POLKcast: Scholarships and the power of giving with Tracy Porter

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

POLKcast: Tracy Porter


MF:        Madison Fantozzi

LB:          Leah Bartholomay

TP:          Tracy Porter



LB           There is a rumor that upstairs, there’s like a locked thing where you can open the door and it’s all the gold, and all the foundation money. It’s like Donald Duck. Is that true?


MF         That’s Tracy’s office.


[Theme Music]


MF         All right, welcome back to POLKcast. I’m your host Madison Fantozzi.


LB           And I’m your co-host Leah Bartholomay!


MF         And today’s guest, I think this is one of the guests that we’re gonna have on that’s really particularly, interesting to students because the students love scholarships. Who doesn’t love money! So today we have Tracy Porter here with us. She is a district vice president of Institutional Advancement and executive director of Polks Day College Foundation. Which awards approximately $1.15 million in scholarships to students each year. So thank you for joining us today on POLKcast.


TP           Thank you for having me.


MF         Awesome! So let’s jump right in to sharing with our listeners some history. So you joined the foundation in 2006. And it was pretty cool to read, that since you’ve joined, the foundation’s assets have more than doubled to approximately $36 million. So will you share with us some of the work that is taking place everyday behind the scenes to get those scholarships into the hands of our students.


TP           Certainly! We are very fortunate in the foundation. That we are governed by approximately 30 corporate and community leaders and they’re instrumental in helping us raise our, somewhere between one and $3 million every year. And we also have a well oiled machine of a very professional team in the foundation.

And throughout the year we have events that host committees. We also recruit additional corporate and community leaders that help us raise additional dollars. And so just being out there and always promoting the colleges and the foundation. And the work that we do is instrumental in us being able to raise those millions of dollars, and being able to award the scholarships.

And we’re just very blessed, in a community that is incredibly supportive and understand the mission of the college and embrace our students. And understand that their perseverance and what they go through, so many of us didn’t have to struggle as hard as our students do and we’re fortunate that so many people support their efforts.


MF         Great! And so why do our students need those scholarships. I mean what sort of, can you talk about the students that we serve and who gets those foundations scholarships.


TP           Well because approximately 70% of our students are taking classes part time. The majority of them are working full time trying to take care of themselves and their families. And the scholarships are instrumental in them being able to have financial breathing room, to take classes and hopefully take even more classes and complete quicker.

So our average student, the average age is 24. It ranges between 24-26. And then in our Bachelor’s program 30ish. So our students aren’t your typical university students. Where they’re going to school full time and maybe working part time. And, so, the scholarship is the point where students can really focus on their studies and not necessarily about every bill that’s coming in the mail everyday.


MF         Right!


TP           Or in their inbox.


MF         What sort of scholarships can the student get through the foundation? Or how do they apply for a foundation scholarship?


TP           The primary way to get scholarships, through the foundation is our Endowed scholarships. We have about 250 donors who gave us significant donations so that every year a scholarship is awarded in their name. And in February and March they can apply for those online.

And additionally when some students experience emergency situations, they can share that with a faculty member or an advisor who might know that they’re really struggling and that they might be considering dropping out of school to get more hours to address whatever problem that they have.

And those advisors and professors throughout the year regularly recommend a student for an emergency scholarship to help them keep on their path toward their degree. So those are the two primary ways most importantly is applying for those scholarships online between February and March, For the Endowed scholarships. And then if they have a life hiccup then they need to share it so that we can help.


MF         That’s awesome!


LB           I think a lot of times too you hear the word scholarship when you’re in high school. And it’s like have you applied for scholarships? Da, da, da, da, da. And I think that’s really scary for a lot of students. Or just sort of like, well I’m not gonna put the effort in because I’m probably not gonna get picked. Or blah, blah, blah. So when you go on the site and let’s say there’s like a list of scholarships. Just so students are aware, is there usually like, is it a essay that they have to write or some sort of thing? Or is it just a quick application?


TP           There’s different criteria for different scholarships. Some donors want to know the story of their scholarship recipient, so do require an essay. There’s a variety of different criteria that donors have a passion for, whether it be a certain major or a graduate of a certain high school or any one first generation in college.

There’s just so many different options that students, one of my favorite scholarships, I like to call it the donut hole scholarship. A donor created because he came here and he was at a point where he made just too much to get financial aid but not enough to be able to, really be able to focus on his studies.

So thankfully, we have a scholarship that helped him get through. And he donated money so that there could be another one of those. So, I would encourage every student to apply because there are so many different criteria that they could fit into and sometimes, yes indeed, it takes a little bit of work to get those scholarships but it’s worth the effort.


LB           You should definitely, definitely look into it. And you don’t have to apply to every single one and overwhelm yourself but if you go through and it is worth it.


TP           Right,


TP           Some of ’em, is simple as checking a box. Like yes I’m a first generation of college student. Yes I’m a single mom, Yes. There’s I graduated from Lake Whales High School, Lake Lynn High School, student athlete, I’m a music major. I’m in nursing, we have so many nursing scholarships.


