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Making a Difference Mondays, March 7

Monday, March 7, 2016

Donor Spotlight: Tina Feleccia
Professor of Computer Science


The Polk State Basketball Team just concluded an outstanding 2015-2016 season. Before their departure to the “March Madness” playoffs at the 2016 Florida College System Athletics Association/National Junior College Athletics Association (FCSAA/NJCAA) District 8 Men’s Basketball Championship, the team celebrated their many accomplishments at the Outback Steakhouse.

This tradition began in 2008, when I made a promise to Coach Matt Furjanic to buy dinner at the Outback for the players if the team made the playoffs. Now, paying for dinner has become a tradition! In five of my eleven years at Polk State (i.e., 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2016), I’ve been providing this celebratory reward for these fine student athletes.

My inspiration to support the Polk State Basketball Team came from my aunt, who inspired me as a child. My aunt, who taught for 35 years and earned her master’s degree, mentored a basketball player at the university where she taught in Illinois. He later became a Harlem Globetrotter. Believing in a person and rewarding his or her accomplishments provides a tangible and profound incentive to rise to even greater heights. I have personally been a beneficiary of this philosophy.

I graduated from Polk State College with an AA in Liberal Arts in 1983. As a first- time-in-college (FTIC) student, there could have been academic and financial challenges; however, support from my parents lessened these burdens. For over 40 years, my mom and I studied together—from K-12 and then throughout college. My experience was unusual in that I had tremendous support while pursuing my education, and that certainly contributed to my success. When I was studying for my master’s degree at USF, my mother said “I think I should walk across the stage with you because I think I earned the degree, too”. When I attended Polk, I received full financial support from my parents for tuition, books, clothes, and anything else that I needed. Transportation from my parents’ home to campus was provided in the form of a new Corvette–and I was only 19 years old! Obviously, my parents were very proud. They even told me I could choose any university to attend, but I chose Polk because I felt very comfortable being close to home. My sister, Kathryn Gust (1979 Alumnus) and her husband, Gary Gust (1978 Alumnus) also inspired and supported me in my dreams.

Polk-Basketball-TeamWhen I reflect on my experience at Polk State College, it would be remiss not to mention the many nurturing professors who provided a strong educational foundation that prepared me to academically succeed. Attending college near my home had many advantages, but the most important was having dinner with my parents, and then playing cards later in the evening. I miss my parents dearly, but I will never forget how much they have done for me, and how my parents instilled the meaning of family in my life. Going home for dinner is not an option for most of the Polk State Basketball Players, since their family members live so far away. Some of them even live on another continent. Their teammates, Coach Matt, and the assistant coaches, are the closest family they have during the fall and spring terms. Eating together is the single most profound action that creates community—throughout history and today, communing with allies, family, and friends continues to build relationships and support systems. It brings us closer as people to work toward common goals. Donating Outback dinner certificates to the Basketball Team members provides a means for them to celebrate their hard work as students, their athletic talent on the court, and their teamwork and support of each other as an adopted family.

My husband, Keith Evans, and I just celebrated our five-year anniversary. The first basketball game he ever attended was a Polk State Blackout Game in 2012; he now he attends at least one game a year. He agrees that paying it forward helps develop opportunities and relationships. Hopefully this story will encourage others to support our Polk State athletes and pay it forward in whatever way they can, even if it is as simple as attending an athletic game to cheer our fabulous Eagles!


Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Scanlan
Volunteer Position Changes Career Course


Ashley Scanlan is the Director of Marketing at Bond Clinic, a position she has held for four years. She has spent over a decade working in marketing and community outreach positions within medical and governmental organizations, but this career path began through an unexpected volunteer opportunity while attending Polk State College.

While pursuing her AA degree, Ashley visited the Supervisor of Elections Office to register to vote. Since she was studying Political Science and Public Relations, and ultimately planned to go to law school, she thought that volunteering at the office would be of great benefit for her future career. She joined the staff as a volunteer, and within two weeks, she was hired in a paid position. Ashley was a member of the staff during the infamous 2000 election with the ballot-recount debacle. “After that election,” Ashley recalls, “the Supervisor of Elections determined that there was a need for community education. Judy Walker was selected to be the Community Relations Coordinator for the office, and she chose me as the one person to join her new department.”

Ashley then spent the next eight years at the Polk County Supervisor of Elections Office working in community relations and learning all she could from Mrs. Walker. She helped to proof ballots, and worked with graphic design and media relations. During this time, she also graduated from Polk State (2002) and the University of South Florida (2004).

Well prepared in community relations and public outreach through her training at the Supervisor of Elections Office, Ashley was recruited to work for an orthopedic surgeon in private practice. She was able to work from home, and built on her experience by applying it to the medical field. Four years later, Ashley became the Director of Marketing at Bond Clinic. “Working for one doctor was the perfect middle step for my career because it built my confidence. Now, instead of directing the marketing efforts for one doctor, my position at Bond Clinic requires that I provide outreach for 46 doctors and 22 nurse practitioners, in addition to overseeing the clinic’s overall marketing efforts.”

