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Making a Difference Mondays, June 25

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: Brian Knowles
Second-Generation Graduate

Brian Knowles always knew that his father, Russell, had graduated from Polk State in 1968, but it was only recently that he discovered his father’s legacy at the College. He found an old copy of an Activity and Academic Handbook and learned that his father was president of the Student Government as well as president of the state-wide Student Government Association. Notes Brian, “I had no idea that my dad was so involved in student life when he attended Polk State. In fact, his vice president in the Student Government was [current State Attorney] Jerry Hill, who became a lifelong friend. They worked together at the State Attorney’s Office in Bartow until my dad passed away in 2001.”

Upon graduating high school, Brian received a scholarship to Florida State University, but, like many of his friends, he decided to stay close to home and attend Polk. He remembers Norman Small, Jim Rigterink, and Lynn Wilson as among the professors he had while studying business.

After graduation, Brian transferred to the University of Central Florida, where he majored in Hospitality Management. He interned with the campus food service as a capstone to his studies, and that relationship opened the door for a position with Bubbalou’s Bodacious BBQ as one of the company’s first manager trainees. However, as Brian explains, “The hospitality field can be very rewarding, but it did not take me long to decide that I did not want to do it for the rest of my life.”

With encouragement from family and friends, Brian decided to attend law school. He earned a scholarship to Seton Hall and received his Juris Doctorate in 2006. Today, Brian is a litigation attorney at Straughn & Turner, PA. He represents clients in many areas including family law, construction, business, and criminal defense. He is now following in the footsteps of the leaders in this prestigious firm by becoming involved in the College’s mission to provide affordable educational opportunities to the community. Brian joined the Polk State College Foundation Board in 2011, in part because of the positive experience he had while attending the College. As a Board member, Brian helps to support the fundraising efforts that provide scholarships to students.

Earlier this year, Brian and his friend Adam Weeks won the 2012 YP Developer Challenge for their smartphone app, “Brewski Me.” The social app allows connoisseurs of micro craft beer to rate and review different beers, create a wish list, and integrate with foursquare technology to check-in at a location. As the grand prize winners, Brian and Adam received a trip to the SXSW (South by Southwest) trade show in Austin, Texas, where they shared a booth with AT&T Interactive. The free app already has over 10,000 users.

Brian lives in Winter Haven with his wife, Ashley. He enjoys living in Polk County and looks forward to continuing his work at Straughn & Turner.

Donor Spotlight: Kathy Bucklew
Director, Student Enrollment Services/Registrar

When my daughter, Christy Sallee, decided to return to college, I knew that giving up work to begin the educational process would be a challenge for her family financially. She had waited until her children were old enough so that she could manage being a mom and going to college; I did not want her long wait and dreams to be dashed. I knew right where to send her. I proudly explained the Foundation’s scholarship program to her and encouraged her to apply. She graduated magna cum laude this past spring and has successfully been accepted as a piano performance major at USF, thanks to our fabulous Music Department and the generosity of Foundation donors.

I think of all the foster boys my husband Bill and I have had in our home – 24 to be exact (…and 13 girls!)– all of those who went to college needed scholarships. In the case of each, someone donated to the foundation of the local community college so he could have a chance. These children’s lives have been forever changed.

I like to think of my investment in the Foundation as a deposit for students like Christy, students like our foster children, students with dreams who are taking a chance to better their lives. This summer I celebrated five years at Polk State. One of the first things I did when I came to the college was to set aside a payroll deduction that went to Foundation scholarships. I have increased my deduction regularly and plan to continue to do so; I want every student to have a chance for an education.

I recently read Carlos Parra’s heartfelt story in the Making A Difference Mondays newsletter regarding his contributions to the Charlie Lyle Scholarship. I was so motivated that I decided to give to that too! Charlie hired me five years ago; the first thing he taught me was that every student is important. So I am joining Carlos in making the Charlie Lyle Scholarship strong at Polk State to solidify his philosophy and legacy at the College. None of us can make a big dent in the needs of our students alone, but together with each of us giving what we can, we collectively become an opportunity for many students to have their chance at a College education! I hope all of you will join Carlos and me – even if it is just a dollar, it is a well-spent investment in our students.

What else do I wish for this fall? I wish that every student who has a need will have the funding to go to college. I wish that the businesses of Polk County would look at us – the family of Polk State College – and say, “If their own employees can give like THAT – then I will too!”

Student Spotlight: Christopher Gonzalez
Filling the Pages of Life with a College Degree

Christopher Gonzalez is a focused young man who has known his career path almost since the moment he first put pencil to paper. He developed a penchant for writing in first grade, which quickly flourished over the years. When he was in fifth grade, a two-page writing assignment he was given evolved into a twenty-page story. As Christopher recalls, “My teacher had me read my story to the entire class, and I got a standing ovation. Afterwards, my teacher encouraged me to become an author.”

Mrs. Floyd, Christopher’s fifth-grade teacher at Scott Lake Elementary, believed in him so much that she gave him a blank journal to inspire him to keep writing. Rather than fill the pages, Christopher has kept the childhood memento as a symbol to keep moving towards his dream.

Another significant memory Christopher has from fifth grade is receiving the Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarship in 2004. “It was a total surprise to me, but my parents knew in advance and my father was there to see me get the scholarship.”

Christopher is the first in his family with the opportunity to fully master a college education. His parents both started college but did not finish. His paternal grandparents came from Cuba on the Freedom Flights, and his maternal grandfather fought in World War II, so going to college was not practical or possible for many of this family members.

The importance and good fortune of receiving a scholarship did not fully register for Christopher as a young fifth grader, but as a freshman at George Jenkins High School the promise of a college education became a motivating factor. “Sometimes when I lost focus in high school or wondered whether or not school was the place for me, I remembered that someone saw something in me in fifth grade, and that kept me focused,” said Christopher. Active on the cross country and track teams, Christopher was also part of the Eagle News Network (school news program) before graduating in 2011.

As an aspiring author, Christopher has almost completed his first novel—a space opera similar in style to Star Wars. The first in a five-book series, Christopher plans to write at least twelve other novels, covering all genres, once he is established. After graduating from Polk State in 2013, Christopher plans to transfer to Florida State University to pursue creative writing and further develop his talent.

Finding symbolism in all his life experiences, Christopher recently revisited a chapter of his life by returning to Scott Lake Elementary to present a promising fifth grader with the same scholarship that he received eight years ago. Christopher noted, “Presenting the award was like closing one chapter of my life since I grew up at that school. Other chapters have been written since then, and I look forward to the future.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

I feel compelled to tell you an inspiring story of a recent encounter I had with an employee at a local gym. This gentleman worked behind the smoothie bar. Every person who walked into the gym, he greeted resoundingly with “Hello!” or “Welcome– have a great workout!” He also gave an equally resounding farewell, wishing people an awesome evening, and telling them, “Great job! “Keep it up!” I was so moved by his positive energy that I stopped to ask where he derived it from. He proclaimed very sincerely, “I work for Gold’s Gym. Every person walking into this building is trying to make a better life for themselves, and I play a role in that.” Wow, did that ever take my breath away. I quickly thought to myself, “I work for Polk State College, and all the people walking through our doors are trying to make a better life for themselves, too!” The rippling effect we create in making a difference in the lives of others is truly powerful and immeasurable. For the role you play in making a positive impact on the lives of our students, I say to you, resoundingly, from the top of rooftops and with a very loud bullhorn – THANK YOU!

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director