Student is graduating debt-free thanks to affordability and support at Polk State
Jena’ Kelley will be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree and she’s doing it debt free.
Kelley graduated high school in 2018 and applied to Polk State College because it was the local, affordable option. She quickly realized it was also a quality option.
Through the support of her advisors and professors, she was connected to an OPS position in which she works within the Student Services Department. Paired with financial aid, Kelley is graduating debt-free with Polk State’s 128th class on May 4 with her Associate in Science in Respiratory Care degree without the burden of student loans or unpaid fees.
“I would recommend Polk State because it’s flexible for people who need to work and who have families,” Kelley said. “The people at Polk are also very supportive.”
Out of high school, Kelley was unsure of what she wanted to study or pursue as a career.
“I would recommend Polk State because it’s flexible for people who need to work and who have families. The people at Polk are also very supportive.”
“My mom wanted me to go to school and get a degree,” she reflected. “But I was unsure of what I wanted to do at first. I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field, but I wasn’t sure of anything specific.”
Polk State’s Health Sciences programs encompass a large range of disciplines, including Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Emergency Medical Service, Medical Coding Specialist, Nursing, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Radiography, and Respiratory Care.
It was in her Anatomy & Physiology course that Kelley narrowed in on her passion for Respiratory Care.
“In the lab, we were studying models of the lungs and the heart, and it clicked,” she said. “These areas really interested me, and I was able to focus, rather than other [programs] where you are dealing with a lot of different parts of the body.”
Polk State Respiratory Care holds a reputation of excellence and has received the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) Credentialing Success Award for eight consecutive years from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC), highlighting the program’s 100% credentialing rate. Polk State Respiratory Care graduates also boast a 100% job placement rate (2020).
“I’ve learned a lot,” Kelley said. “Especially since I’m a hands-on learner, the clinical aspect of the Respiratory Care Program was beneficial to me.”
“I would say time management is the biggest thing I’ve learned, balancing my classes, my job, and my clinicals,” she added. “I also learned how to communicate with people and patients.”
Kelley participated in clinical work at both Lakeland Regional Health and Winter Haven Hospital – BayCare.
“Having the opportunity to gain hands-on, real-world experience has been key. I’ve been applying what I’ve learned in the classroom in the clinic with actual patients,” she said. “It’s like a thrill. It’s exciting. It’s something new every day.”
Kelley could not share about her journey without thanking her program director, advisors, instructors, and bosses who have supported her along the way. She expressed gratitude for Respiratory Care Program Director Shana Kent-Smith, Associate Vice President for Student Services Larry Pakowski, and Administrative Assistant II Chantal Cortes.
“Having the opportunity to gain hands-on, real-world experience has been key. I’ve been applying what I’ve learned in the classroom in the clinic with actual patients. It’s like a thrill. It’s exciting. It’s something new every day.”
“Luckily my wonderful bosses allowed me to make a flexible schedule where I could come to work, then go to class, or I could go do my clinicals then come in to work after,” she explained. “They also provided support when I was stressed or upset. After class I was able to come sit down with Chantal and work through math problems or concepts we learned in class. Having someone to talk things out with helped me to understand what I was learning better.”
She added that the Respiratory Care Program’s faculty and staff kept her motivated.
“Ms. Kent-Smith has been like a mother who encourages you to keep going – to not give up,” Kelley said.
She plans to take the national board exam and seek employment at a local healthcare facility.
“It feels bittersweet to be graduating,” she said. “I’m happy to be able to do this not only for me but for my family. They put up with me through all my decision-making and rough nights. They made it really easy for me and I now realize that I can do anything.”