they helped more than a dozen families learn about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. Similar events will be held virtually this fall.
“It was cool to get that kind of engagement,” Chaviano said. “We are connecting with our demographic and making an impact.”
Leading Latina is also working to provide scholarships to two local high school students next spring. A mother of two daughters, Chaviano knows the importance of providing every possible opportunity to her children.
“We have a lot of first-generation students going to college. Some of their parents don’t speak English or never finished school,” she said. “It’s new territory for them, and we help guide them.”
Her presence in the professional world and passion to give back is being recognized. Chaviano was one of five FGCU alumni recently selected for Gulfshore Business’ annual “40 Under 40” list, which celebrates regional business and community leaders younger than 40.
Chaviano wants people to know she is serious about her business and her desire to help aspiring college students — she jokes that her handshake is firm. When asked about the best advice she ever received, she recalls one mentor who told her “not be to be afraid to take a seat at the table and be yourself.”
“You are there for a reason. Whatever that reason may be, just be comfortable knowing you have something to give,” said Chaviano. “It’s hard to get out of your own head, but it’s owning what you know and being true to who you are.”
- Learn more about Leading Latina