Polk State College’s student leaders met with members of the Polk County Legislative Delegation via Zoom last week to share the importance of investing in Florida’s colleges and students as the state approaches the 2021 Legislative Session.
In previous years, students have traveled to Tallahassee to meet with legislators at the Capitol Building to discuss the College’s legislative priorities. Despite the inability to meet face-to-face and challenging committee schedules that prohibited all legislators from being able to participate, students received a unique legislative experience by meeting virtually with representatives Colleen Burton and Sam Killebrew, as well as Representative Fred Hawkins’ Legislative Assistant Zac Stone and Senator Kelli Stargel’s Legislative Aide Chad Davis.
“We are very proud of Polk State,” Davis shared with the students on behalf of Senator Stargel’s office. “You have such strong and bright futures ahead of you and we ask that you don’t forget about us in Polk County. We like to see the return on investment, where the tax dollars are going, and where lives are being changed.”
“We are very proud of Polk State. You have such strong and bright futures ahead of you and we ask that you don’t forget about us in Polk County. We like to see the return on investment, where the tax dollars are going, and where lives are being changed.”
Legislative Aide, Senator Kelli Stargel’s Office
With approximately 70 percent of Polk State students remaining in Polk County after graduation and the College boasting some of the highest job-placement and continuing-education rates in the Florida College System, that return on investment is clear.
“Polk State has been really helpful in getting me on my feet,” said Ritinella Lewin, who is pursuing her Associate in Arts degree and serves as a Lakeland Student Government Association (SGA) Senator. “Polk State has helped me navigate not only college but also adult life.”
It is the ability to transform lives like those of Lewin, 15,000 degree-seeking students, and 9,000 individuals in workforce training programs served each year at Polk State that has shaped the College’s 2021 Legislative Priorities.
Polk State is advocating to preserve the College’s base budget of $33.3 million to ensure access to critical student and academic support services. The College is also seeking investment in facilities to support student success and safety and security to enhance measures across Polk State’s six locations.
Representative Burton assured students that Florida is “bouncing back from impacts of the pandemic.”
“We are resilient as Polk Countians, Floridians, and Americans,” she said. “You give me so much confidence in knowing that our future is bright. I have always been able to brag about Polk State – from the students, faculty, and staff, to the degrees and programs, Polk State is filling the needs of our community.”
Students and legislators shared their experiences through the pandemic and how they are overcoming challenges to push forward toward their goals.
Representative Killebrew gave students an inside look into the Capitol building they would traditionally be roaming during the legislative season.
“What COVID has changed up here is that we need to be tested before coming into the building and they only let us and staff in,” he explained. “It has been unusual.”
Students can relate as the College remains in Phase II of its Return to Campus Plan to help ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. However, they continue to persevere toward their education with the resources available to them at Polk State.
Students shared with Legislative Assistant Stone with Representative Hawkins’ office that in addition to quality courses and dedicated professors, services and resources such as tutoring, libraries, and technology have been instrumental in supporting their success, especially during COVID-19.
“When I have had trouble understanding topics in technical classes such as math and science, reference materials outside of the class and syllabus have really helped,” said Jesse Herring, a Lakeland SGA Senator who is pursuing an Associate in Arts degree and plans to study Computer Science at a university.
The College is supportive of Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposal to create the Florida Postsecondary Academic Library Network which would invest $9 million into the Florida College System as well as $11.8 million into the State University System to provide essential services for libraries and virtual learning resources.
Nehemiah Charles, a first-generation-in-college student who emigrated from Haiti, touted student support services as valuable tools that have helped him get to where he is today in his journey toward studying geomatics at a university.
“In high school, I was part of the Upward Bound Program which provides those without the necessary tools to go to college with help applying for college and scholarships,” Charles explained. “Then I joined TRiO here at the College which provides extra help with navigating the collegiate path, including getting my textbooks and printing, which can be very expensive.”
Legislative Assistant Stone related to the students as an alumnus of Valencia College who went on to achieve his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida.
“I wanted to save money and have the flexibility to work while I went to school,” said Stone, who at 28 years old has more than 10 years of experience in politics. “Going to my local state college saved me about $10,000.”
Students asked Stone a flurry of questions including how to get started in internships and jobs, and how to navigate these opportunities during COVID-19. He shared great advice for students getting started on their educational and career paths.
“Our delegates serve as exceptional role models for our students and I am grateful that they take the time each year and on multiple occasions to meet with them.”
Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti
President, Polk State College
“There’s no book on the shelf that says how to run a campaign during a pandemic,” said Stone, who prior to working as a legislative assistant served as Hawkins’ campaign manager. “It takes experience, a lot of planning, lots of coffee, and not a lot of sleep. No opportunity should be taken for granted.”
Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti expressed sincerest thanks to all members of the Polk County Legislative Delegation for their continued support of the College.
“Our delegates serve as exceptional role models for our students and I am grateful that they take the time each year and on multiple occasions to meet with them,” Falconetti said.
“The testimonies of our students are the most powerful, as their lives continue to be transformed through the education and support services provided at Polk State,” she added. “Our College is honored to work closely with our delegation to ensure success for Polk State and the greater Polk County community.”