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Making a Difference Mondays, April 1

Monday, April 1, 2013

Alumni Spotlight: T. Michael Stavres
Focused on Community Service and Education

If you have visited the Diamondplex where the Polk State Softball team plays, passed the Winter Haven Public Library, or driven through downtown Winter Haven and seen a city park or playground, then you have seen acreage touched by the leadership of T. Michael Stavres. As Director of Community Services for the City of Winter Haven, T. Michael Stavres, or “T. Michael” as he is known, oversees Leisure Services, Libraries, Natural Resources, and Public Services.

Originally from Pennsylvania, T. Michael and his family moved to Winter Haven in 1978. While a student at Winter Haven High School, he was involved in lots of clubs and extracurricular activities, and even worked for the city as a lifeguard. Grades were not a primary focus for him.

As the youngest of five and with his parents running a local restaurant, T. Michael did not have the financial resources or a strong desire to leave the area to go to school. “My parents paid my way through school paycheck-to-paycheck,” he recalls. At the end of the first semester, he surprised himself with a 4.0 GPA, and this showed him that with the right attitude and initiative, he could achieve great things.

T. Michael remembers small class sizes and engaging faculty as big parts of the college experience at Polk State. He notes, “Polk had a great basketball team when I was there, and the students made banners to support the team as they headed to the national JuCo championships. Dr. Peck, president at the time, would frequent the student center, and [former professor] George Randolph kept us in stitches. Campus life was awesome!”

After graduating from Polk in 1990, T. Michael went to Florida State University where he earned both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Services. He has held his current position with the City of Winter Haven since 2001.

T. Michael’s philosophy is that everyone has a responsibility to better the community through positive actions and interactions. “I encourage my staff to get outside of what they do for pay and get involved in the community.” To that end, T. Michael lives that philosophy through his involvement on the Polk State College Alumni Association Board, as well as though leadership positions with Girls, Inc. of Winter Haven, the Humane Society, Public Education Partnership, and First Presbyterian Church of Winter Haven.

In addition to formal service to local organizations, T. Michael and friend Duke Burr perform locally as “Coastal Accoustic Barefoot Music” to support music education. As T. Michael explains, “A few years ago, I learned that high school bands in the county did not get to travel to all the away football games due to budget cuts. I was concerned that these students had few opportunities to showcase their musical talents publically. Duke and I decided to donate the money one night from our tip jar to help support the music program, and over the last two years we’ve donated over $6,000 to the music departments at Winter Haven High School, Lake Region High School, and Jewett Academy.” Their future plans include raising funds for homeless students who are preparing to graduate from high school.

T. Michael knew from an early age that he wanted to work in leisure services, and his career has taken him full circle, from lifeguard at the Winter Haven city pool, to overseeing today’s city lifeguards. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to demonstrate leadership and make a difference,” he states. His mission of passionate productivity and philanthropy has created a legacy throughout the community, within its schools, and at Polk State College.

Donor Spotlight: Allyson Cline
Administrative Clerk, Winter Haven Provost’s Office

Polk State College has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. Growing up, my grandmother, Brenda Edwards, worked in the Foundation and then in the President’s Office. I attended Kids at College during the summers and my mother, Tracy Hysell, got her radiology degree from Polk State. Our family also attended Fallfest each year, so I had the chance to see our students in action and really felt part of the College family.

When the Polk State College Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School formed, I saw this as an opportunity to join a new part of the College. I graduated in 2010 as part of its third graduating class. Five years ago I became an employee, and I feel my relationship with the College has come full circle. I enjoy working at the College, and hope to be able to resume taking classes here so that I can earn my associate’s degree in Business. I also plan to continue onward for a BAS in Supervision and Management.

Even though I am only working part-time, I donate to the Foundation because I wanted to give back to an institution that has given me so much. I am a strong believer in “paying it forward,” and it makes me happy to know that I can make a small difference to someone who needs a little help in order to get his or her degree.

Student Spotlight: Robin Savage
Finding Her Passion at Polk

As valedictorian for the Auburndale High School class of 2011, Carolyn “Robin” Savage could have picked many different colleges and universities to attend. Yet Polk State College was her first choice, and here she has found passion for a field of study she never could have imagined possible.

