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Making a Difference Mondays, June 23

Monday, June 23, 2014

Donor Spotlight: Dr. Orathai Northern
Professor of English


I have taught students in three different states (California, Connecticut, and Florida) and have been an instructor for over fifteen years. No matter the state, the county, or the city, students are devoted to learning; they want to be in school so that they can carve out a better life for themselves and their families. I have had the honor of teaching students who are the first in their families to go to college, students who are returning after a long hiatus out of school, students who are striving for a job promotion or a different station in life, students who have served or are serving in our Armed Forces, and students who carry big dreams and wield bright visions.

Students explicitly communicate through writing and speaking—areas in which they are sometimes strong, and areas that sometimes need improvement. In turn, I gladly assist with words, punctuation, sentences, and paragraphs.

Occasionally, students explicitly (or implicitly) communicate a particular area that needs to be addressed—an area that requires not just my help but all of ours: funding. I can ask my students to print and make class copies of papers for peer review, read chapters from the textbook, or use specific software to format assignments. But, I would be remiss if I did not consider whether students had the wherewithal to print, copy, read, and format.

Students at Polk State College are so fortunate to be able to apply for scholarships provided by the Foundation. Faculty at Polk are also fortunate to be able to refer students to this beneficial resource. I give to the Foundation because I cannot ask my students to complete assignments without considering whether they are equipped with the necessary materials. The Foundation helps to ensure that students can print, copy, read, format… and ultimately, succeed.

I am an enthusiastic fan of the Foundation and I encourage my fellow Eagles to give. Our students’ success depends on our collective support.

Alumni Spotlight: Catherine L. Combee
May 2014 Distinguished Alumnus


Catherine L. Combee grew up in Winter Haven, the oldest of four and the only daughter. She graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1971, and received her Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1973.

Afterwards, she attended the University of South Florida, obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology, a Master of Arts in Microbiology, a Doctoral degree in Medical Sciences, and a Master of Business Administration degree. She also earned her Juris Doctorate from the Stetson University College of Law.

Since 2013, Combee has served as Circuit Court Judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, which covers Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

Combee began her career in the healthcare field, starting as a technical director at Laboratory Corporation of America, Inc., working her way up to Associate Vice President. She also served as Vice President of Customer Services at American Medical Laboratories, Inc. She ended her career in healthcare as chief operating officer of Columbia Central Florida Laboratory Services, Inc. in 1997.

Through these career experiences, Combee’s interest in law emerged, as she often worked with company attorneys. She enjoyed the challenge of finding solutions to achieve goals while adhering to the prescribed rules, and the creativity and freedom of being a problem solver. She worked in California and Virginia, and pondered the possibility of a second career. She eventually relocated back to Polk County to be closer to her aging parents, and embarked on her quest to become an attorney.

After graduating from law school in 2000 at the age of 45, Combee worked for the Office of the State Attorney as a prosecutor before deciding to open her own private law practice. She focused primarily on family law, with some criminal and dependency cases.

A love of the courtroom prompted her desire to run for office, and in August 2012 she was elected to a six-year term as a Circuit Court judge. She was sworn in on January 15, 2013 and is currently hearing criminal cases.

Judge Combee loves the law and finds her career as a judge to be both challenging and rewarding. She enjoys working with the public and views her work as a way of giving back to her community.

Student Spotlight: Gina-Lou McKinney
Soaring to New Heights


Two years ago, we featured Gina-Lou McKinney as the recipient of the Dr. Eileen Holden Scholarship. Gina-Lou had escaped a life of physical and emotional abuse when she confided in her high school math teacher about her home situation. Her teacher eventually adopted her, positively changing her life forever.

Last month, Gina-Lou graduated from Polk State as an Honors Program graduate. She will head to Southeastern University in the fall. We asked Gina-Lou to share a little about what her time at Polk State has meant to her, and how her life is today, a little over two years since she joined her new family.

