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Making a Difference Mondays, October 8

Monday, October 8, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Cruz
Polk State Education Provides Big Opportunities and a Fulfilling Journey to Entrepreneurship

On any given Saturday, you are likely to find Andrea Cruz and her family at one of the many farmers’ markets held in communities throughout Polk County. But you won’t see her shopping for local handmade soaps and specialty items. Instead, you will see her beautiful dichroic jewelry on display for sale and husband Sergio’s “Guacamole Guy” fresh guacamole. After a journey that took Andrea over 3,000 miles from Oregon to Florida, she is grateful that Polk State was within walking distance from her home so she could pursue her goal of attaining a college degree.

Growing up in Oregon, Andrea obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate at the age of 17. She was able to find continuous work, but she soon discovered that furthering her education would provide more rewards. After meeting her future husband by chance at a bus stop, the two married and started a family. Remembers Andrea, “I knew that I wanted to go back to school, but kept up my CNA certification in order to pay the bills and support my family. Finally, I decided to let my license lapse in order to force myself to go back to school.”

When the family made the decision to move to Florida, husband Sergio, son Alex, youngest son Oliver (only 15 days old), and Andrea moved to Winter Haven. Sergio was able to transfer jobs from a hotel in Oregon to one in Orlando, and Andrea settled into a home just a few blocks from the Winter Haven Campus, staying at home to raise her young children.

At her husband’s urging, Andrea enrolled in classes at Polk State College. Recalls Andrea, “I was incredibly homesick, and I remember feeling very nervous about taking classes since I was older than my classmates and was a mother to two small children. But something happened when I walked out of the building after that first class. I remember it was a sunny, beautiful day in January–I just felt incredibly grateful to be living in Florida and having the opportunity to go to school.”

Andrea started at the College as an English Education major, with the goal of becoming a teacher; however, while taking a class with Beverly Woolery, she realized that her true passion was writing and switched her major to Mass Communications.

Andrea graduated from Polk State in 2003 and then commuted to USF Tampa, graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2007. She landed a position with the News Chief after attending a Hispanic Heritage event at Polk State College. “I was still in school at USF, and a friend of mine invited me to join her at a luncheon in the Student Center. I remember that Teresa Martinez was the guest speaker, and noticed that photographers from the local newspapers were taking pictures. I decided to e-mail the editor of the News Chief to see if he needed anyone to write a story about the event, and he gave me a two-hour deadline. It was very exciting to see my first byline the next morning accompanying the photos that the photographer had taken at the event.”

That initiative led to a steady freelancing position with the News Chief. However, the position was not full-time, and she left in 2009, eventually accepting a position as Communications Manager at the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. While at the chamber, Andrea started creating jewelry as a creative outlet. Dichroic, or two-color, glass jewelry became a new hobby, and she quickly realized that she had a natural eye for creating beautiful pieces. At the same time, her husband began selling homemade guacamole. He formally debuted his guacamole at Polk State College’s Fallfest in 2010, and sold out halfway through the event. In 2011, Andrea decided to sell her jewelry at their shared Fallfest booth. At this year’s event on October 20, the family has committed to marketing materials at two booths as a way to support the College and to feature the jewelry and “Guacamole Guy” products separately.

In 2011, Andrea left the Chamber to create the marketing and public relations materials for New Beginnings High School, a new charter high school for students who had not been academically successful in a traditional high school environment. According to Andrea, “Working at the high school was a great opportunity for me to develop my marketing skills. During this time I also earned a Master’s certificate in Internet Marketing from Full Sail.” However, with the many experiences she has accrued and the line of unique products she has created, she made the decision in January 2012 to leave the high school and become a full-time entrepreneur. As Andrea notes, “Life is about taking risks, and if you want something bad enough, you can create it for yourself.”

Donor Spotlight: Rob Clancey
Director, Corporate College

Since 2001, I have had the pleasure of working in the world of education. My own education started in a community college, and I was lucky to be funded by the GI Bill; however, I can still recall a time when an emergency situation threatened my progress. But, when I really needed the support, the college’s foundation came to my rescue.