MF         I think it’s easy to be discouraged. And you know, hearing what you said that some donors wanna hear the stories of their students. Like, are there any that have stuck out to you over time? Where a foundation scholarship has really helped some of these students, in those dire situations.


TP           We have so many moving stories and that’s what drives me everyday. One of my most favorite moving stories was we had a student of a migrant a child of a migrant worker and when he was young he would come home and say to his dad, “I wanna be just like you “when I grow up dad, I wanna be just like you,” and he would say that and he would say that and then finally one day his dad said, “No, you do not wanna be like me when you grow up,

“you do not wanna work this hard for a dollar. “I don’t know how but we are going to find a way “for you to go to college.” And so thankfully, we have scholarships for children of migrant workers and he is a great success story. He owns his own computer company now. And that was an incredibly, moving story and we have a scholarship recipient who’s the mother of four children and it took her seven years to graduate and she drove up 40 miles a day every time she had to come to class. And so, just those stories of perseverance. That I just, I didn’t experience those struggles. So, it’s just so, it makes me so rewarded to do what we do everyday.


MF         Right! Well can you kind of share with us a little bit about your path and what you went through in your higher education and how you ended up in this position to be able to help other students.


TP           Yes! I am happy to share that story because I actually started at a community college which is now a state college, a priority college in Ft. Lauderdale. And I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life when I was graduating from high school. I was thinking about going into the Air Force like my father had done. Or was thinking about college potentially. But my brother had gone to a private institution so there wasn’t a lot of money, left for–


LB           Thanks brother!


TP           Yes, I know! And so I, very fortunately, was awarded a scholarship to attend Broward Community College. And thankfully, because I wouldn’t have really succeeded in the Air Force cause I don’t like people telling me what to do.


LB           Yeah, I was really just thinking about that. I was like maybe. I cannot imagine her in the Air Force.


TP           Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I went to an advisor at Broward and they asked me what I wanted to major in and I said I don’t know, today I wanna major in theater. Tomorrow I’ll wanna major in public relations. The day after that I’ll wanna major in business.

And so, they put me in theater. Long story quasi short, I majored in all of those along the way ’cause I was never really sure what I wanted to do. And at one point I thought I wanted to manage a performing arts center. And in order to do that you would have to be a good fundraisers and so that’s how I got into the fund raising field.

And then after working in the arts for 10 years, It was not most stable area to work in. And I just wanted a job where I could be a patron of the arts. And I knew how important education was because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. So, I just encourage all students to stay on their path. The former president of Broward College introduced me at a conference several years ago and I told the story of him, we went to lunch one day and he asked me, “What are you doing with your life”?

And I said, “I don’t know that my life has just always gone “in the direction, in the path that it’s suppose to.” and he said, “Why don’t you think about taking a graduate course, cause that’s where I found focus.” And so I did and ultimately wound up with my Master’s degree. And when I was introducing him I said, “I still don’t know where I’m going.” I said, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my education. So I’m eternally grateful to him for that. So I would just, when students are feeling challenged and questioning what it’s all for that at the end of the day, it’s worth it! It’s worth investing in your future!


MF         Definitely!


TP           The best way to find information about the foundation is to visit the website which is foundation.polk.edu and there’s information about scholarships and all of our contact information is there. You can reach me through that website.

And then the scholarship administrator and different people on the department and that’s another wonderful thing that I’ve been very blessed in, thinking about the team. We’ve just been so fortunate that we, when I came in 2006 the foundation was extremely strong with 16 million dollars in assets and, but the donor pool was a dedicated few. And so now, thank goodness we changed to the eagles cause we spread our eagle wings across the county and really started.


LB           Thank goodness!


TP           We started engaging our alumni and engaging the different communities that we serve. And where all of our students are, ’cause we’re all throughout the county. And we have more than 45,000 alumni. And to have them give back is just, it reinforces the important work that we’re doing. So, that’s something else that I wanted to share about how it’s just been so exciting to see all the people that really have embraced the college, over the years.


MF         And do you also direct donors to the website as well, if they’re interested in donating to a scholarship?


TP           Certainly! Yes, there is a donate now permanently on the page. And we try to make it as simple as possible for people to donate through any avenue that they might be considering.


MF         Perfect!


LB           I really love your newsletters too, that go out and sort of feature the spotlight of a donor or a student who is a recipient. Like, just kind of brings it all together and makes it more a human like, oh okay this is a person. Instead of just the word scholarship, or this or that, here’s the donor. And this is their story. And you guys do a really good job of telling the story.


TP           And that’s what’s, that’s what is always reinforces the important work that we do. And always hearing why people give. And then hearing the other side about how that’s impacting a student. And then hearing the ultimate side of how Polk State has helped people along their path as alumni and how important that foundation of an education.

Like when, students go off to their major university, sometimes they forget about where they started. So many people wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for the education that they received at a community slash, state slash, junior college wherever they graduated from. So, it’s important.


MF         Well thank you so much for joining us today, Tracy. And if there’s nothing else anyone wants to add then I guess we’re signing out. And if students wanna find more information about the foundation and scholarship opportunities just make sure you that you go to foundation.polk.edu.


TP           Yes.


[Theme Music]