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Making A Difference Mondays, August 31

Monday, August 31, 2015

Donor Spotlight: Carole Byrd
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Winter Haven Campus


I went to college and graduate school on full scholarship, a mixture of Pell and merit funding. I wasn’t always a good student, but I had great counselors and teachers who coached me out of my mistakes and back into a position in which I could continue studying. In college, I also worked a full-time job to pay for housing and some school activities that financial aid did not really cover. This never seemed odd to me because I had worked 20 hours a week since I was about 15; however, if you look at my transcripts, you can really see the damage that 40 hours away from study, teachers, and counselors did to my grades. By the skin of my teeth, I cleaned up the damage and earned sufficient merit scholarships and stipends when I entered graduate school. Finally, I did not have to work all the time. I only had to take care of my studies. The difference in my performance and my joy for learning was radical. I became someone I never thought I could be. My university foundation paid for this change in me.

Curiously though, I don’t really donate much money to my alma maters. Whenever I can, I give to the open-access school where I work. I’m intensely grateful to the schools that educated me, but the first door that opened the possibility of a meaningful life to me was that of a neighboring college here in Florida. I remember wandering around after school, with no after school enrichment, in my flip flops and bell bottoms, getting into trouble as often as possible…One day, one of my friends told me a junior college had opened in our town. In a few weeks, all of my friends were talking about how they were going to go to this school. There was limited work for our parents in the 70s, just as there are limited job opportunities for families today. Our parents were most definitely not planning our college fund. Suddenly, though, because a college opened, we had hope, and we had a plan. Some of us went to that school, some of us went to others, but all of my “crew” of potential delinquents did go to college because of the scholarships made available to us. It changed our lives.

I imagine that all of us working here at Polk State College know by now what happens when that door is never opened. I am certain that all of us want to give to the Polk State College Foundation whenever we can, and with whatever we have. It is the most tangible key to the future that we can share with any potential student. Access to education is the key to creating a meaningful life.


Alumni Spotlight: Aaron Banks
Helping to Build Polk State’s Future


Aaron Banks is a registered architect with Furr & Wegman Architects, P.A. and is part of the team that designed the new Polk State College Center for Public Safety. He serves as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP) for the project team, seeking environmentally friendly materials and energy-efficient processes for the building.

Growing up, Aaron was always interested in building design. After graduating in 2000 from Lake Region High School, his parents encouraged him to go to college. “I have a very close family,” recalls Banks. “Attending Polk State allowed me to get a quality education, and living at home made sense financially.” Math Professor Penny Morris and Art Professor Gary Baker are two instructors whom Aaron remembers fondly from his days at Polk. Banks recalls the time and individual attention that Professor Morris dedicated to students after class for tutoring. He claims she is the reason he passed both Trigonometry and Calculus. Banks also credits Professor Baker, who always referred to him as “Aaron with an A,” for honing his creative and artistic abilities through multiple art and design classes during his semesters at Polk State. In 2001, Professor Baker entered Banks’s sculpture entitled “Staircase” into a college-wide art competition, and the sculpture went on to win the Best of 3-D award.

Banks graduated from Polk State in 2002 and then transferred to the University of South Florida. Through an accelerated architectural program, he graduated with his Masters in Architecture in 2006. While at USF, Aaron was the project manager for The Franciscan Center in Tampa. The Franciscan Center is an interfaith retreat center. He managed a team of over thirty students in designing, fundraising, and constructing the pavilion, which is an outdoor space overlooking the Hillsborough River. The facility accommodates up to 40 people. “The Riverside Pavilion project took three years, and was a great opportunity for me to develop my leadership skills and also interact with members of the community,” said Banks. The pavilion went on to win a design award from The American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2009.


After graduating from USF, Banks worked as an apprentice at Straughn Trout Architects, L.L.C. He worked closely with Ernie Straughn, who was the original architect for many buildings on the Polk State Winter Haven Campus. While at the firm, Aaron served as the project manager for the Family Worship Center in Lakeland. The 100,000-square-foot project opened in 2012 and accommodates 3,000 parishioners.

After Aaron completed the apprenticeship and exam series required to become a registered architect, he joined Furr & Wegman Architects, P.A. He has been working on the Center for Public Safety project since joining the firm in early 2014. Working on this project brings Aaron full circle with his connection to Polk State. Notes Aaron, “When I was taking classes on the Winter Haven Campus fifteen years ago, I could never have imagined that one day I would help design a building for my alma mater. Polk State allowed me to get an education while staying close to home, and now I am able to play a part in building a facility that will allow future law enforcement officers and emergency medical services personnel to train locally as well.”

Student Spotlight: Stephie Jean
Success though Surmounting Setbacks


Stephie Jean was born in Haiti and moved to Florida in 2007. Unable to speak English when she arrived, Stephie had to repeat the fourth grade when she started attending Inwood Elementary. “I remember how hard it was to move to a new country and not be able to communicate. The hardest part was not having many friends,” notes Stephie.

Stephie eventually became friends with another girl from Haiti who helped to translate the schoolwork for her. In addition, her teachers gave her picture books to help her learn English. Still, it was difficult to start over, and since Stephie was a strong student in Haiti, it was frustrating to have to repeat a grade.

In fifth grade, she received the Richard Roe Elementary Scholarship through the Polk State College Foundation. At the ceremony, Stephie didn’t understand what was happening. Because her mother spoke minimal English, her teacher helped to explain that she was receiving a two-year scholarship to Polk State. Recalls Stephie, “I was so excited—once I understood what getting a scholarship meant. Even today, I still can’t believe it.”

Stephie then attended Westwood Middle School, where she took intensive reading. She improved her FCAT reading score from a one to a four. Still unhappy about repeating fourth grade, she doubled up on classes to complete both seventh and eighth grade at the same time.

In 2015, Stephie graduated from Lake Region High School among the top twenty students in her class, finishing a year ahead of schedule. She even took some dual-enrollment classes at Polk State to get further ahead. In high school, Stephie was president of the French Club, and active in the National Honor Society and student government. At Polk State, she plans to get involved with similar student organizations.

Stephie has always wanted to be a doctor, and she plans to major in Biology. She likes the idea of working with kids, and hopes to eventually become a pediatrician. Notes Stephie, “Getting a scholarship to attend Polk State has made such a difference in my life. I know that I have a lot of schooling in my future, and now I don’t have to take out loans early to complete my undergraduate work.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

The new school year is off to a tremendous start, and the excitement in the air is contagious! Gathering together at convocation always reinforces my respect for the phenomenal institution we work for, and it is truly energizing to be among so many amazing individuals who have a shared passion and commitment to student success.

I also had the great fortune to participate in the Student Convocation, and this allowed me to interact with many of our first-time-in-college students. I could empathize with their expressions of anxiety, but it was wonderful to see their hope and excitement for the future. It was easy to reassure students that they are coming to an institution where the people truly care about them, and where any one of us will reach out to help. I am so proud to work at a place where everyone shows genuine concern for students, each other, and the community.

I will always do the “happy dance” in my heart (and occasionally with my feet) about the meaningful difference donations to the Foundation make in the lives of Polk State students. I am grateful that so many make it a priority to give.  I appreciate your tireless work in and out of the classroom to make this environment a place that students can look to with hope—a place where their dreams can be imagined and realized.

We are Polk.

All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director