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Soaring Stories – April 2020

Polk State Student Spotlight
Elizabeth Kellum–Has a Vision   

Elizabeth Kellum has a vision–she wants to build a better life for herself, her husband Chris, and their ten-month-old daughter, Gracelynn. She wants to be an inspiration for her daughter, and to do so, she envisions a future in which she serves as a full-time teacher, preferably within the first or second grade.

After high school, Elizabeth desperately wanted to attend college, but finances were a huge obstacle. Like many students, her job as a cashier and shift supervisor put her over the limit to receive financial aid, but they did not provide the extra funding she needed to enroll in classes full time. She knew that enrolling part time would add years to her education, and this was a tremendous source of frustration. She almost quit out of discouragement, yet her family supported her vision. “My husband and I even lived in a tiny, little apartment, just to save money for me to attend college,” she explained.

In a moment of hope, Elizabeth turned to the Polk State College Foundation to explore its scholarships. “I just applied for anything and everything,” she explained. Still, when she received her congratulatory email stating she was a scholarship recipient, she was in disbelief and couldn’t trust her own eyes. “I even took my computer outside to my husband so he could read and verify the great news,” she explained.

Elizabeth, who graduated magna cum laude with a Polk State Associate in Arts degree as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, has also maintained her standing on the Dean’s List over several semesters of her baccalaureate program. She has applied for, and received, three Foundation scholarships during her pathway. Receiving this helpful assistance has been life changing, as this funding has enabled her to enroll in courses full time, while also providing some financial breathing room at home. This May, Elizabeth Kellum will hear her name announced at graduation. And as she walks across the stage in her mortarboard and robe, she will be an incredible inspiration to her daughter, showing that with determination, education, and hope–dreams really can come true.

Next fall, Elizabeth will enroll in the Polk State College Educator Preparation Institute to earn her teaching certificate. She is already preparing to apply for scholarships in anticipation of finishing this last lap in the journey to her dream career–she and her husband both have their calendars set to remind them of the first day for the application period.  When she finishes her education, she plans to support her husband in his pursuit of a degree at Polk State.  And, of course, she will encourage him to maintain a high GPA apply for scholarships, too!


Polk State Employee Philanthropist
BJ Lewis–Inspires Others

BJ Lewis has always strongly believed in donating and volunteering for community service.  She’s lived in five states and volunteered at each location, lending assistance with Easter parades, local festivals, and organizing events.  She also motivated her three children to volunteer. They used to ask her, “Mom, what did you sign us up for now?!” BJ believes that by volunteering, you are bringing the world into your home, and now her children enjoy giving their time to community service.

BJ donates to United Way through payroll deduction and saw a need to donate to and support the Polk State College Foundation as well. She completed the Employee Giving Form which allows her donation to be deducted every month from her paycheck. BJ said, “This way, it doesn’t hurt when the donation is withdrawn from my paycheck.  The funds are always there to do something to help.”

BJ began her career at Polk State College in 2006 as a part-time cashier at the Lakeland Campus. Two years later, she accepted a full-time position as an Administrative Assistant at Polk State’s Airside Center. She has since returned to the Lakeland Campus and is currently an Administrative Assistant; however, she is looking forward to retiring very soon.

Both President Barack Obama and her work at the College inspired BJ to get her degree. It was Obama’s comment, “Go out and get an education. Be responsible and learn,” that motivated her to achieve her Polk State Associate in Arts degree and Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Additionally, she wanted to set an example for her children and grandchildren by showing them that if she can do it, they can do it too.

“I never thought of myself as being an inspiration,” BJ said. Yet, after reflecting on setting a positive example for her children by supporting the Polk State College Foundation, volunteering in the community, and earning her bachelor’s degree, BJ went on to say, “but I guess I am!”