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Making a Difference Mondays, March 6

Monday, March 6, 2017

Donor Spotlight: Dr. Courtlann Thomas
Director of the Lakeland Campus TLCC and Learning Resources

I love contributing to the Foundation, knowing that giving helps our students succeed and our community flourish.

Working in the Polk State Lakeland Campus Library, I have the privilege to interact with many students daily, helping them with academic questions. Sometimes they stop in to study or to answer the daily trivia question for a chocolate. I can’t imagine a day not mingling with and enjoying our students– and it’s not just in the Library or on campus. I see them in the grocery store, movie theater, gym, bank, and local restaurants. They are everywhere!

It is such a privilege to give to the Foundation to support the greatest asset of our community: our students. Through a Polk State education, our graduates increase the quality of the County’s workforce and economy. I am happy to know that my small monthly gift to the Foundation makes a difference for students who have financial needs so that they can continue to persist in their degree programs until they become successful graduates.

Alumni Spotlight: Jerry Hill
Polk’s First Distinguished Alumnus

Jerry Hill, State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, recently retired after holding the position for 32 years. He has the distinction of being Polk State’s first Distinguished Alumnus, receiving the award in 1983.

Jerry Hill graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1965 and then enrolled at Polk State (known then as Polk Junior College). During this time, Jerry was a member of the Student Government Association, serving terms as both vice president and president. Recalls Hill, “Going to Polk helped me to figure out the direction I was headed with my education, and in turn, my future life’s work. I was able to approach my professors, who knew me by name, and we could discuss the issues of the day and any concerns that I had with my classes. I felt very fortunate to be able to experience that kind of closeness, because I did not have that same experience in my upper-level programs of study.”

Hill received a Polk State Associate of Arts degree in 1968, a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in 1969, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Stetson University in 1972.

Hill started his law career as a full-time Assistant Public Defender. After working in private practice for several years, he was elected in 1981 as the Public Defender for the Tenth Judicial Circuit, serving Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. As a public defender, Hill oversaw the state-paid attorneys defending cases where the client could not afford legal representation.

After one term in this position, Hill made a successful run for State Attorney, taking the oath of office in 1984. As State Attorney, Hill prosecuted cases; it is rare for a public defender to switch to prosecuting cases. He was re-elected unopposed in the subsequent seven elections.

When asked about the legacy he created in the State Attorney’s Office, Hill noted that he was proud of the growth of the department, as well as the specialized units that were created during his tenure. “When I first became State Attorney, we had around 100 total personnel. Today there are over 220.” Additionally, when Hill first came into office, all of the attorneys were assigned cases as they came up. During his tenure, the office created specialized units, such as Homicide and Economic Crimes. This arrangement allows attorneys to try cases and build knowledge in one particular area of legal infractions.

Hill is also proud to have served as mentor to many attorneys over the years. The State Attorney’s Office offers internships each year, and former intern and Assistant State Attorney Brian Haas successfully ran for office in 2016 after Hill announced that he would not seek re-election. In addition, roughly half of the forty judges that cover the Tenth Judicial Circuit once worked in the State Attorney’s Office under Hill’s leadership.

Revisiting Our Scholarship Stars: Where Are They Now?

From time to time, the Foundation hears from students who want to share updates on their progress toward achieving their degrees. These two students were previously featured in Foundation publications, and represent just a sampling of the many who come to the Polk State College Foundation seeking help to continue their educational journey. With the support, generosity, and encouragement of employees and donors, they are finding success in the classroom and beyond.

Syvaunti Vincent was originally introduced to Polk State through the Kids at College Program. He discovered a love for technology at an early age, with a particular fascination with computers and how they work. He dual-enrolled in courses at Polk State while in high school, and continued his studies at Polk after graduating from high school in 2014 (read his original story here).

Syvaunti graduated with his AA degree from Polk State in December 2016. He chose to continue his studies at the College, and is pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Business Information Technology. He feels fortunate to have the opportunity to continue his studies at Polk State, a place that is like “home” to him. He is thankful that with good planning and assistance from his family, the College, and the Foundation, he is on track to finish his bachelor’s degree in 2018.

Gina-Lou McKinney is now a senior at Southeastern University, and is currently in the final semester of her teaching internship (read her original story here). She will graduate in April with her Bachelor of Arts in Secondary English Education, a minor in Exceptional Student Education (ESE), and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) certification. After graduation, she plans to teach in a middle school, where she will have the opportunity to positively influence young people during one of the most crucial points in their lives. With a passion for ESOL students borne of her own experience learning the language, in the fall she plans to begin working on her master’s degree in Reading, focusing on English Language Learners (ELL).

Gina-Lou has also made great strides in her personal life. She is currently engaged to Yves Jean Baptiste; the couple will marry in 2018.

Two years ago, she returned home to Haiti for the first time in 18 years; the trip was life changing. As a result, she and her fiancé have a goal to eventually relocate back to Haiti to live, serve, educate, and bring life-transformation to the people of their home country.

Gina-Lou says that she will never forget that it was at Polk State where she was first given the opportunity to soar. “When I was first invited to join this family, I was in a low place and in desperate need for someone to reach out to me. I am now the one who is able to reach out to the desperate. Thank you for investing in me! I am, and will always be, Polk!”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

The Polk State College Foundation recently sent out information about the annual Employee Giving Campaign asking you to please consider helping our students accelerate their future through your philanthropy. The theme of the Campaign, Stop the Stop-Out, was inspired by an article last fall in The Ledger, in which Dr. Holden emphasized the circumstances stacked against our students. She explained that for many, these situations forced students to “stop-out,” but not necessarily “drop out.” In such cases, the desire to continue with educational pursuits remained strong, but the timing or finances were simply not aligned.

As you well know, the average age of Polk State’s students is 25; many are working multiple jobs and are also the breadwinners in their families. They want to graduate, but they simply cannot do so on the traditional timeline. The plight of these students is a central focus for the Foundation’s efforts, as Dr. Holden explained:

          “Student success has been, and always will be, the Number One Priority and the basis for everything we do at Polk State. Our approach… is to identify, understand, and eliminate, as much as we can, the obstacles that stand in the way of student success. Sometimes, it could be a $200 textbook that forces a student to drop a class. If that’s the case, we must find that $200 — no matter what. It could be that a student has completed the Nursing Program but can’t afford the $350 to become licensed and go to work. We need to do everything in our power to get that $350 to help that student finish and get employed.”

Stop-out occurs when a student determines, due to a variety of financial or timing circumstances, that taking a break from college is necessary. He or she wants to—and plans to—return when the time is right. Unfortunately, for many students, this “better time” for returning to college never comes along. As Dr. Holden passionately explained, the ultimate goal of the Foundation Board and Team is to have a scholarship for every student who needs one to attend and remain enrolled at Polk State. I thank you sincerely for your contribution toward scholarships that help students overcome financial hurdles, avoid stop-outs and delays, and achieve dreams. Every dollar donated makes a difference and is greatly appreciated.


All the very best,

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