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Making a Difference Mondays, May 21

Monday, May 21, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: LeDawn Gibson
May 2012 Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient

LeDawn Gibson, a 1986 graduate of Winter Haven High School, attended Polk State College from 1986 to 1988, and later returned to finish her Associate in Arts in Elementary Education in 1995. She earned a Bachelor’s in Business from Warner University in 1999, and a Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2006 from Argosy University.

In high school, LeDawn played basketball and earned “Most Athletic Player” for rebounding and scoring. Through her commitment and devotion, she earned a basketball scholarship to Polk State College, where she helped the team to the 1987 state playoffs and was the top free-throw shooter for junior colleges in 1988.

LeDawn worked for the Polk County School Board for a total of 19 years. She began as a paraprofessional and then secretary, returning to school to become a certified teacher. She served as a teacher and then Dean of Discipline at Winter Haven High School.

While coach of the WHHS girl’s basketball program for 12 seasons, the team was ranked number one in Florida for nine straight seasons (2000-2008) and listed in the Top 25 high school teams by USA Today. LeDawn compiled a 331-48 record including two state championships, seven finals appearances, and nine District Eight Regional titles. Her accolades include 2006-2007 Class 5A Coach of the Year and six-time Ledger Coach of the Year, among others. Additionally, LeDawn was honored with the 2002 WHHS Teacher of the Year, was inducted into the Polk State College Athletic Hall of Fame, and the received 2008 Girls, Inc. of Winter Haven “She Knows Where She’s Going” Award.

In 2008, LeDawn was tapped to be the women’s basketball coach for Florida A&M University. As a first-year coach, LeDawn led the Lady Rattlers to a 14-17 season. In 2012, her team achieved an impressive 14-game winning streak; it was the first time the team had over 20 wins in a season since 1997. The remarkable season ended with Gibson being named Mid Eastern Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year.

Through her work on the court, LeDawn also helped over 30 young women attain basketball scholarships for some of the top women’s basketball programs. She has a 100% graduation rate among her players.

Donor Spotlight: Carlos Parra
Student Activities and Leadership Program Director

Before our beloved Charlie Lyle was the Dean of Student Services, he was a “legend” in the world of student life. On my very first day as a student at Broward Community College, our paths crossed, and what a fun ride his friendship and mentorship became for me. He had such passion for student engagement that it was contagious. I knew I wanted to be just like him because I could see in his eyes that he truly loved his job working with students and opening doors to experiences that they had never known before.

I contribute to the Dean Charles N. Lyle, II Student Involvement Memorial Scholarship fund because it is the right thing to do. I watched first-hand the countless times Charlie grabbed the phone to speak to the “powers-that-be” to find help removing road blocks in students’ paths to success. Charlie understood that an education didn’t just change the student’s life—it also changed the whole trajectory for his or her family’s future.

Not a day goes by that I do not miss the smiles, laughter, and genuine kindness that Charlie Lyle shared with the world. If contributing a few extra dollars each month will help a student achieve his or her dream, then why not? When it comes down to it, we are in the dream business, and I am thankful that Charlie laid the path for me to live mine on a daily basis through my work at Polk State.

Student Spotlight: Cindi Berry
Finding Fulfillment in a Second Career

At 53, Cindi Berry feels this is her happiest time of life. A recent graduate with an Associate in Science in Nursing, she plans to continue at Polk State to earn her BSN. Currently interviewing for positions in local hospitals, she states that her contentment stems from having chosen a field that provides a true sense of fulfillment.

A Florida native, Cindi relocated from Homestead to Lake Wales in 1989. As a single mother, she had a home-based monogramming business, but made the decision to open a tiny storefront after her business was strained by the effects of Hurricane Andrew. In time she expanded and added antiques; eventually she purchased a building in downtown Lake Wales. As a small business owner, Cindi became involved in promoting the city’s downtown retail area. She was even instrumental in the return of the community’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

Yet, after years of wearing many hats, Cindi didn’t realize how burned-out she had become until the store closed in 2007. Friends urged her to go back to school and become a nurse, as she had sincerely enjoyed caring for her grandparents during their declining health.

According to Cindi, she was unsure of her career path until a chance encounter with a stranger. “I was receiving care in the hospital, and one nurse stood out. She was always so cheerful and happy, and each time she walked into my room she made eye contact with me, put her hand on my arm, and asked me how I was doing. She even had conversations with my son. She made me feel like I mattered and that she was genuinely interested in my recovery. I thought ‘Wow, she makes a difference every time she steps into someone’s room!’”

The personal connection between nurse and patient was the impetus for Cindi’s enrollment at Polk State. With the help of the Polk State College Foundation and the Mountain Lake Community Service Adult Scholarship, Cindi was able to pay for classes and the Nursing Program fees. The gift of education has so impacted her life that she plans to “pay it forward” when she is financially able so that she can help others follow their dreams for new careers through education.

Cindi knows that her true purpose is to make a difference in the lives of others, and that her pathway has not been a coincidence. While on clinical rotations for the Nursing Program one evening, Cindi recalls, “I met a really friendly nurse, and I proceeded to tell her about the special nurse who had helped me during my hospital stay. I could not remember the nurse’s name—I thought it might be Sylvia, and explained the impact she had on me. I asked if by chance this nurse knew the person I was describing. At that moment, I saw her face soften and her eyes well, and her hand reached up slowly to her chest as she quietly said, ‘It’s Sybil, and it’s me.’ Not only did Sybil remember the particulars of my hospital stay, but she also remembered the particulars of a conversation she had with my son those several years before. At that moment I was blessed to have the chance to thank the woman who gave me confirmation of my calling—just by doing her job well. She and the many dedicated nurses I have come in contact with continue to inspire me.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

At the Wise & Witty Women and Many Magnificent Men Luncheon in March, we had the Polk State College Cheerleaders cheer on our guests for their generous support of our wonderful students. Their cheers were an outward and very dramatic expression of how I feel every day–if I could flip, kick, and do tricks (without severely hurting myself), and yell at the top of my voice in gratitude for our donors, I surely would.

There is no stronger appreciation than what I feel for you, my colleagues, as donors who give through your actions and your pocketbook to make dreams come true!  Every day we give of our time, energy, and talents for our students. Those of you who also give of the financial resources you have worked so incredibly hard to earn in support of our students–you deserve enthusiastic cheers of gratitude!

Two, four, six, eight!  Who do I appreciate?! Our students, colleagues, donors, you!!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director