Polk State VP for Resource Development focused on building relationships, supporting students

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Dr. Steve Warner has led a successful career in education but his arrival at Polk State College as the institution’s Vice President of Resource Development and Executive Director of its Foundation is perhaps where his story comes full circle. Driven to serve a larger population of students with diverse needs, he is inspired by the opportunity to transform the trajectory of others’ lives, much like higher education has done for him.

The Winter Haven native and Auburndale High School graduate began his career as a soccer coach in 1992 at Webber International University where, he admits, he was focused on athletics and less interested in academic pursuits. However, under his leadership and through his mentorship, the soccer team boasted the highest grade-point average and graduation rate within the athletics department.

This caught the attention of then-president Dr. Rex Yentes, who not only asked Warner to replicate this for the greater student body but to also invest in his own education.

“President Yentes asked me to do what I do for my soccer players for all students. He knew I had more to give and encouraged me to get my degree,” Warner reflected. “I was not a traditional college student; I was in classes with some of my own soccer players.”

Warner completed his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Management and Master of Business Administration at Webber International, adding that he can relate to many Polk State students who are working adults, taking night classes, and balancing family life with the pursuit of their education.

With his track record of student success, paired with his commitment to his own higher education, Warner went from Head Soccer Coach to Dean of Students to Vice President of Student Life before ultimately serving as Vice President for Advancement.

From soccer to STEM

Then a unique opportunity presented itself at Florida’s newest university and only polytechnic public higher education institution. Warner began his tenure at Florida Polytechnic University as Director of Student Affairs.

“STEM is very different than soccer,” he joked, “but I was able to get on the students’ level to figure out how I could best advocate for them and their needs.”

Warner was instrumental in the development of several programs including health and wellness, student life, fine arts, recreation and fitness, and intramural and club sports. He also oversaw the design of the university’s Student Development Center.

“You may think a polytechnic university lacks the target audience for sports, but I pushed for athletics, even if they weren’t mainstream. We found that students were interested in frisbee, larping, and quidditch; we developed a facility, and we catered to our students,” he explained, adding that this holistic approach to student services which includes academic, non-academic, extra-curricular, and co-curricular student needs positively impacts retention and overall student success.

Warner ultimately served Florida Poly as Vice Provost for Student Affairs before taking his development and leadership skills to Polk County Public Schools for another unique opportunity.

A Community Liaison

At the School District, he served as Director of the Community Liaison Program, piloting the initiative as the community liaison himself for 17 Winter Haven schools. In this capacity, he worked directly with school principals, business leaders, and civic organizations to develop partnerships and community support for schools. During his five-year tenure, he secured more than $1.5 million through grants, donations, and resources to support school initiatives.

“I was able to bring my background and the higher education model of advancement into the K-12 system,” Warner explained. “We all make up the education ecosystem of our community and collaborations are critical.”

Warner, under the leadership of Superintendent Frederick Heid, built the Community Liaison Program up to five liaisons throughout the School District.

In addition to his career accomplishments, Warner is also actively engaged in civic organizations, including as an inaugural board member for the Public Education Partnership (PEP) of Winter Haven, a member of various boards and teams within Polk Vision, and the education committees for the Winter Haven and Northeast Polk chambers of commerce, to name a few.

“It’s about building relationships to support our schools,” Warner exclaimed.

That’s what he intends to do at Polk State.

The Polk way

“I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Warner to the Polk State team as he brings a wide array of skillsets, experience in education, and deep roots within our community that will undoubtedly benefit our College, its Foundation, and most importantly our students,” said Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti, President of Polk State College.

An adjunct faculty member of seven years teaching First-Year Seminar and Introduction to Business courses, Warner says he is excited for the opportunity to positively impact more students on a larger scale, without losing his face-to-face time with students in the classroom.

“What’s neat is that a lot of the K-12 students I served during my time with Polk County Public Schools are now the students I will serve in this capacity at Polk State,” he said. “It all goes back to the students and how we can help them on their journeys to the workforce or a four-year degree.

“I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Warner to the Polk State team as he brings a wide array of skillsets, experience in education, and deep roots within our community that will undoubtedly benefit our College, its Foundation, and most importantly our students.”

Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti
Polk State College President

“Scholarships, programming, and partnerships are catalysts to making this happen for students,” he added. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to work at the macro level while directly supporting our students.”

Warner will continue to adjunct and called this paramount to keeping his finger on the pulse of student needs. As Vice President of Resource Development and Executive Director of the Polk State Foundation, Warner’s first orders of business include “learning the Polk way, building relationships on trust and honesty, and supporting the great work that is already being done in this office.

“My goal is to provide stability and sustainability – to connect and build affinity for the future of Polk State,” he added.

Warner said he is inspired by Falconetti and her commitment to students, noting she has visited his classes to speak to and hear from students firsthand about their educational journeys and how Polk State can best support their needs.

“I don’t know many places where the president will stop into your class. Dr. Falconetti genuinely cares for our students and makes time to connect with them – that type of leadership inspires me,” he said.

Warner added what he suspects drives educators and public servants like Falconetti, Heid, and Yentes who he has had the opportunity to learn from and grow with professionally.

“Our drive is the impact we make when we don’t know we are making an impact,” he shared.

Warner reflected on when Yentes encouraged him to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and, ultimately, his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership from Argosy University.

“I would have never thought I would be receiving a doctorate because I didn’t see the value of education at first. Dr. Yentes saw things in me I would never have seen in myself, and his mission was to gently help me come to my own determination. This is what I practice with my students who may not see the why right now because it will come later in life,” Warner explained.

“The best mentorship is when you don’t even realize you’re being mentored,” he added.

Warner recalled a soccer player from his Webber days returning to an alumni gathering 15 years later.

“He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Thank you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have my degree, I wouldn’t have met my wife, and I wouldn’t have my three boys.’

“That’s all the return you need.”