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Making a Difference Mondays, September 8

Monday, September 8, 2014

Donor Spotlight: Paul Pletcher
Professor of Mathematics


Coming from a broken home with three siblings, there was no college fund set aside for me. I was able to go to college only because I received a scholarship, a grant, and a loan. I have been ever mindful of the opportunities that these generous gifts provided to me. Without education, my life would have likely been very different.

I also give because I see the need of our students first-hand. Over the last 32 years, I have heard some heart-wrenching stories from or about our students. In particular, I remember in 2004 when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne all passed through Polk County. Many of our students were forced out of their homes due to the damage done by those storms. Some were left with nothing. Even for those who were lucky enough to be able to remain in their homes, many had no water or electricity for months, and the cost of repairs threatened education for a generation of family members. Now, over the last several years, the price of textbooks and access codes has skyrocketed. As a result, many students are often coming to class without the required materials. I have seen the Foundation assist some of my students with textbooks and other required materials, providing the same opportunities to them that were once provided to me.

My hope is that we ALL would give what we can to assist our students in need.

Alumni Spotlight: Dan Dorrell
First Class Leader


When Polk State College, then known as Polk Junior College, opened on September 8, 1964, Dan Dorrell was there. “A bunch of us from Lakeland High School had just graduated, right as they opened Polk at the Bartow Air Base,” recalls Dan.

For Dan, the timing of the opening of Polk State was perfect. His parents had always instilled in him that he would be going to college, but when the time came, there was no money to attend. At the time, Dan was working nights and weekends at Maas Brothers in downtown Lakeland, which allowed him to be able to pay for classes (roughly $65 per semester) as he progressed.

While at Polk, Dan was the freshman class president. At that time, he never could have imagined that one day he would be serving as Board Chair for the Polk State District Board of Trustees.

After graduating from Polk in 1966, Dan continued on to Florida State University. He graduated in 1968 with a bachelor’s in Finance. After graduation, Dan worked for a mining company in their accounting department. He eventually decided that in order to advance, that he should sit for the Certified Public Accountant exam, so he went to the University of South Florida to take additional classes to prepare. He worked part-time for Nunez, Collins & Touchton CPAs in Winter Haven, and after he finished at USF, he was hired fulltime in their Lakeland office.

Dan was asked to open an office for NCT in the Sebring area, where he helped to found the Highlands County Family YMCA. He also served as a board member and board chair for the Sebring Chamber of Commerce, and formed the Highlands Leadership Program.

Dan joined Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP in 2011, and opened their Lakeland office. He enjoys donating his time to the community, especially providing his support to Polk State College.

“Polk State College gave me my start, and I believe that no matter a person’s background, it is possible to go to college if you have the desire.”

Student Spotlight: Stephanie Zimmerman
Finding A Calling and a Family Bond at Polk State


Twenty-one-year-old Stephanie Zimmerman has lived more of life than many individuals her age. She has endured the loss of a parent, has lived in two different states, has recently been married, and is training for a career in law enforcement. Yet, in her eyes, these experiences—the good and the bad—have helped her to become self-sufficient and confident.

Raised on an ostrich farm in southern Virginia, Stephanie grew up in an environment where big dreams were encouraged. “My mother had always dreamed of living on a farm and raising ostriches, so that is what our family did when I was little.” Sadly, her mother became ill with cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease when Stephanie was only seven.

When her father remarried, the family relocated to Florida for job prospects in the construction industry. Stephanie started fifth grade at Ridgeview Global Studies Academy. With no family in the area and the construction industry in a downturn, the family struggled. Even with these challenges, Stephanie’s father and stepmother always placed an emphasis on going to college. “I knew from the time I was a little girl that my parents wanted me to go to college, and on the day of my fifth grade awards ceremony, I was told I would be receiving a scholarship to Polk State,” Stephanie remembers. While she did not understand the full impact of receiving the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship at that time, her parents never forgot the special day. It was this news that helped carry out their dreams for Stephanie.

When it came time to start college, Stephanie worried about how her family would be able to afford her classes. It was then that her stepmother reminded her of the scholarship she received in fifth grade. “When I started taking classes at Polk State in 2012, I did not have to worry about working multiple jobs to cover my expenses. Instead, this opportunity enabled me to major in Criminal Justice, where I was able to witness the Police Academy in action.”

While taking courses toward her two-year degree, Stephanie observed the academy cadets getting pepper sprayed and preparing for mock courtroom trials. She listened to their stories, and realized that each academy class bonded through these experiences, much like a family. Newly married at that time to her high school sweetheart, Stephanie yearned for the same cohesiveness in her job, and this solidified her feeling that a career in law enforcement was her calling.

Sponsored through the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Stephanie is currently in class BLE 14-02  of the Police Academy and will graduate in early 2015. She plans to finish her AA while working for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and hopes to eventually continue her studies at Polk to earn a Bachelor of Applied Science in Public Administration degree.

Stephanie’s husband recently left for basic training with the United States Army, and the academy has become not just a second family, but also her second home.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Polk State College Center for Public Safety, Stephanie shared her story with more than 300 attendees. Speaking on behalf of current and future academy participants, she thanked those in attendance for helping to make this new training center possible. “With this new facility, future students will be able to walk my path, obtain a college education, and then transition into their futures, while training in a state-of-the-art facility. The future academy students will have the chance to not only prove themselves, but to also create their own stories and build their own family units.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

Fifty years ago to this very day, Polk State College opened its doors at the Bartow Airbase—and it has been serving the community with excellence ever since. The employees, students, and alumni who came before us paved the way for the incredible institution we have today, and it is heartening to be among those who so capably continue in this tradition of exceptional service while growing our future. Our collective efforts have impacted approximately 35,000 alumni, many of whom remain in Polk County as neighbors, positively contributing to our community.

The rippling effect of the work we do will continue indefinitely. Touching one person’s life creates a positive concentric force that continues for generations. I recently had the opportunity to read through numerous thank you letters from scholarship recipients and the recorded memories of some of our alumni. Their beautiful words contain documentation of the difference we make, but they also provide inspiration to continue our mission. I welcome you to come to the Foundation offices at any time to read some of these letters. It gives perspective on why we do what we do every day, and reinforces and the value of your many acts of kindness.

When I gave a speech recently, I mentioned how truly blessed I felt because, though I will only be on this earth for a mere blip of time, my contributions here will be combined with those of others to improve and enrich many lives. I feel so honored to work with incredible colleagues who have played a vital part in the elevation of our community for these past 50 years—and well beyond. Speaking of the past 50 years, the Foundation, in partnership with the departments of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs and Information Technology, have created a microsite on our website to capture the memories of employees, alumni, retirees, students, and fans of Polk State College.  Please visit to share your favorite moments of transforming lives!

I thank you for all that you do to ensure student success. I thank you for being an absolute pleasure to work with. And, I thank you for your donations, at all levels, to the Polk State College Foundation—you make a meaningful difference in the lives of so many.

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director