In case Polk State College students and advisors were unsure of whether they were making a difference, this month’s Florida College System Student Government Association Conference confirmed one thing – they are.
Two students and one advisor took home regional and state honors at the annual SGA Conference this month at Daytona State College. In total, Polk State left with four award recognitions.
“I think my people are the best in the state,” said Melvin Thompson, Director of Polk State’s Student Activities & Leadership Office (SALO). “It’s great to see Polk State represented.”
Josh Starr, 24, Vice President of Polk State SGA Winter Haven, was named the winner of the Bob Graham Distinguished Student Service Award, a statewide honor. The award recognizes an individual who works to make their institution a better place.
“It was great,” Starr said. “The College has done so much for me. This was my way of giving back. My hope is that other community and state college students are inspired to step out of their comfort zones and discover what they’re capable of.”
In the past, Starr has been involved in student outreach projects with the goal of getting fellow students engaged in the college experience. An SGA member for more than a year, Starr is set to get his Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management – Public Administration from Polk State in May.
“Josh finds creative ways to get students involved,” said Chris Ly, SALO Coordinator. “He makes sure all the clubs are informed on all the upcoming events. He’s just so hands-on and does whatever he can to help. Josh is always asking if there is more that he can do.”
Fenil Barot was named the Region II Rookie of the Year, which acknowledges the most impactful newcomer. Barot, 18, has already risen to the ranks of Historian for SGA Winter Haven. Barot has made it his mission to engage with fellow students.
“I joined SGA because I wanted to be involved with something,” he said. “I went to the conference not expecting to win any award. It was a surprise to me, but it shows my efforts accomplished something and it was great to be recognized.”
During the conference, Starr and Barot gave a joint presentation on how students can find their voice and make a difference. Ly said since Barot became Historian, he has helped increase traffic on SGA’s social media pages.
“Fenil just started in January and became Historian in no time,” Ly said. “I’m just so proud of both of them.”
While Ly celebrated the student’s victories, he left the conference with a pair of honors of his own. Ly was named Region II Advisor of the Year for the second academic year in a row. He was also presented with the Bob Graham Distinguished Service Award – a statewide honor.
“It means everything to me,” Ly explained. “I was shocked when they called my name, but it motivates me to do even more next semester.”
“Having Chris as an advisor has been awesome,” Starr said. “He’s been fundamental to our success.”
A former SGA President himself, Ly graduated from Polk State in 2016 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management. Ly started working at Polk State as a work study student in 2013. Called Chris ‘The Great-Ly’ by students, his current employment tenure began in 2017.
“My passion started when I was a student here,” Ly noted. “Student life gave me opportunities and opened up a whole new scope for me. That motivated me to give our students a similar experience. My biggest responsibility is making sure they’re successful and that they have everything they need to reach their goals. Sometimes they’re not aware of all that is available to them.”
Upon graduation, Starr will attend the University of South Florida to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration. Starr encouraged others to join SGA.
“We’re students just like everyone else,” he said. “Everyone is there to build each other up. I joined because I enjoy making connections and meeting new people. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and take a leap of faith.”
SGA serves as the governing body and representation for all Polk State students. More information can be found by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
“SGA turns you into a professional person,” Barot added. “I’ve got to meet wonderful people. Just shaking someone’s hand and introducing yourself can lead to a lifelong friendship. Taking the first step is the most important. The rest takes care of itself. Josh has been a great motivator for me to become a student leader.”