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Making a Difference Mondays, June 6

Monday, June 6, 2016

Donor Spotlight: Dr. Ken Ross
Vice President for Academic Affairs


When I was in school, I never received a scholarship. I understand how much it costs to go to school—not just in terms of money, but also in planning, hard work, and family investment. I have revisited this challenge again as a husband and parent. My wife, Kim, and I donate to the Polk State College Foundation because we can directly see the impact the money makes on students. We can see how these funds are spent and how far they go in making a difference in the lives and futures of young people in our community. Years ago, when I gave as an alumnus to the university I attended, I never knew who benefited, and it often was unclear how the money was being spent.

One of the things we love about giving to Polk State is that there is an obvious connection between donations and the beneficiaries. The transparency gratifies and encourages involvement. At Polk State College, we see the impact of our investment every day through the gratitude given to donors at the health science pinning ceremonies, during the monthly District Board of Trustees student reflections, and in the thank you letters that students write. The heartfelt and sincere appreciation given for the support is very moving. It just makes us feel good to know that what we invest at the Foundation ends up helping students along in their pursuit of a better life through education—it provides a tangible and life altering dividend. A Foundation board member once said to me, “You don’t have to give until it hurts; give until it feels good.” And seeing the transformative change that is made from a donation really does feel good!


Alumni Spotlight: Christine Stephens Samuel
May 2016 Distinguished Alumna


Christine Stephens Samuel is the Director of Human Resources for the Agricultural and Labor Program, Inc. (ALPI). She has been associated with this organization as volunteer, board member, or employee since 1979. The ALPI program began in 1968 as a project of the Coca-Cola Corporation to help improve the lives of migrant workers. Today, it is a $16 million entity funded through federal and community block grants. The program provides emergency assistance and school training, operates the Head Start
Program in St. Lucie County, and manages a Polk County Early Start Program that serves 781 children.

According to Samuel, her association with Polk State began long before she started taking classes. “I was a single mom and worked a full-time job during the day. At night, I worked as a custodian at the College from 9:00pm until 5:30am each day. Then I would take a short nap, get my kids off to school, and go back to my day job.”

After being encouraged by an employer to go back to school, Samuel enrolled at Polk State. She graduated with her Associate in Arts degree in 1980 and received her Bachelor of Arts in Human Resources from Eckerd College in 1987. As a non-traditional student who was working and parenting full time, Eckerd’s program enabled her to earn her degree by attending classes on a flexible schedule. She also received college credit for her life experiences.

Samuel’s association with the Agricultural and Labor Program, Inc. began with the CETA Program, where she worked as an assistant area manager in a temporary position. The organization was so pleased with her work that they created a full-time permanent position. In 1991, while working for the ALPI, Samuel was recruited to work with the Eckerd Youth and Family Alternatives Program. She spent time as the human resources director, and was then promoted as the center director of the Eckerd Youth Challenge Program.

After working in this capacity, Samuel moved to G4S Youth Services as a facility director for troubled youth. During this time, she created her own consulting company, DES Consulting. Between 1992 and 2013, Samuel continued to be involved with the ALPI, serving on the Regional Advisory Council and Board of Directors. She currently serves as the ALPI Director of Human Resources and is the liaison for the Eastern Region Advisory Council.

Samuel has always felt she was born to serve, and loves working with young people. Notes Samuel, “My youngest son was killed in a car accident many years ago, and my passion has always been to work with youth and show them that they can have a better life.” In addition to her public service, Samuel has served as the National Youth Coordinator for her church, House of God Saints in Christ, Inc. since 2007. She is also the president of her church’s board of directors.

Samuel’s commitment to the community has also led her to serve on the board of Girls, Inc. of Winter Haven, where she has held the positions of treasurer and vice president; in July 2016 she will ascend to the role of president. In 2011, the organization recognized her with the She Knows Where She’s Going Award. She has also participated as second vice president on the executive board for the local chapter of the NAACP.

Student Spotlight: Where are they now?
Jonathan Chery


Note: Jonathan Chery was originally featured in a story in the May 2013 issue of Making A Difference Mondays. Click here to see the original story. He recently contacted the Polk State College Foundation to update us on his latest accomplishments. Here is what he wished to share with Polk State and our donors:

My college journey began after graduation in 2009. I was uncertain of which career path to take, and was torn between Business Administration and Computer Engineering. I enrolled at Polk State College to explore options and pursue my education.

