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Making a Difference Mondays, December 10

Monday, December 10, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Brett Barnhardt
Former Polk State Athlete Finds Success Off the Diamond

Brett Barnhardt is a 1988 graduate of Lake Wales High School. He graduated with a Polk State College Associate of Arts degree in 1990. He received his Bachelors of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Central Florida in 1993. He currently serves as Area President of CenterState Bank in the Osceola/Orange/Seminole market. He has held this position since June 2011.

Brett grew up playing baseball, and was recruited to play second base at Polk State after graduation. The Polk experience enabled him to remain close to home, yet have the experience of living with his team in Winter Haven. “I was fortunate to be able to live in the apartments with the other baseball players,” recalls Brett. “This allowed me to get the full college experience of living away from home, while remaining only a short drive from my parents in Lake Wales.” One of his vivid memories of playing for Polk State is dressing for games in his car, as the locker room facilities currently used by the Polk State Baseball team had not yet been built.

After two years at Polk State, Brett graduated and then attended Appalachian State. After a year away from home, he decided to return to Florida to enroll in UCF. Upon graduation from UCF, Brett was hired by First Union National Bank for their management trainee program. He spent some time commuting between Sarasota where he was based, and First Union’s headquarters in Jacksonville, before deciding that he wanted to move back to Polk County. He contacted Ernie Pinner (longtime Polk State trustee and alumnus), who at the time was head of the First Union bank in Polk County, and was hired as a branch manager in Winter Haven.

In an odd twist of fate, Brett’s career path led him to work for a short time at SunTrust, where he managed a branch in Lake Wales. During this time, Brett had the unique experience of working in the same office that his grandfather had used when he had served as the President of SunBank decades earlier. “I had visited my grandfather’s office as a child, so having the same office years later is a great memory for me.”

Eventually, Brett returned to First Union and continued to work there until 2000. When Ernie Pinner left the company to start CenterState Bank, he approached Brett to join the small team building the company. With a background in the consumer and retail side of banking, he collaborated with his colleagues, who used their skills and circles of influence to build the bank from one office with less than five employees, to a publicly traded company with $2.5 billion in assets, 55 branches, and over 700 employees.

Brett formerly served as Area President of CenterState Bank for Winter Haven, Auburndale, and Lake Alfred. In June 2011, he was promoted to his current position as Area President for Osceola, Orange, and Seminole Counties. He oversees seven offices in three counties.

According to Brett, “Polk State provided a nice transition for me from high school to college. My parents had a less expensive way to see if I was cut out for college, rather than sending me out of the County. I found Polk State to be very personalized, and for this reason and many others, I have enthusiastically recommended it to friends and family for its enduring value.”

Donor Spotlight: Wendy Geltch
Director of Purchasing

Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, my first experiences with purchasing came from working as a 20-year-old receptionist in the purchasing department for the Alaska Pipeline. It was there that I first learned about this aspect of corporate functioning, and decided to pursue a career in that profession.

After the construction of the pipeline was completed, I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida and took a job in an engineering company responsible for purchasing and contracts. In order to progress in my career, I knew that I needed to pursue a college degree, so I spoke to my boss about taking some classes at Palm Beach Junior College (as it was known at the time). One of the classes I needed was held during the work day, and my boss not only allowed me time to take the class, but, to my surprise, also offered to have the company pay for all of my tuition. I took a few classes at a time and, with my employer’s tuition assistance and a textbook scholarship awarded through my professional association, the Florida Association of Public Procurement Officials, Inc. (FAPPO), I completed my Associate’s in Business Administration and Management degree in 1993.

I continued my education after moving to Orlando, completing my bachelor’s degree from Barry University in 1997.

After serving as the 1993-1994 President of FAPPO, I now continue to serve on its Board of Directors. A few years after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I made a motion for the Board to increase the tuition/textbook assistance scholarship to $750 per year per member. The motion passed unanimously. I am proud that my professional association not only supports professional certification, but also higher education for its members.

I give to the Polk State College Foundation every year because I know the value of getting an education. I was able to get both my associate’s and bachelor’s degrees with help from my employers and FAPPO, and I see this as an opportunity to “pay it back” and “pay it forward.” In addition, my two daughters received Florida Bright Futures Scholarships, so I know the difference that can be made when a student is able to get the financial assistance he or she needs to achieve the dream of a college degree for a professional career.

The Polk State College Foundation offers assistance with tuition and books, and is even helping to assist with the My Brother’s Keeper Program for homeless and needy students, which I am especially passionate about. Payroll deduction makes it easy for me to make my donation, and I am also able to designate my gift in a way that makes it more personal for me (I chose First-in-Family scholarships). Please consider making a gift to the Foundation to support our students. A college degree is not just a piece of paper; it is a pathway to a new life and so much more.

Student Spotlight
Revisiting Our Scholarship Stars: Where Are They Now?

As 2012 comes to a close, the Foundation wanted to provide an update on some of the students featured in this year’s Making A Difference Mondays newsletter. These students represent just a sampling of the many who come to the Polk State College Foundation seeking help to continue their educational journey. With the support, generosity, and encouragement of employees and donors, they are finding success in the classroom and beyond.

Cindi Berry – Cindi graduated from Polk State in May, passed her RN licensing exam, and is working on the Observation Floor at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. She is working the 7:00 pm – 7:00 am shift and really enjoys this overnight time with patients, as it is often the time that they are looking for a smile and extra comfort while family and friends are not with them. Cindi has found humor in all of her experiences as a new nurse, and has already received two certificates for “Exemplary Patient Care,” acknowledging her skills and compassion.

Kayla Curran – Kayla graduated in May, passed her RN licensing exam, and is working in the Emergency Room at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. She has also started working on her BSN. Kayla will become Mrs. Bo Holladay on December 18; her wedding is to be held in St. Thomas, in the United States Virgin Islands. She and Bo plan to live in Lakeland.

Christopher Gonzalez – Christopher is currently taking four classes and is maintaining As and Bs while preparing to submit a written manuscript for publication. Most recently, he won the Creepy Pasta Creative Writing Contest held at the College, and plans to pursue an English degree at either USF or Florida Southern to fulfill his dream of one day becoming an acclaimed author.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings Colleagues!

Last week was incredibly exciting for the College. On Wednesday evening, the Polk State College State Champion Baseball Team members were presented their rings at half time during the basketball game (where we won!), and it was wonderful to celebrate their winning season. This celebration reminded me of the wins our students achieve daily and the successes that will continue for a lifetime because of our important work. During this holiday season, I express my heartfelt gratitude to you for helping our students soar to victory in so many ways.

During the graduation ceremonies this week, I will have the great privilege of sitting on the stage with a front-row view of the excitement on our graduates’ faces in anticipation of their bright futures. This exuberance is similar to the intensity seen at athletic games I attend where our students are visibly proud of what they have accomplished on the field or court. Our students have dedicated themselves to attaining their degrees, and have worked incredibly hard along the journey. On the moment they walk across the stage, it truly is their Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup, World Cup, Finals… they are the Champions! And we can raise our heads and hearts in solidarity because we have championed them along the way!

This holiday season, and every season throughout the year, I cheer that I am at Polk State, I cheer for our students, and I cheer for you! I am fanatically grateful for you, and for all that you do for our students, College, Foundation, and community as a whole.

All my very best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director