Ashley’s position at Bond Clinic allows her to be active in the community, where she is a member of the Polk State Alumni Association Board of Directors, Garden Grove Church, and the Parent-Teacher Organization at her son’s school. She also was a part of the recess committee for Polk County Schools. Ashley was also involved in college life while attending Polk State, serving on the Student Activities Board (SAB). “I really enjoyed being on SAB when I was at Polk State because it kept me socially active without distracting me from the real reason I was here – to get an education,” she states.

Ashley and her husband, Jim, are both Polk State graduates, and live close enough to the campus that they are able to already start encouraging their young son to one day follow in their footsteps. “Polk State was instrumental in our educational foundations. We value the personal attention of Polk’s professors. I am not sure I would have had the same experience at a larger school. It is wonderful to be able to live and work in this community, and run into my professors and have them still remember me.”

Student Spotlight: Elijah Cottrill
Polk State Changed Life On and Off the Court


For sophomore Elijah Cottrill, sports was an important part of his life from an early age. Growing up in Beaver Falls, PA, he played football and basketball, starting football at age four. As the third of nine children, college was not even talked about in his home. Elijah recalls, “Growing up, I never thought I would go to college. My plan was to go straight to the NFL to play professional football.”

Elijah was passionate about both sports, and in eighth grade, the local high school basketball coach came to watch him play. He later told Elijah that when he entered ninth grade, he could be a part of the varsity team—he ended up playing as a starter.

During his senior year, Elijah was injured twice, and his future in sports and college appeared uncertain. However, Elijah attended the same high school that former Polk State athlete Lance Jeter attended, and after Elijah’s coach and Lance’s uncle contacted Coach Matt Furjanic, the opportunity to come to Florida and play for Polk State provided a second chance.

According to Elijah, Polk State has given him more than just a second chance on the basketball court. “In high school, I had terrible grades and made bad choices. Coming to Polk State has changed my life because I have been able to experience more than I would have at home. Coach Furjanic is there for us, and my teammates are like my brothers.”

As a freshman, Elijah was named to the Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA) All-Academic Team. Players must have at least a 3.3 GPA and must have taken 18 credits during the current academic year to be eligible for this distinction. Although his English teacher in high school could see his potential, his time at Polk State College has helped Elijah see the possibilities that education provides.

Elijah plans to continue his education and his basketball career at a four-year institution next year. While currently majoring in Criminal Justice, his long-term goal is to work with kids, and to show them that there are ways to get out of a bad neighborhood. “All of my friends from home are either in jail or on the streets, and that could easily have been my path. I have been fortunate to have a summer job back home where we go into the projects, meet with young kids, feed them, share a Bible verse, and do activities with them all summer to provide a positive influence in their lives.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Elijah hopes to play professional basketball in Europe for a few years in order to earn money to start his own nonprofit children’s organization. “I didn’t grow up with a lot, and I have been fortunate to have coaches in my life who have served as father figures. My dream is to work with young kids and be that role model for them.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

As I write this, I am singing Sister Sledge’s “We are Family” to myself. This has been such a moving week, and I have been so inspired by the outpouring of love and support from colleagues, students, and community members. The week began with Tina Feleccia’s generous gift, which treated our Suncoast Conference Champion Basketball Team to a delicious celebratory meal. These wonderful student athletes more than earned this special dinner on the court and in their classrooms. Our players have formed into a band of brothers. This fact is reinforced by this edition’s article featuring a basketball player who views his teammates as family, and who credits the Polk State experience for turning his life around. His coaches have served as father figures, inspiring his own chosen calling. His uplifting story reminds us all that we are so much more than an educational institution; we are a community of hearts, and we look after each other.

The recent Kickball for Kids rally, inspired by student athletes, and supported by students, faculty, staff, and community members, will help Coach Corbeil’s and Coach Cook’s young sons at a time when they are in need. Watching those sweet boys sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the event made my heart overflow. It is wonderful to see the generous outpouring of support brought forth on their behalf.

This week culminated in Polk State’s first Relay for Life. The inaugural event raised well over $10,000 towards finding a cure for cancer and was lead by the fearless, tireless efforts of Melissa LaRock. There could have been no more fitting ending to the event (and the week of activities leading to it) than Charlie Lyle’s and Trish Sullivan’s beautiful daughters singing a breathtaking “Amazing Grace.”

Whether it is cheering the Polk State Basketball Team to the Suncoast Conference Championship, supporting colleagues and their families, or finding a way to realize a student’s dream of going to college, the members of our Polk State family display a grace and kindness that I truly believe no other institution is blessed with. With my whole heart, I thank you for all that you do, and for the joy and privilege of being able to make a difference in this world every single day with you! We are Polk, We are Family!

With the utmost gratitude,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director