Polk State student: Haines City-Davenport Campus will give students hope

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Ana Gutierrez has lived in Haines City for more than 20 years, witnessing the region’s exponential growth and persevering toward her college degree, despite a commute that is 30 miles roundtrip to reach Polk State College.

She is pursuing the Associate in Arts degree and intends to transfer to the University of Central Florida to study social or political sciences.

“If we had Polk State within the community, it would benefit future [students]. I’ve heard that some high school kids don’t want to go to college because it’s so far away and since there are no other colleges around, they decide to go straight to work,” Gutierrez explained.

“A campus in Haines City… will give them a push in life. It will give them hope.”

Gutierrez is motivated by her younger brother, Gonzalo, who attended Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School and received both his associate and bachelor’s degrees from Polk State.

They immigrated from Mexico when Gutierrez was 9 years old. Within a year, she had learned English and was teaching her brother the language when he was in kindergarten.

When Gutierrez graduated from high school, she got married and had children.

“I ignored the point that I needed college,” she admitted. “Then I saw my younger brother doing it. He graduated with his AA, then his bachelor’s, then his master’s…. at that point, I needed to do it myself.”

Gutierrez enrolled at Polk State in 2019, balancing college with being a mom and taking care of family in Mexico. At one point, she decided to stop her studies altogether.

“Life kept happening and I decided not to come back ever again,” she said. “Until, once again, my brother graduated with his second master’s degree. There was no way I was going to stay behind.”

To eliminate a roadblock, she enrolled in classes online so that she did not need to invest the time and money to commute from Haines City to Winter Haven.

She explained that online classes are not a solution for all students, however.

“Haines City has grown a lot this year… and over the last five years. Having Polk State in our community would open up opportunities for thousands more students.”

“Some don’t learn online so that’s not an option for them,” Gutierrez said. “A campus in Haines City would benefit all the students.”

Polk State received $13.8 million from the Florida Legislature in 2022 to begin the design and planning for its Haines City-Davenport Campus, which is planned for the College’s 10-acre site on U.S. 27 adjacent to AdventHealth Heart of Florida. The project plans for a 75,000-square-foot facility for workforce training in Health Sciences, including an interdisciplinary simulation hospital, as well as Teacher Education, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Supply Chain and Logistics, and coursework for the Associate in Arts degree.

The area within a 10-mile radius of the future Polk State Haines City-Davenport Campus is significant because it includes 80,000 residents whose highest education is a high school diploma or some college, but no degree. It is also projected to have nearly 17,000 new jobs in the next decade.

“Haines City has grown a lot this year… and over the last five years,” said Gutierrez, who has lived there for 23 years. “Having Polk State in our community would open up opportunities for thousands more students.”

“I appreciate everything that Polk State has done for me,” she added. “Polk State has always been there for me, and I hope that it can become a permanent part of our community in Haines City.”