Polk State Chain of Lakes student on fast track to engineering degree thanks to opportunity to get free college in high school

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Matthew Graham is a two-time International Science and Engineering Fair finalist whose future is undoubtedly bright as he plans to pursue his higher education and a career in engineering.

He’s already on the fast track to both as a student at Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School, where he has completed the requirements for both his high school diploma and associate degree. And when he graduates in May, he expects to have a year’s worth of additional college credit under his belt that could count toward a bachelor’s in engineering at the university level.

“The school gives us freedom and the teachers treat us like adults, while still giving us the support we need as high school students,” said Graham, who attended Berkley Accelerated Middle School and Polk Pre-Collegiate Academy in preparation for attending a Polk State collegiate program. “This teaches us responsibility and time management and gives us the freedom to accomplish our own goals.”

Graham’s goals include continuing his education at a university – potentially the University of South Florida – and starting a career in the world of innovative startups.

From a young age, he has demonstrated his flair for innovation.

Graham has developed a robot that utilizes electromagnets to climb metal walls. His electromagnetic wall climber was inspired by his father’s work with the South Florida Water Management District and is designed to inspect environments not safe for humans. His groundbreaking, wall-climbing project accelerated him through regional and state science and engineering fairs to the international level. He earned honorable mentions among more than 1,800 competitors each year.

Graham thanked Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate Professor of Anatomy and Physiology Suzanne Halverson and Principal Keith Bonney for supporting him in competing in the science fair a third time in 2020 before COVD-19 caused activities to be canceled. He placed second at the regional level.

“The staff and faculty here are extremely supportive,” he said. “COL is student-oriented and student-friendly, making it easy to ask for help when you need it.”

Graham added that the school’s staff and faculty are also proactive in keeping students up to date with college preparations, scholarships, and more. Graduates across Polk State’s three collegiate high schools accrued more than $9.5 million in scholarships in 2020.

Polk State’s charter high schools allow students to complete requirements for high school while earning college credits at no cost to them. Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate, Polk State Lakeland Collegiate, and Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate all boast 100 percent graduation rates, and most graduates achieve their Polk State Associate in Arts degrees in addition to their high school diplomas.

Even through the pandemic, Polk State students have received quality education and exceptional services despite the challenges, Graham shared. He and his peers have found Canvas — the College’s online learning management system where students access courses and materials – useful.

“Our teachers put everything we need in Canvas, from books and materials for our classes to a senior checklist and information about scholarships,” Graham said.

He has also continued activities as President of the National Honor Society and a member of the Key Club and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

While students miss services on campus such as the library and study rooms, they understand that the College remains diligent in ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff during the public health emergency by offering these resources virtually.

“COVID has been hard, but the school has done a good job,” Graham said.

“Plus, we still have our freedom,” he added. “That’s what I like most about COL – that we’re not locked in a building all day. Here, we’re given freedom.”

Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School and Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School will host information sessions in February for students interested in attending for the 2021-2022 Academic Year. More information is available here: www.polk.edu/news/polk-state-collegiate-high-schools-will-hold-info-sessions-in-february.