How Tiffany Elise Colón Oliva ’17 ’19 MS-HCI Continues to Rise

Tiffany Colón Oliva  Earned Her Master’s in Healthcare Informatics Through UCF’s Fully Online Program: Ranked as a Top 10 online program by U.S. News & World Report, UCF believes everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
fence with memorials
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA / USA – MARCH 31, 2018: Closeup and detail of memorial items left on fence outside the OKC national memorial and museum.

In 1995, Tiffany Elise Colón Oliva, a project manager for The Walt Disney Co., was 10 years old when the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma was destroyed by a terrorist bombing, killing 168 people. The outpouring of support for the community stretched worldwide and was especially felt in South Florida. Just a few years earlier, Hurricane Andrew had torn through the area, killing 65 people, and causing widespread destruction.

Both devastating tragedies deeply impacted the residents of the affected communities, especially the children. In those days before instantaneous messaging, a letter-writing campaign that began in the Broward County Public School System to the children of Oklahoma City resulted in thousands of hand-written letters.

Colón Oliva was selected from the entire school system to travel to the Oklahoma City schools and deliver letters to the children from Miami-Dade County. In a news video  from the day, Colón Oliva is featured reading her letter in which she says she knows how it feels to know that someone cares, and she hopes it makes them feel better.

Looking back, Colón Oliva says that it wasn’t that remarkable for her 10-year-old self to have such a mature response to the tragedy.

“I was a parentified child,” Colón Oliva says. “I was used to handling much more than my age would indicate.”

In the 18 or so years since graduating from high school in South Florida, Colón Oliva has overcome a bleak history of childhood abuse to become a loving wife and mother, an aspiring author, and inspirational speaker, in addition to her work at Disney.

She considers herself a mental health advocate, not just for herself, but on her new podcast, Empathic Chronicles with Tiffany Elise, where she candidly shares her journey to mental wellness – and to voice what she couldn’t say when she was younger. Her podcast focuses on sharing raw and vulnerable stories of trauma, courage, and resilience.

“I got married right out of high school to the love of my life,” Colón Oliva says. “My husband, Jay Oliva, and I moved out of Florida for a while, but we always knew that we would come back to Florida when the time was right.”

That was right around the time Colón Oliva was waiting in the car line at her sons’ school for them.

“I saw this woman, exquisitely dressed in a business suit,” Colón Oliva says. “Here I was, a stay-at-home mom. No education. Probably wearing sweatpants. This was when I realized I had to go back to school.”

Colón Oliva also knew that she wanted to work for Disney. She had previously worked in healthcare as a patient financial counselor, a scheduling coordinator and in imaging, but when she started working at Disney, she realized she could combine her interests and experience with many areas within that organization.

She also realized that to accomplish all she wanted to accomplish, she would need to go back to school. And so, she did. After graduating magna cum laude from Seminole State College with her second associate degree, she transferred to UCF where she majored in health informatics and information management. It’s like IT for healthcare. She was also active in multiple student organizations.

It was a lot, Colón Oliva said, especially with a fulltime job and two young children. But she and her husband made it work. Along the way, she also came to terms with the circumstances of her own childhood.

Colón Oliva is not a victim, she is a survivor, and that is the message that she wants other survivors to hear to help them heal.

It was hard, at times, for her to remember some circumstances of her youth. She had encountered situations in her home for which she was not prepared – nor should she have been.

“Look at me with all this responsibility,” Oliva recalls thinking. “I had a conscious state of anxiety as a high-functioning child. I always felt like I had to do something or be doing something.”

She transformed that energy into goal setting. And although she was accomplishing her goals, she still never felt worthy.

“I, for sure, had imposter syndrome,” Colón Oliva says. “I lacked self-confidence, but my goal was to remain humble and to use the experience to strengthen me.”

She found a therapist who correctly identified that Colón Oliva had ADHD as an adult, along with dyslexia, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

“That diagnosis changed my life. Finally, I was getting the treatment and care that I didn’t get as a child.”

For the past two decades, Colón Oliva has been surrounded by people involved in the two most important professions in her life: healthcare and IT.

“I heard once that hurt people want to help people,” Colón Oliva. “I think that is true. And I do want to help people, but I fell in love with IT because I could help people which is who I’ve been most of my life.

Colón Oliva says she has merged both of her passions into healthcare informatics.

“I’ve been at Disney since 2022,” Colón Oliva says. “I support safety initiatives through technology that ensures that our guests and cast members have the best experience.”

Colón Oliva says she was grateful that UCF had a fully online program in health informatics.

“I always had to work,” she says. “And then when I got off, I would rush home and start cooking, and then help the kids with whatever they needed now. It was tough for my husband and me to coordinate our schedules, but we figured it out. We’re a team.”

Once her family had settled in for the night, Colón Oliva sat down at her computer, studied, read, and participated in whatever the class was discussing at the moment.

“It was rough for a couple of years,” Colón Oliva says. “But I feel like now I am able to give my family the life that I always wanted without spoiling them, but just giving them all a healthier and stable life.”

In a typical day at Disney, Colón Oliva might have on average four to six Zoom meetings a day as she collaborates with project team members across her professional network. It’s a work ethic that she likely inherited from her father, who is the general manager of an auto dealership, and “he just works all day.”

It’s not a habit that Colón Oliva necessarily wants to continue and is working on improving her work-life balance. But she is writing a book about her life, and occasionally visits high schools to share her story about how life does and will get better for students who may be experiencing the difficulties that she faced when she was younger.

“I remember what it was like growing up. And I remember the way I felt. And I remember the way that I was made to feel and the things that I had and did not have control over. And I want to reach that young girl that you know, may not have the guidance or the path or the generational wealth and not know which way to go. I want to reach that girl and tell her that those misfortunes don’t mean that you can’t still achieve your goals and be who you want to be in life.”

Colón Oliva also shares with the students she meets that there are often scholarships available for which they might be able to qualify. She earned some income-based grants and used her writing talents to secure a few small scholarships.

“I would just do anything to try to earn money for school because I knew that to achieve it, I was going to have to do it myself. My life motto has always been to break the cycle and be the difference. Defy every odd and prove yourself wrong every single day to the best of your ability.”

One of the aspects of the online master’s program was that she was able to continue building her impressive network of contacts, she says. Often, students in UCF’s informatics program will reach out to her for career guidance; Alice Noblin, associate professor and the Interim Associate Dean of Planning and Knowledge Management, will often steer new students to Colón Oliva.

“Toward the end of the program, we had an opportunity to mentor incoming freshmen, and I took advantage of that opportunity just to make sure they knew what to expect, and to help them get a head start.”

That preparedness is echoed by Disney, Colón Oliva says, because so many of her colleagues are also UCF grads, and her area has a UCF “committee” where Knights can collaborate on various Disney projects.

“There are people on my project team who went to UCF,” Colón Oliva says. “What sets UCF apart, I think is that we can be that large, yet everybody still has a place as a Knight. And I think that’s amazing.”

Colón Oliva also wants to share a special message for individuals who may be struggling to overcome their own painful past:

“Break the cycle and be the difference, defy the odds and pursuit your own path to success, believe in yourself and all that you can achieve. Celebrate the small wins and remember that you have what it takes. Break generational curses by ensuring that your story’s misfortunes end with you.”


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