Polk State Corporate College Executive Director: No training is off limits

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

“There’s always a way.”

Throughout her working career, that has been Polk State Corporate College Executive Director Patty Collins’ motto. Collins began her tenure at Polk State College in January. She arrived with more than 26 years of experience in education, including the last 11 as an administrator and several years as an adjunct professor teaching Intro to Psychology at Polk State.

“This position aligns with the training and the work experiences I’ve had,” she explained. “Technical colleges have a corporate component to them. I’ve sat on many state and local advisory committees that enhance workforce education. This was a natural transition for me.”

Collins’ administrative career began at Traviss Technical College in Lakeland where she served as Assistant Director and oversaw high school programs as well as postsecondary technical education programs for almost eight years. For the last three and a half years, Collins has served as Director of three Osceola Technical College campuses in Kissimmee, Poinciana, and St. Cloud. She was also the Principal of the magnet Professional and Technical High School her first year there.

“I love providing solutions for people to improve their lives,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want the traditional role. I wanted something more hands-on.”

With more than a decade at schools that take non-traditional students, Collins takes pride in helping them launch their careers. Education has been a cornerstone for the Collins family. Her husband, Tommy Collins, spent 34 years as a physical education teacher for Polk County Public Schools.

Collins received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of South Florida (USF) before earning a master’s in Guidance and Counseling with a concentration in Family Consultation from Stetson University. She also has a certification in Educational Leadership from USF as well as a Change Management Certification from Cornell University.  She is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree from USF in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in workforce education.

Making an impact

Prior to working as an administrator, Collins served Polk County Public Schools as an exceptional student education (ESE) teacher and a guidance counselor. That experience has translated to the administrative level.

Collins recalled a time when she was working at Traviss. The school’s dean brought a student who was an expectant father to Collins, because the dean was unable to change the student’s mind about dropping out.

With a pregnant girlfriend, the student was set to quit the network systems program at Traviss and try to bankroll as much money as possible before the child was born. Collins explained that the student had “obligations to people he had not met yet” and that finishing would be better for him and his future family long-term, which convinced him to stay in the program. Collins and the student didn’t learn each other’s names during that meeting. However, he returned nearly two years later, as an employee in the field, to thank “that lady who talked me into completing my program.”

“You never know the impact that you have,” Collins reflected. “Things like that keep you going and remind you why you’re here.”

Throughout her career, Collins said she’s been blessed to have the support of her family. All three of her children are USF graduates. Like Collins, her daughter Madison began her career teaching ESE. Her son Jeremy is a former firefighter now working at Exxon Mobil corporate offices and her son Ryan just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

Program expansion

As Executive Director of Polk State Corporate College, Collins plans to expand programs to meet the needs of the community. Corporate College served more than 9,000 students last year. It has well over 100 corporate partners throughout the community and beyond. Corporate College is also collaborating with the College’s Health Sciences programs to help meet demands in that field.

“We’re expanding our offerings,” Collins explained. “We are moving into healthcare to offer industry certification and customized programs. One of our other current focus areas is advanced manufacturing. The projections for (jobs in) our community in that field are astronomical. We’re upscaling to meet the needs of the community.”

Under Collins’ leadership, Corporate College will focus on skilling – teaching skills to students; upskilling – helping workers in the field advance in their careers; and reskilling – modernizing skills for those already working in the industry.

“We want to be the go-to place for training,” Collins added. “We’re flexible, we customize, we provide in-house training, we provide online training. No training is off limits.”

Still new to Polk State, Collins said the collaboration has made the transition enjoyable. She appreciates the College’s standing in Polk County – a place the Long Island native has called home for the last 34 years.

“The president has welcomed me with open arms,” Collins concluded. “This community embraces Polk State College. We’re involved with the school district, the (Polk County) Sheriff’s Office, and the business community. The connection with the community has been so inspiring.”