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Making a Difference Mondays, August 29

Monday, August 29, 2016

Donor Spotlight: Jeanne Wagner
Continuing Workforce Education Specialist

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When I was recently asked why I donate to the Polk State Foundation through the Employee Giving Program, I instantly became emotional. Perhaps I was already teary-eyed from having just been honored for my 20 years of service to the College, as this is such a marvel to me and makes me feel so proud. It would be hard to say, as both are dear to my heart.

I grew up in Lakeland, graduated from (then) Polk Community College, and eventually came back to the College as an employee. I feel like I grew up right here at Polk, and I am personally invested in this venerable institute of education. As someone who feels dedicated to this institution and its students, I want to do something tangible to help students succeed. Students are everything to us. I am very proud of this College—especially that we have so many programs and avenues through which we can help our financially struggling students. I am proud that I can be a part of that help. I have benefitted from financial giving; the generosity of others enabled me to finish my degree.

I give because I care, and I like to practice the “pay it forward” philosophy. Truly, every little bit counts. Who knows, what I give may even end up helping my niece, who just started at the College this fall. What we give to the Foundation touches so many people and programs, and helps all students during their journey at Polk State.

Soar, Eagles!

Alumni Spotlight: Jenny Nguyen
Passion and Talent for Art Discovered at Polk State College

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Traveling to see a giant blue safety pin in New Orleans might sound like an odd thing to put on one’s bucket list, but for Jenny Nguyen, seeing “Safety Pin” by Dutch-American sculptor Coosje van Bruggen is part of a growing list of important art to visit and study. “My goal is to see a significant piece of art in each of the fifty states.”

Jenny graduated from Lake Region High School in 2012. A shy student, she was nervous about attending a big university. Though she knew that a state college would provide a smaller, more personalized environment, she still almost could not bring herself to enroll when she first visited Polk State; she wasn’t sure she was meant for college. “I was fortunate to have Joshua Plazak as an advisor; he gave me so much confidence and helped me to feel accepted at Polk,” notes Jenny. Former student Gina-Lou McKinney was instrumental in getting Jenny involved with the student group SLAM! (Students Living a Message) and the Eagleteers. These groups helped Jenny get involved on campus and fall in love with Polk State. She began working in the Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO) to help plan events. Eventually she became a leader at the College, serving as the secretary, and later the president, of the Student Government Association (SGA).

Although Jenny was able to get involved socially at Polk State early on, it took a little longer for her to figure out her career path. She explored nursing, business, and political science, with none of these fields really catching her spirit. Then a ceramics class in her last semester provided the spark that changed her life. “I am the first in my family born in the United States, and while I had always loved art, my family wanted me to pursue a more traditional career,” she recalls.

Though unexpected, Jenny found a calling that she could not ignore. “I have never been happier than during my time at Polk. The professors here have prepared me well, and I have no doubt that I can have a successful career in the field of art.”

Jenny graduated from Polk State in 2015, but remained enrolled to complete additional art courses. As Jenny explained, “Professor Holly Scoggins creates a schedule for each student majoring in art that makes sure they take all of the proper coursework so that they can transfer to a four-year university as a junior-level Art major.”

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Due to this non-traditional educational pathway, Jenny received a Polk State Emergency Scholarship from the Foundation to help her finish her Art prerequisites. After a Disney internship this fall, Jenny plans to attend the University of Central Florida to obtain her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Therapy. She also plans to earn her master’s in that discipline, eventually opening her own art therapy practice that serves people who have survived domestic violence.

According to Jenny, “Without help from the Foundation and its donors, I would not have been able to finish my coursework and move on to UCF. No matter where I may go, I will always remember that Polk State and the Winter Haven community have been incredibly supportive, and I know I want to give back in some way in the future.”

Student Spotlight: Kelly Mutis
Polk State Program Gives a Student Purpose, Direction

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Hope is a central part of Kelly Mutis’ life these days, but for many years she felt she lacked the circumstances to merit having any. Kelly attributes her former despair to her family situation – her father was a drug addict and her mother worked to provide for the family; she also became a mother herself at a tender age. Recalls Kelly, “My home life was unstable growing up, and I felt lost in who I was and my life’s purpose. I lacked motivation and direction.”

While working as a pharmacy technician, Kelly realized that she wanted more—she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. An opportunity within the Polk County Diversity Program allowed Kelly to enter the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Program. According to Kelly, the program taught her responsibility, time management, and to push through life’s storms and obstacles. As Kelly notes, “The EMS Program also taught me how to be strong when every second counts, because every second does count in this profession.”

While in the EMS Program, and more recently in the Paramedic Program, Kelly credits Don Guillette with helping her to find a purpose and inspiring hope. “When I started at Polk, I didn’t believe in myself. Don frequently pulled me aside to remind me that I had been properly taught and had demonstrated all of the skills needed to assist patients in the field. He saved my life in so many ways by rebuilding my confidence and pushing me to do my best.”

Kelly graduated from the Paramedic Program this month, and has now become the first person to complete both the Polk County Diversity Program and earn a Polk State Paramedic Certificate. She will now serve as a role model to others by sharing her story with new program recruits.

At 18, Kelly took classes at Polk State randomly and without direction. Today, Kelly holds an AA degree, EMT and Paramedic certifications, and will return to Polk in January to finish the two classes needed for her AS degree. “I would like to work as an instructor at Polk one day,” Kelly shares, “and also complete a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Supervision and Management. I will do whatever it takes for me to advance in my career and show others that it is possible to regain hope, even in a hopeless situation.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

A new school year brings with it special energy and hope. It’s always wonderful to see everyone at convocation and witness the celebration of one another and our collective commitment to student success.

As I volunteered for a First Days table during the opening week of the semester, I was reminded of my own experience as a first-time-in-college student. I am still so thankful that I had a brother who set the example to pursue higher education as the first in our family to attend and graduate college. Equally as important to my success was my father, who pushed me to attend college (it truly wasn’t an option not to go). Also vital were numerous mentors who provided important guidance when I sometimes felt lost or wanted to give up.

First Days events reinforce for me what the majority of you experience daily – we all act as a support system for our students—for some, we are all they have. I was lucky that I had my own personalized cheering squad—I took that for granted.

I regularly hear stories of so many of you who have made a difference: those who have enlightened, went above and beyond the call of duty, and directly enabled struggling students to succeed. I am whole-heartedly appreciative of your hard work and commitment to transforming lives; you make my job easier as Polk State’s family is widely recognized for its dedication to students. Additionally, I can never thank you enough for giving of your financial resources to help the students with the greatest need. Education lifts not just one person, but sets the stage for a support system that transcends generations within a family—just as it did for mine.

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director