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Making a Difference Mondays, November 14

Monday, November 14, 2016

Donor Spotlight: Dr. Terrance Hays
Senior Program Specialist – BAS Programs

terrance-hays-headshotBorn and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi, my mother and father instilled in me the value of putting God first, getting a good education, respecting my elders and investing in the community. My mother was a high school English teacher and my father was a contractor. Growing up in Mississippi, there were two things I knew for sure I was going to do: Go to church and to go to college. During my high school years, I was fortunate to be blessed with the talent of playing basketball. Love of the game allowed me to not only receive a college education, but also to play a sport I had a passion for as a student athlete. I played for two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and then finished my collegiate career at Jackson State University.

It requires tremendous discipline and time management for a student athlete to be successful and graduate with a degree, as the physical demands and the intense schedule leave little leeway time. Building positive relationships with professors, coaches, teammates, staff, and other students within an institution is a vital part in the success of a student athlete. I donate to the Polk State College Foundation to ‘pay it forward’ not only to the athletics department out of respect for what it does for student athletes, but also as a tangible demonstration of encouragement and hope for all students who share the common vision of graduating with a degree.

Alumni Spotlight: Anthony “AJ” Stillabower
Passion for Music Uncovered While at Polk State

anothony-stillabower-headshotAJ Stillabower had never studied Music before coming to Polk State. While attending Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School in 2008, he and a friend were hanging out at Best Buy on Black Friday when they noticed some electronic keyboards. According to AJ, “We were just playing around on the keyboards, and I thought it would be fun to buy one.”

Though he had never studied music, he decided to enroll in a piano class in spring 2009. What he soon discovered was that he really enjoyed playing, often practicing eight to ten hours each day. “When someone is dedicated to the practice time, it doesn’t take long to master an instrument,” claims Stillabower.

Upon graduation from Collegiate in 2009, AJ received Music scholarships that enabled him to continue his studies. Admittedly not a strong student, AJ found that his new passion for music helped him build confidence, and he quickly became an A-student. He received his Polk State Associate in Arts degree in 2011, and then continued to Florida State University (FSU) for a bachelor’s in Music Theory and Composition with an emphasis on piano (2014).

Upon completion of his program at FSU, AJ was selected to study for his master’s at the renowned Julliard School, where he focused on traditional classical music. His music education at Polk State and FSU had provided a broad survey of classical composers such as Beethoven and Bach, while Julliard focused on the craft of composition and the physical process of music. He received his master’s from Julliard earlier this year.


AJ recently received a Fulbright Scholarship and is now continuing his education in Finland. The Fulbright Program is an academic grant exchange program where students can study in different countries throughout the world for up to one year. Hopeful applicants must find a host country that supports the mission of the program. The rigorous application process took months and included a personal written statement and an outline of why the advanced studies could not be accomplished in his home country. AJ has a particular interest in microtonal and electronic music, which is popular in Europe. His time in Finland will provide him with the opportunity to study with Austrian composer and conductor, Beat Furrer, during monthly visits to Vienna/Graz.

After his year abroad, AJ plans to come back to the United States and teach or possibly enter a doctoral program. Regardless of where his career takes him, he knows he will always remember that his passion for music was fostered through the support of Polk State’s Music Program and the Foundation scholarships that enabled him to pursue his dreams. “I really admire Polk State. As a nineteen year old with a newly formed passion for music who had started learning music from scratch, the faculty welcomed me with open arms and really invested their time and knowledge in me.”

Student Spotlight: Amanda Smith
Family Emergency Leads to Career Calling


Amanda Smith is a seventh-generation Floridian, born and raised in Lakeland. After graduating from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy at Kathleen High School in 2012, she started at Polk State without a solid career plan. “Growing up, I was always indecisive about what I wanted to be and do. In high school I considered many career options, but I never thought I had the guts to do what was necessary to become a nurse,” she claims.

A terrible accident involving her father changed her direction in many ways. Six years ago, her father was in a motorcycle accident on the Seven Mile Bridge in Key West. Airlifted as a trauma alert to Miami, it took several weeks before he was stable enough to be released to recover in Lakeland. “After my dad left the hospital, he had a wound vacuum, a walker, home healthcare, along with numerous additional surgeries and follow-up appointments.” Amanda was a devoted caregiver to her father, and while changing his bandages one day, he tearfully told her that she was meant to be a nurse. “My dad has always been a strong person, even through this ordeal, and he simply told me ‘Amanda, if you don’t become a nurse, I don’t know what else you are going to do.’”

With her dad in recovery, Amanda found the inner strength to begin her pathway to nursing. She earned her RN from Polk State in 2014, and then entered the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. She will graduate in December 2016.

Through the Polk State Global Initiatives Program, Amanda was able to travel this year to Panama as part of the study-abroad portion of her Community Nursing course. This experience was transformative for her. “While in Panama, I was able to see the differences between cultures and nursing practices in comparison to the United States. It was a very eye-opening experience to see the health hygiene education in remote rural areas.” As a result of this experience, Amanda has decided to become an international traveling nurse.

While finishing her BSN, Amanda is currently working as a nurse in a pediatric emergency trauma center and a neonatal intensive care unit. She is grateful for the scholarships and assistance provided through the Polk State College Foundation, as they will allow her to graduate in December completely debt free.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

As Thanksgiving approaches and we all reflect on life’s many blessings, know that I will be giving thanks for the tireless work you do for our students. Your dedicated efforts are genuinely inspiring, and their effects not only transform lives, but also translate into ripples of change that build and support the entire community.

I am sure you know from personal experience how hard it is to hear the heart-wrenching “stop-out” stories of students who are so close to attaining their educational dreams and are prevented by financial obstacles. These accounts of student hardship remind me of how important Polk State College is, and how proud I am to be a part of this family of caring professionals who give, not just of their talents, but also of their resources, to help lift others up and position them for opportunities. One young man I met had to “stop out” when his grandfather, his main caretaker, fell ill. Roles were reversed and he had to place his college aspirations on hold so he could care for his grandfather and work to pay the bills. When his grandfather passed away, he had to sell his car to pay for his grandfather’s funeral. Through it all, he always kept his eye on returning to Polk State. He has finally returned home, years later, and is successfully enrolled in a bachelor’s program thanks to the generosity of donors like you.

Many students such as this one, have received a small hand-up from the Foundation through emergency scholarships, and because of this, are able to resume the life-changing journey toward education and a degree when they found their way back to Polk State. The majority of funds donated through the Employee Giving Campaign are utilized to help students like them, who have life circumstances that have overpowered a tremendous will to succeed. Thousands of others just like them have been helped over the years—thanks to your support. This is why, when I introspect regarding the many ways that I am grateful, I think of my colleagues who have been so generous and steadfast in their support, and who have made these sorts of profoundly positive outcomes possible.

This year, as you rest, reflect, and perhaps recover from the turkey and stuffing, please consider visiting the Polk State College Foundation Facebook page. Polk State has joined the #GIVINGTUESDAY international initiative held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The Polk State Foundation-based charitable movement is focused on gathering resources for scholarships that address the needs of students with emergencies, similar to those discussed. I encourage you to visit the Foundation’s Facebook page on November 29 to watch a brief video from another student who has been profoundly impacted by your generosity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director