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Making a Difference Mondays, January 27

Monday, January 27, 2014

Donor Spotlight: Dr. Patricia Jones
District Dean of Academics & Student Services


It is her deep admiration for students who relentlessly pursue higher education in the face of financial and personal challenges that motivates Dr. Patricia Jones to give to the Polk State College Foundation. Many of these students begin their educational journey at two-year institutions. Patricia discovered her passion for two-year colleges while she was a student at the University of Virginia. She needed to take a public speaking course, but all sections at the university were full. This led her to enroll in a public speaking course at the local community college. While taking that course, she fell in love with the academic atmosphere, and her eyes were opened to the wide diversity of students served by these smaller, more personalized institutions. After she earned her bachelor’s degree, she pursued a master’s degree that would enable her to teach biology courses at a community college. She taught for seven years at John Tyler Community College in Richmond, Virginia, and then began her administrative career at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Since coming to Polk State College, Patricia has had a firsthand opportunity to see the benefits that scholarships provide for students. Patricia oversees, along with the Honors Program faculty, the awarding of the Ray and Anna Martin Honors Program Scholarships. These scholarships are awarded to students in the Polk State College Honors Program who have a minimum of a 3.5 GPA. She has also assisted with the awarding of STEM scholarships, cultural arts scholarships, and bachelor’s degree scholarships. Seeing the difference these scholarships have made in the lives of students renews her commitment to give every year.


Alumni Spotlight: Greg Harris
Navy Veteran Now Polk State Psychology Professor


Greg Harris grew up in Memphis and joined the Navy at seventeen. Through his military work in Communications and Intelligence, and Navy Counseling, Greg got to see the world while serving on four ships. Quips Greg, “I am a “Plank Owner” for the USS Nimitz CVAN-68 and the USS Peleliu LHA-5. This means that I worked on each the ship from the laying of the keel to its commissioning.”

Greg functioned in many roles while serving in the Navy for twenty-one years. Greg’s last assignment was as a Navy Recruiter-in-Charge serving Eastern Polk, Hardee, and Highlands Counties. The recruiting office was located in Spring Lake Square Winter Haven, just a few blocks from Polk State. He was able to transform his recruiting station from having the lowest recruitment in the region to being the highest recruitment for volunteers.

After retiring from the Navy in 1993, Greg sought a job that would provide pay comparable to his naval service. He found that he was overqualified for many jobs, yet undereducated for others. This led him to take advantage of the GI Bill by enrolling at Polk State to pursue a degree in Broadcast Journalism. While enrolled in school, Greg nurtured and parlayed his hobby as a deejay into a thriving business. He frequently provided music for events and dances on the Winter Haven Campus.

Greg’s career path took a major turn when he took Psychology with former Polk State Professor Bill Ryan. According to Greg, “I enjoyed Professor Ryan’s Introduction to Psychology course so much; it sparked an interest in this field. I took all of the psychology courses available at Polk and this changed both my major and my life.”

Greg graduated from Polk State in 1996, where he was a member of Psi Beta and President of Phi Theta Kappa and continued his studies at the University of Central Florida. The extra coursework at Polk allowed him to be able to work with the UCF research team and take independent and directed study coursework in psychology.  He received his Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Psychology in 1998 and then his Master of Science with Honors in Psychology from Troy State University in 2000. Working as a DJ allowed him to finish both degrees debt free.

Greg returned to Polk State as an adjunct in 1999 and became a full-time faculty member in 2002. He received the Endowed Teaching Chair in both 2008 and 2013. His volunteer service at the College includes serving as Vice President of the Faculty Senate and President of the Polk State College Alumni Association, and acting as an advisor for several student clubs. On the national level, Greg continues to serve on the National Collegiate Honors Council’s (NCHC) Honors Semesters Committee and Two-Year College Committee, which he has done for the past five years.

