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Making A Difference Mondays, June 3

Monday, June 3, 2019

Donor Spotlight: Niki Martin, Student Services

There are many reasons students strive to go to college. When I was a young student, my reason was simple: As a first-generation American, it was an opportunity I was determined to take, as I would also be the first generation in my family to go to college. I knew that what I did would set the trend for others who followed after me, as well as honor those who came before me and gave me this opportunity. From a young age, I worked in my family’s business where I was taught a strong work ethic. I was encouraged to get my education, as earning a degree was not only important to me, but to my family as well.

My life as a college student was fairly typical until the summer before my senior year. I was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to return to school in the fall. I know all too well the feeling of being so close to something important and the thought I might not finish it.

Working in Student Services, I am inspired by our students on a daily basis. I listen to their challenges and know how hard they work to overcome them. Our students are walking along many different college paths. Things happen, situations arise, and when our students have a need, the Foundation is there to assist them. My contribution alone may be small in scope, but combined with others, it has a compounding effect.

I feel so fortunate to work for an institution where education is accessible and achievable to a diverse population of students. Whether we are giving our time, talent, or treasure, we all have the ability to make an impact. When asked why I give, my response is: Why not?

I ask you: If not now, when?

Alumni Spotlight: George A. Kalogridis
2019 AACC Outstanding Alumni Award

Walt Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis is the first Polk State College alum to receive the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Outstanding Alumni Award for his positive impact on the community, the country, and the world.

Kalogridis accepted the award Tuesday, April 16, in Orlando during the AACC’s 99th Annual Convention, where he shared that Polk State College laid the foundation for his success.

“A community college is an extremely local door to an entire world of opportunities,” Kalogridis said. “I am grateful for the education I received at Polk State College, and I’m honored to be an alumnus of such a dynamic institution.”

Walt Disney World was preparing to open in 1971 when Kalogridis graduated from Winter Haven High School. He bussed tables at Disney’s Contemporary Resort to pay for classes at what was then Polk Junior College, which allowed him to stay close to home and save money for his education.

“Polk taught me that dreams really do come true—a concept that played in remarkable harmony with my day job at ‘The Most Magical Place On Earth,’” he said.

Kalogridis received his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 1973 and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Central Florida in 1976, going on to hold several prominent positions with Disney, including chief operating officer for Disneyland Paris Resort and president of Disneyland Resort in California.

“Mr. Kalogridis’s story mirrors those of so many Polk State College students and illustrates the truly transformative power of higher education,” Polk State College President Angela Garcia Falconetti said.

The 48-year veteran of the company has served in his current role at Walt Disney World Resort since 2013 and oversees 75,000 Cast Members at four theme parks and 28 resort hotels in the world’s premier vacation destination. Through his visionary leadership, Walt Disney World Resort has experienced unprecedented growth of both attractions and philanthropy.

During his tenure, Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened Pandora – The World of Avatar and Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park opened Toy Story Land. Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park will debut Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in August. Additionally, Kalogridis and his team oversaw the reimagination of Disney Springs and the ESPN Wide World of Sports venue continues to host thousands of sporting events each year.

His success as a businessman is paired with a heart for giving back to the community. Kalogridis has served as an active volunteer throughout his career and currently sits on the boards of Orlando Economic Partnership Governors Council, the Florida Council of 100, and onePULSE Foundation. Additionally, in the last year, Walt Disney World has contributed more than $34 million to charitable causes and Cast Members have logged more than a quarter million hours of service to the community as Disney VoluntEARS, a program Kalogridis is passionate about.

Kalogridis also continues to advocate for Polk State College, serving as a member of the Polk State College Foundation President’s Circle. In 2010, Polk State College recognized Kalogridis as a Distinguished Alumnus and in 2017, he presented President Emerita Eileen Holden with the Mousecar, Disney’s version of the Academy of Motion Picture’s Oscar.

“Polk State College is incredibly grateful to Mr. Kalogridis for his continued support,” Falconetti said. “He inspires our students to not only strive for success but to also give back to their communities and colleges that supported them along their journeys to success. This is a characteristic embodied by truly outstanding alumni.”