In 2010, my adoptive Mom and family gave me a chance to survive by taking me into their home when I was homeless. Through their unconditional love, acceptance, and perseverance, they gave me a chance to do more than just survive; they gave me a chance to thrive—to truly live. When Matina Wagner took me under her wing and encouraged me to continue my education at Polk and become involved with the Eagleteers, she chanced the investments of time and energy in my life. When various individuals from or related to Haines City High School, Polk State College, and the local community encouraged me, gave me job opportunities, and gifted me with funding and scholarships to help cover the cost of my college tuition, they took a chance on someone who could have turned out to be a total disappointment and a failure.

I am a very different person than I was two years ago when I began attending as a freshman. Even though I was given a second chance at life, I was still bound by fear. I was afraid of failing, afraid of becoming the person I was on the road to becoming after over a decade of physical and mental abuse. With how much I have changed over these few years, it feels as if I have lived three lives. But, I have learned true happiness and joy, I have met truly good and kind people, and I have known the undeniable love and compassion of family. While still finding out who I am, I have also learned that it is okay to simply be myself.

While making my plans to transfer from Polk State College to Southeastern University to become a secondary education English as a Second Language (ESOL) teacher, I again felt fear. I worried that I would not find the same love and acceptance that I have found at Polk, and I worried about not being able to cover the financing for my schooling. But then I remembered where I came from, and the road I’ve taken to get here; I remembered who my true provider was, and I no longer worried. When I visited Southeastern I found that my fears had been for naught, for I received the same open-armed welcome that I had at Polk State. I felt at home.

My plans are to become an ESOL teacher for middle and high school students. As I once immigrated to the United States, I understand first hand that one of the key enemies to education is illiteracy, and I am eager to fight this both in the classroom and in the community. Because Polk State has taught me to dream big, my goal today is to work my way up from being a teacher to serving as superintendent of schools, and perhaps even higher. I want to learn the workings of our school system so that I can both preserve and restore it to its highest potential. Although I have made my plans, I look to Christ to direct my path.

The greatest lesson I am taking from my time at Polk State, and that I wish to share with any who will listen, is to never forsake the occasion to sow good seeds into someone’s life. That seed might be as small as a simple kind word and smile, a snack to eat, help with reading, friendship in a time of need, or whatever else you see that needs to be done. The only proper way I have of accepting all the chances given to me in this life is to give the same to others. I wish to say thank you to the Polk State community for believing in and investing in me.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

This year’s Employee Giving Campaign’s appreciation gift is a Polktastic 50th Anniversary piggy bank containing a Kennedy half-dollar. President Kennedy said, “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.” I believe this small token of thanks is reflective of what we do every day, as the small actions we take accrue to a cascade of positive, wide-ranging effects. So many of us, when we were young, used to place money in piggy banks to save for a dream that eventually brought us so much joy. With pooled donations from many generous people, we continue to spread joy to so many students at Polk State. Today, the College is turning dreams into reality for so many by providing an affordable, accessible, excellent education that opens the door to opportunities that last a lifetime. Each one of us, in our own unique way, plays an important role in student success—and the Employee Giving Campaign can further extend your reach of impact.

Similar to President Kennedy’s most famous quote, we often ask what we can do for the College and our students, rather than what the College and students can do for us. We go above and beyond the call of duty in classrooms, offices, and facilities to ensure achievements are made to happen. For those of you who also help by donating to the Foundation, there simply are not words that adequately express our gratitude. I wish you could be in our office to hear at least one scholarship recipient learn of the award that provides the hand up that makes it possible for him or her to earn a degree. We are truly turning dreams into reality, and for all you do, you cannot be thanked enough!

We are on the road to surpassing the $50,000 fundraising goal in honor of our 50th Anniversary for the Employee Giving Campaign. For the many wonderful people who have already so generously given, your support is greatly appreciated. For anyone who still has the brochure in a “to do” pile, I would like to gently remind you to return it today so your efforts can be counted toward this meaningful mission. The appreciation gifts will soon be distributed, and ten donors will be randomly selected to also receive 1964 half-dollars in their Polktastic Piggies!  It’s never too late to give, and there is no gift too small (or too large) to help those in need.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director