Earlier this year, Greg also completed the Florida Chancellor’s Leadership Academy. “I look for opportunities to improve my leadership skills and to bring my experience into the classroom for our students,” notes Greg. “Polk State provided me with a great foundation for my education, and the faculty and staff were supportive of me returning to school as a non-traditional student. I am now working on my doctorate so that I can continue to expand the courses available here in Psychology.”


Student Spotlight
Revisiting Our Scholarship Stars: Where Are They Now?

To kick off the New Year, the Foundation wanted to provide an update on some of the students featured in this year’s Making A Difference Mondays newsletters. These students represent just a sampling of the many who come to the Polk State College Foundation seeking help to continue their educational journeys. With the support, generosity, and encouragement of employees and donors, they are finding success in the classroom and beyond.

Jonathan-CheryJonathan Chery – Jonathan just finished his first semester at the University of North Florida. He is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with a minor in Business. While he has made adjustments to accommodate the increased workload associated with the upper-level courses for his major, he also recognizes that Polk State prepared him for these challenges. Jonathan was able to stay on track for his 2015 graduation date due to assistance provided by the Polk State College Foundation while he was attending Polk.

Martin LunaMartin Luna – In November, Martin travelled to Europe to present a project on a surgical robotic arm that he worked on over the summer at Polk State. His group presented their robot at the Institute of Research Against Digestive Cancer (IRCAD) facility in Strasbourg, France. He notes that while attending the conference, he had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet doctors from all over the world. He notes that he will carry the memory of this experience with him forever.

Denneshia WashingtonDenneshia Washington – Denneshia is studying Business at Polk State, and is scheduled to graduate in 2014. She then plans to transfer to either the University of South Florida or Florida Gulf Coast University. She is active in SLAM! (Students Living A Message) and helps the group prepare for upcoming events. She also works part time at Publix.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Gary Baker in this month’s Making a Difference Mondays newsletter.  Although I did not know Gary well, he was one of those people who just made my heart smile. His legacy is in how he made others feel about themselves and their environment. Gary’s philosophy can be summed up in the advice he often gave to “Make a beautiful life for yourself and for others.” He truly did that. And as I reflect on how much he gave to our community, I know we are truly fortunate that: 1) each of our lives were able to share a path with Gary’s, and 2) we are helping to make beautiful lives for so many through the College’s mission.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift.” This saying has rung true during these past few weeks, and will certainly continue to reverberate. In President Holden’s e-mail, when she shared with us the tragic news of Gary’s passing, she urged each of us to honor his loss through reflection, love, and redemption. She asked that we use the “painful loss as a reminder of how important it is for us to “settle accounts” with one another: don’t wait to tell the people you value that you value them. Tell them today.” I genuinely value the privilege of working for such a transformational institution, with such amazing colleagues who work tirelessly to make a positive impact on our community.  I thank you whole-heartedly for the difference you make in the lives of our students, and greatly appreciate your service and generosity. Already, so many of you have donated to the scholarship set up in Gary’s memory, and I know that this lasting legacy of his life’s work at the College will provide a fitting memorial for all the beauty he has left within others. His sudden passing also reminds us that because tomorrow is never promised to us, so much is expected of us today. In this spirit, I determined to update my will.

Though the past may be painful to look upon, new tomorrows continue to dawn each day. And so, we continue to rise to the challenge of making life beautiful for others. For the College, a new tomorrow is finally here! It was with immense pride that the Foundation Board of Directors and Team were finally able to cut the ribbon on the Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center on January 8. This is a tomorrow that we have looked forward to for many years, and a new beginning that will expand the College’s outreach within the community and beyond. We greatly appreciated working with the Corporate College, Facilities, AV, OCPA, and the President’s Office to celebrate this amazing facility that was built 100% by philanthropy! Thank you to all who attended the opening! It was the perfect event to kick off the College’s 50th Anniversary!

Fifty years…so many yesterdays to bring us to the place we are now—a place gleaming with the promise of the future. In honor of the many individuals who have helped to grow and build Polk State College, let’s make 2014 an absolutely beautiful year!

All my very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director