Student Spotlight: Jesse Morgan

With a love of planes and a decorated pilot in his family’s history, Jesse Morgan has always had an interest in aviation. A high academic achiever, Jesse did his research and applied to numerous colleges, receiving over $200,000 in scholarships and aid. However, even with these substantial scholarship packages, he soon realized he would be forced to take out loans to cover the estimated $100,000 in additional out-of-pocket costs to attain his pilot license. He thought the costs were an insurmountable obstacle that would end his dream—until he found Polk State College. Polk State’s Aerospace Program offers an exceptional quality flight program at a fraction of the cost of other institutions, attracting students from across the entire United States. At Polk State, Jesse has been able to pursue his pilot training at an affordable cost, besting all of the scholarship offers from other institutions.

According to Jesse, flying has always been on his radar. “I have dreamed of being a pilot since I was a young boy. My great uncle was in WWII and received the Air Medal, and his heroic story is what inspired my enthusiasm for aviation.” His great uncle was a B-17 waist gunner in the 8th Air Force, but sadly, he was shot down and killed over Germany during the war.

Despite a lifelong interest in flight, Jesse had his first opportunity to fly on an airplane just two years ago. His first solo flight was last summer, and he enrolled in Polk’s Aerospace Program in the Fall 2018 Semester. “I love playing flight-simulator games, so that first solo flight was a great opportunity for me to apply what I had learned on the ground.” Adds Jesse, “The instructors in the Aerospace Program are also active pilots, and they are really helpful and supportive of everyone in the program.” After his first flight, he participated in a time-honored tradition – his instructor cut off his shirt tail and they both signed it to commemorate the day.

Jesse, who is also a member of Polk State’s Honors Program, plans to complete his bachelor’s degree at the College and then transfer to a university for his master’s degree. While in the flight program students can complete enough flying hours to work for a regional airline, with the potential to become a pilot for a larger commercial airline. Currently there is a shortage of qualified pilots, and projections indicate an ever-increasing demand. Pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65, so projections indicate a tremendous need for pilots well into the unforeseeable future. This allows students in Polk State’s Aerospace Program to be in-demand and highly employable upon graduation.

With the help of the Polk State College Foundation, Jesse received a scholarship that allowed him to avoid debt. “The Foundation scholarship means the difference between leaving college and being burdened by debt or being debt-free. This critical assistance helps students achieve their goals whether on the ground or in the air.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues! 

During a recent interview, Sheryl Sandberg shared that each day she and her children have a tradition: they each share a low of the day, a highlight of the day, and something to be grateful for. This is a such a beautiful way to build mindfulness and gratitude into life. This way of thinking resonates with me. Of course, there will always be hurdles to face, but each day I am beyond appreciative for Polk State College and the Foundation’s amazing donors, as together, we continue to make such a profound difference in so many lives.

As I walked up to the stage at graduation this month, I was overwhelmed by the thought of how many students and families have been positively impacted by the College, its faculty, and its staff. Education is truly transformative, and its effects are multigenerational. While much ado is made about retention and time-to-completion, we should never lose sight of the elation and pride we see in a student’s eyes during that exuberant strut across the stage that says to the world: “I did it!” Commencement and a degree are tangible proof of accomplishment of a life goal, and in that salient moment, it really doesn’t matter how long it took to achieve it.

In addition to my appreciation for the great works that you do, I want to express how sincerely grateful I am to our many employee donors whose actions in support of student success are not just on the front lines and in the trenches, but also in the background, bridging financial divides and allowing opportunities to remain open. I am so excited to announce that the number of employees giving to the Foundation is up 10% so far this year. No matter the size of the donation, each dollar and gift are essential, as together they provide open doors for students. Collectively, the philanthropy of the many employee donors plays a critical role in students’ chances to achieve life goals, and this transforms the lives of so many in our community. Your contributions turn tears of terror to tears of joy by providing Polk State Emergency Scholarships, helping students at greatest risk to receive the hand-up necessary to complete their degrees.


With so much gratitude,

Tracy M. Porter
Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director, Foundation