After spending some time at Polk State as a dual-enrolled student, Robin focused on majoring in liberal arts. According to Robin, “I have a great support system with my family, which is why I wanted to go to school locally. Polk has small class sizes which made this the logical choice for me.”

Closing in on graduation with a Liberal Arts AA degree, Robin took Honors courses in Fall 2011, including an Honors Biological Issues course, which changed her major and changed her life. “I have always been intimidated by math and science, and never really had an interest in science,” recalls Robin. “This Biological Issues class was a very small class, which led to a large amount of class discussion. Professor Colleen Caldecutt had such a passion and enthusiasm for the topic that I decided to switch my major.”

While taking an Honors Independent Directed Study course with Caldecutt, Robin researched topics related to human sex determination, including brain and gonadal sex development, neuroendocrinology, and the effects of environmental endocrine disrupters. She presented her research at the Honors Academic Showcase at Polk State, and recently presented her work at the Florida Collegiate Honors Council Conference. She has also applied to present at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in New Orleans in November.

Changing majors meant more classes, so Robin applied for scholarships through the Foundation. As the recipient of the Ray & Anna Martin Honors Scholarship in 2012 and the John Carleton Nydeggar Memorial Scholarship in 2013, Robin can focus on her classes. “With a focus now on Biology, I have more directed studies courses I want to take in order to conduct more research. I have a great sense of appreciation for the Foundation scholarships that have allowed me to not worry about funding my classes.”

When Robin is not taking classes, she is busy in her position as President of the Honors Program Student Council. Robin has worked with Dean Patricia Jones and Kelly McDavid to help improve the Honors Program, and credits both of them for serving as the backbone of the group. Notes Robin, “We sent over twenty students to this year’s Florida Collegiate Honors Council Conference, which is twice the number we sent last year. I want to continue working to improve this group so that it continues to grow.”

With an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2014, Robin plans to pursue research or medicine in her studies–perhaps both. In the meantime, she hopes to develop a student research community at Polk State. She knows that with supportive faculty and intimate class settings, there is a great opportunity for her to both learn and give back. “Having faculty like Professor Caldecutt, who believe in me and are willing to do extra work to help me with my research, gives me the drive to want to give back to the College and help other students develop an interest in research.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, supporting our students is certainly no joke or trick. The help the Foundation is able to provide our students because of the generosity of donors like you is often magical. I can think of no better way to put a smile on your face than to read about that magical work we are all doing together for so many students!

This week’s Making a Difference Newsletter provides you with the incredible story of Carolyn Robin Savage, Auburndale Valedictorian 2011. Though she could have chosen just about anywhere to pursue her education, she decided to continue at Polk State because of the valuable opportunities and gifts she had already witnessed during her time here as a dual-enrolled student. This is an amazing testament to the value and importance of the work we are doing and its reverberating effects. This young leader is now heading up new projects with our Honors Program and highlighting the academic excellence Polk State provides to a national audience.

With such talented students and an ever-increasing need for financial assistance during this challenging economy, I cannot thank the employees of Polk State enough for their continued support of the Foundation. This year, more and more of you have graciously donated one-time gifts, often in addition to payroll deductions. This week’s featured donor, Allyson Cline, though working part time at the College, has chosen to make a full-time commitment to our students through payroll deductions. Her decision to place the needs of others ahead of her own is truly admirable. The Foundation’s mission is to provide a scholarship to every student who truly needs one to attain his or her educational goals. Often, the assistance we provide to complete a degree becomes the impetus that raises a family from poverty and forever changes the landscape and hopes of its future generations. I could never stress this enough–the effects of your support are culturally transformative. And, the economic potential of this community is raised with each graduate who enters the workforce with the confidence and preparation to succeed. Moreover, each dollar of our own that we invest in the education of our students sends a powerful message regarding the importance of, and our belief in, the benefits of Polk State’s mission in this community.

As we return from our greatly deserved time of rest and renewal, please accept my best wishes and gratitude for your continued support of our mission with your time, energy, talents, and generosity.

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director