The transition from high school to college was very challenging. I was still learning English, and it had only been two years since I moved from Haiti to the United States, which was a vast cultural shift. Though not fluent in English, I still managed to pass the FCAT and graduate from high school.

In 2013, I graduated from Polk State with an AS in Computer Information Systems. I then moved to Jacksonville to attend The University of North Florida (UNF). While at UNF, I majored in Computer Network Administrations and Computer Security Administrations, which allowed me to become more familiar with the different types of languages that a computer uses. I graduated in April 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology specializing in Computing and Information Systems.

Earning this degree has definitely been a long journey, taking several years of hard work, motivation, and dedication. Now that I have my degree, this isn’t where it all stops; instead this is just the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one.

What comes next? Before graduation I had several interviews for data analyst and data entry positions. Right now, I am still unsure if these positions represent what I am looking for, and it is nice to know that I have options and am viewed as a qualified and competitive applicant. I am still on the job hunt and hopefully will soon find a job in Security Administration, which is my dream.

My experience at Polk State College greatly contributed to my success. I honestly think attending Polk (rather than a four-year university) after high school was one the best the decisions that I have ever made. The time I spent at Polk State really prepared me for UNF. My upper-division coursework was much easier because of what I had learned in my classes in Polk already.

If it were not for the Polk State College Foundation, I would have not completed my last semester and earned my associate’s degree. The organization and its donors supported me and helped me when I needed it the most. I had a situation where my previous source of financial aid would not cover my last few courses, and I am forever grateful for the help provided.

Another truly wonderful thing about Polk State was the TRiO support services program. Without TRiO, I would not have known about UNF. The TRiO staff members helped me research the right program and school for my goals—and also made sure that I stayed on top of my coursework and grades. The direction and study skills they provided made for an easier transition when I moved to UNF. Overall, Polk State was a very great experience and provided me with many wonderful opportunities.


Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

I recently had the tremendous fortune of being able to attend the Florida College System Chancellor’s Leadership Seminar as Polk State’s representative. One of the many points emphasized was how people remember and relate to stories, and that this is critical to reaching people and connecting within the human experience. This really stuck with me and made me think about how I approach my experiences and service at Polk State and its Foundation. Many times when I am asked how the College is doing, my response has been, “It’s another whirlwind day of wonderfulness!” There is such a vast amount of positive activity happening at any given time that it can be difficult to pinpoint just one story to tell, or to find the time to relay all the stories that need to be told. And yet, there are always unique stories that come to mind throughout the day that truly move my soul.

As I raced back from the Seminar to a Foundation Board meeting, I thought about a recent “Student Spotlight” featuring a student who had been raised by his grandfather, who then supported him emotionally and financially while attending Polk State. Very unfortunately, his grandfather became ill, and the young man had to drop out of College so he could take his grandfather to his doctors’ appointments and work to help pay the bills. When his grandfather sadly passed away, the student had to sell his car to pay for the funeral. Three years later and carrying three jobs, this student has now returned to Polk State and is doing very well. In part, he is able to do this because of a Foundation scholarship. He is attending school full time and is also active in student activities. His expression of appreciation for Polk State and the Foundation have warmed the hearts of all those who know his journey. I am fortunate that I hear about outcomes like this all the time, where a student is able to press the restart button because of our generous Foundation donors.

Another aspect that reinforces my pride in working with the Foundation and the many donors who invest in its mission, is events like last month’s graduation ceremony. More than 500 of over 1,000 students eligible to graduate chose to walk—and many actually strutted across the stage. They made it clear that being an alumnus of Polk State is something to be proud of. Our many alumni throughout the community exemplify this. Distinguished Alumna Christine Samuel (featured at the graduation ceremony) is a shining example of how hard work, determination, and perseverance can positively impact an individual’s life and the lives of those within his or her sphere of influence.

Alumnus Jonathan Chery is yet another example of how our varied roles at Polk State are genuinely appreciated and make a tangible, meaningful difference. This former graduate and Foundation scholarship recipient (featured in an article of this Making a Difference Mondays newsletter) reached out to us unsolicited, in gratitude, in order to share his excitement regarding his many accomplishments and the vital role that Polk State played in helping him achieve them. I encourage you to read his story—you have helped make it possible.

Thank you for your critical role in making these, and innumerable similar transformational stories, part of the Polk State legacy!

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director