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Donor Spotlight: Tina Feleccia

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!