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Making a Difference Mondays, August 27

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Eric Greenhow
Passionate about Polk County

Eric Greenhow grew up living in Polk City and Haines City, and he now lives in Lakeland and works in Winter Haven. These strong roots make it easy to understand his pride in being from Polk County and his desire to help the community grow in reputation and services.

Eric graduated with his AA degree from Polk State in 2000. He received his bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of South Florida. He currently works as an investment advisor with Allen & Company of Florida.

At an early age, Eric found a hobby that eventually led to his career choice. As he recalls, “I opened my first investment account when I was 13 with money I had earned from working different part-time jobs.” This experience helped entice him to study the world of savings and investments. School was an area in which Eric excelled; he even skipped fourth grade, which allowed him to graduate from high school at the age of 16.

At first, Eric began his college career at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville; however, being away from home at such a young age proved to be a distraction, and he only stayed there for one year. Eric then decided to go to Polk State to concentrate on setting goals and completing his education. “Coming back home allowed me to refocus on school and get back on track. The time I spent at Polk served the important function of allowing me to build a strong foundation for my education that carried me through my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.”

His childhood interest in investing led Eric to pursue a degree in Finance. He worked in various jobs to pay for all of his education, including taking a position at an investment firm in Tampa. Eric recalls, “I lived at home in Lakeland, and then I drove to Tampa for work, and then to USF at night for my MBA, and then back home to Lakeland.” While looking for a position closer to home, a recruiter from Allen & Company contacted him. He started with the company in 2003 and now works with clients to help them achieve their financial and retirement goals. Still eager to continue to learn, he attended the London School of Economics in 2011 for a one-month intensive study program.

Active in the community, Eric is proud of all that Polk County offers to those who live here. He would like to help promote the area and help the County grow. By participating in programs such as Leadership Winter Haven and Leadership Lakeland, and by serving as a trustee for the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Polk County Planning Commission, he is able to analyze many different aspects of the county and help others to see the value of living in the County. He also is a partner in two real estate investment companies that rehabilitate and resell houses. These companies work to rebuild neighborhoods. As Eric sees it, “This County is a great place to live, and I hope that I can help in some way to encourage others to move here.”

Donor Spotlight: Professor Carole Toney
Professor of Psychology and Human Development

Professor Carole Toney is a decorated Army Veteran, Professor of Psychology and Human Development, and a committed project manager who has worked in many fields. She has directed programs such as the Washington State Special Olympics and, most recently, in cooperation with Professor Katrina Smith, the My Brother’s Keeper initiative at Polk State College. My Brother’s Keeper is a service learning program designed to assist Polk State College needy students with referral services that include housing and food, as well as veteran and general career opportunities. The initiative recently earned positive entries in the News Chief and Ledger. Its popularity has led local community leaders and organizations to volunteer additional resources including ophthalmology, neurological, and dental services.

According to Carole, “The Polk State College Foundation has been involved with My Brother’s Keeper from the onset. The Foundation team has helped me connect with community leaders to help share the needs of the program.”

Professor Toney is currently a member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychologists. She has two sons who serve as active duty military professionals (Army). One is an officer serving in Afghanistan and the other is enlisted and serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York; he will begin serving in Afghanistan in January.

The My Brother’s Keeper Program is near to Carole’s heart, specifically because of the burgeoning need in the community. It has also created the foundation for a dissertation project for Professor Toney. The program has truly become a labor of love for all involved. “Professor Smith’s and my goal is to meet the needs of each student who visits My Brother’s Keeper, and help the individual continue his or her education while providing basic needs and support,” said Carole. “We are thankful to have support through the Foundation and from donors who have contributed to scholarships for these students.”


Student Spotlight: Gina-Lou McKinney
Focused on her Future

Gina-Lou McKinney has a beautiful smile. In fact, that smile has been seen county-wide as one of the “faces” of Polk State in the rebranding of the College. Her smile has been a hard-won achievement as she has spent the last two years reclaiming her life after enduring mental and physical neglect. She feels she has finally landed on the other side of her pain with a new family and a new name.

Gina-Lou came to the United States as a young child. Raised by her great aunt and uncle, she was lead to believe when getting on the plane that her visit with her birth mother in America was a short-term stay; instead, she never returned to her family or her country. She was unable to speak English, which made this move even more challenging. According to Gina-Lou, “My birth mother brought me and my older sisters to the United States, but I soon realized that I would not be going back. My job when I arrived was to cook, clean, and wash clothes by hand.”

Throughout the struggles she endured at home, Gina-Lou found school to be a safe place. In tenth grade, Gina-Lou confided in a teacher about the volatile situation at home. Through a series of events, she was adopted by that teacher and is proud to have the name Gina-Lou McKinney. As Gina-Lou proudly states, “My mom [her former teacher] took me into her home and adopted me. It is a family tradition to have ‘Lou’ as part of your first name, so I am now Gina-Lou.”

Gina-Lou became a dual-enrolled student at Polk State in 2011, and graduated from Haines City High School in 2012. She is President of the Eagleteers this year and is a representative on the committee that oversees the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Gina-Lou is an AmeriCorps 900-hour scholar, which allows her to work with students in grades 6-12 to prepare them for college. She also is a mentor for a group of students at a local middle school. According to Gina-Lou, “I was dealing with terrible things at home when I was in middle school, and while I had good grades, my home life caused me to act out and get into fights. Kids in middle school are so lost – I love them.” The passion she has found in working as a mentor for these students has helped to fuel her desire to become a middle school History teacher. Said Gina-Lou, “I love daydreaming about the day that I can take my class and, dressed in period costumes, re-enact events in history.”

As the recipient of the Dr. Eileen Holden Scholarship, Gina-Lou’s new family is able to support her dreams to become a middle school teacher. As Gina-Lou explains, “My mom did not know she was going to adopt me, and so there were no funds saved for me to go to college. She is a teacher and recognizes the importance of a college degree; this scholarship allows me to work towards that goal.” Because of this Foundation award and other scholarships she has earned, Gina-Lou is able to remain focused on her educational pathway while also continuing to spend time on volunteer initiatives, particularly at the College. As Gina-Lou explains, “There is a reason I went through my struggles, and a reason I am here. I hope that I can serve as an example to my future students that there is hope on the other side of adversity.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

Please accept my heartfelt gratitude once again for helping to pave the pathway to success for Polk State College students. In my role at the College, I have the tremendous good fortune to speak regularly with Polk State alumni who fondly recall their educational journey. They often credit a professor or advisor for setting them on course to reach their goals and achieve their dreams. Sometimes these were dreams they’d never thought possible until their eyes were opened at Polk State College.

I was fortunate enough this year to be able to work at a First Days information table. To be in the midst of students who shine with the promise of the future ahead of them has truly invigorated me. Some students had the glow of the first day of class, while others had the deer-in-the-headlights-look, not knowing where to go or what to expect. Both are feelings we can all relate to from our own educational beginnings. Witnessing the important role we all play in providing these individuals with affordable, accessible educational opportunities has renewed me. Being a part of the collective contribution toward their ability to cross the stage at graduation is extremely rewarding.

Again, I thank you for all that you do for our students–we are truly transforming lives.  Please know that I am so greatly appreciative to those of you who give not only of your time and talents, but also of your financial resources, to provide our students with the support necessary to afford the opportunities that Polk State provides.  Soar Eagles!

All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director