Having previously served in private industry for 28 years, I had a tremendous learning curve in terms of meeting the demands of our “industry” and becoming a fully contributing member to the educational community. During all my years at the College, I have always had a close working relationship with the Polk State College Foundation. I love to hear the stories of the many students they are serving, and how they often prove to be the White Knight that saves the day, time and time again, when students face major financial challenges. The Foundation team serves as a conduit for many generous donors; it represents an entire network of “knights” that clear the obstacles that can easily hinder students’ academic success.

The Foundation does so much to assist students, but its mission extends to so much more. As many know already, the Corporate College at Polk State College is building a new Advanced Technology Center at the Bartow Campus. The goal of the Center is to be a showcase and a regional training center in the areas of Manufacturing, IT, Supply Chain Management, and Alternative Energy. To reach this goal, extensive funding was required to enhance the building’s technology and its offerings. When a gap analysis was completed that indicated that additional dollars were needed to complete a project, my “first responder” to the emergency was Tracy Porter, Executive Director of the Foundation, who called asking how she and her team could help. Now, that is what I call world class!

Student Spotlight: Brandon Cubert
Lifelong Play Leads to Future Career

Brandon Cubert has enjoyed creative adaptations of technology since he was a child. He dreams of one day turning his passion for playing video games into a career. As the recipient of a Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship, Brandon is studying computer programming and graphic design at Polk State College in the hopes of making that dream a reality.

As a fifth grader at Eagle Lake Elementary, Brandon was a typical kid; he focused more on his immediate interests and desires than going to college and choosing a career. He loved to build items out of LEGO® bricks and also enjoyed science fiction, robotics, and playing video games.

At his graduation ceremony at the end of fifth grade, Brandon was awarded the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship. This came as a surprise to him and his family. According to Brandon, “I had always planned to go to college, and this scholarship allowed my family to not worry about saving to pay for classes.”

While attending Lake Region High School, Brandon was a member of the Technology Student Association (TSA). In his senior year, he and three teammates (including younger sister Meghan, also a Fancelli Scholarship recipient) won first place in the animatronics competition at the TSA National Conference. Brandon graduated in 2011 and was ranked 14th in his class.

Today, Brandon works at LEGOLAND® Florida in the Studio Store, which allows him to carry on with the creativity he developed with these toys as a child. This opportunity has allowed him to save money so he can continue his studies at the University of South Florida after graduating from Polk State in 2013. “Attending Polk State and then transferring to USF will allow me to live at home,” notes Brandon. “I hope to work for a company like Nintendo® in the video game animation and programming department. However, within my current job, there may be opportunities to advance into digital media once I have earned my degree.” The excellent academic and financial start he will receive at Polk State through the Foundation scholarship program has provided Brandon with the chance to pursue this dream and still remain close to his family, friends, and job within the close-knit community of Polk County.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

As most of you are aware, the Foundation organizes numerous eclectic events in support of Polk State College students. Our special activities include a golf tournament; a laughing luncheon; a sporting clays shoot; a black-tie, multi-course, wine-themed dinner; and we are proud to announce the newest event: the Joggin’ for the Noggin! 5k. Although these events are distinctively unique, they share one important thread – they provide opportunities to welcome and appreciate donors who recognize and strongly support the value that Polk State College adds to the community.

Planning and participating in these events invigorates me. It reminds me that our tireless work on behalf of students is respected and recognized for the meaningful difference it provides within Polk County and beyond. The contributions of your time, talents, and resources are what make Polk State great! I consider your donations to be the most inspirational because they represent such a tangible belief in your commitment to the Polk State mission. We exemplify the concept that charity begins at home and demonstrate the effectiveness of philanthropy on student success.

I thank you again and again for all that you do for the benefit of our students. Know that the community recognizes your tremendous works and embraces and supports the many gifts you have given so generously to help Polk State students soar.

All the very best,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director