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Archive for December, 2011

The college’s 117th commencement took place Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. and at 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. A total of 564 graduates participated in the two ceremonies.

View Fall 2011 Graduation image gallery.

Watch the 9:30 a.m. ceremony

Watch the 1 p.m. ceremony

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From left: Jill Kennedy with her son, Eli Kapkowski.
From left: Jill Kennedy with her son, Eli Kapkowski.

On Saturday, Jill Kennedy will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in business, and a renewed sense of confidence and motivation.

At the afternoon commencement ceremony, Kennedy will share her story with her fellow graduates.

During high school, the Champaign-Urbana, Ill. native entered into the workforce without any interests or aspirations to further her education.

“I was anxious to get out of high school, and in your junior or senior year, you’re asked what you want to do and I didn’t know,” said Kennedy, 40. “I didn’t feel like I was smart enough just because of the grades I was making in high school by not paying attention, not putting forth effort.”

In 1998, she began her local career in Tampa as Project Manager at IBM. The following year, she began working for AT&T when the corporation bought IBM’s data networking division where she worked. Kennedy, who has a background in router configurations, now works as a Six Sigma Practitioner who is Black Belt Certified for AT&T, helping improve product quality and waste management through statistical analysis.

“Almost all of my peers were college graduates, and I felt that was something I needed to have as my experience as well,” she said.

The economy also indirectly played a role in her decision.

“As I started to see my peers being laid off because their work was outsourced, that triggered for me that this job isn’t forever; what am I going to do and where can I go?”

Realizing she had to compete with increasingly younger, fresh-out-of-college jobseekers, she sought an answer at SPC Downtown and enrolled in fall 2005. She knew this would not be easy, as she was a single mother to her 2-year-old son, Eli, but needed to ensure financial security for them. She found flexibility in the offerings of online and in-person classes.

“The online and in-person classes just afforded me what was necessary for me to get my degree,” Kennedy said. “The flexibility is what I needed because of a full-time career and being a mother and wife,” said Kennedy, who married in 2009.

She wants Eli, now 8, to understand the importance of an education through her experience and example.

“I’ve talked with him about how I didn’t go to school the traditional way, and that the expected course of life is that after high school you go to college,” she said. So when I talk to him, it’s not that he’s going to be in 12 years of school, it’s instead that he’ll be in a minimum of 16 years of school.”

Over the years, the mother and son motivated each other in their schooling.

“He’s ridden through this with me,” Kennedy said. “He’s been pretty much on this journey with me the whole time.”

Eli is her motivation for participating in the commencement ceremony.

“I wouldn’t have walked,” she said. “I’m 40 years old; I don’t necessarily think I need to walk, but I’m walking because of my son. It takes a lot of hard work to get here, but when you walk in graduation and you get handed that diploma, and I want him to see that there is a reward at the end of this.”

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Along with food, water and shelter, energy is among the most essential elements of human life in the modern world. It lights and heats homes, powers transportation, and is essential to commerce. Yet in the post-recession, post-tsunami world of 2012, energy faces a very uncertain future.

A distinguished group of experts will explore that future in a series of free public forums at St. Petersburg College. The first forum in the series, focusing on the future of nuclear energy, will be held from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 11 in the Digitorium of the SPC Seminole Campus, 9200 113th Street North. Titled Our Energy Future: Are Nukes Still Viable, and Do Lawmakers Get It on Energy?, the forum is presented by SPC’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions and co-sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times and WUSF Public Media.

Is there a future for nuclear energy? Nukes have been the focus of heated debate over safety, cost, waste and siting concerns since their inception. That debate got much hotter after the March tsunami in Japan caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant. Since then, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Italy have announced plans to phase out nuclear plants.

Not in Florida. The state’s two largest utilities are seeking permits to add nuclear capacity even as the debate rages over cost and need factors and the perennial concern for safety and waste. Consumer advocates take issue with a state law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for plants that are years down the road. They also question the need for new plants with per capita energy use declining and argue there are less expensive and less risky ways to meet energy demand. The industry defends its safety record, efficiency factor, and non-polluting benefits.

Debating these and other issues at the forum will be:

  • Ellen Vancko, Nuclear Energy and Climate Change Project Manager, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • J. R. Kelly, Office of Public Counsel, State of Florida
  • Jerry Paul, nuclear engineer and former member of the Florida Legislature, U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee
  • Ivan Penn, Staff Writer for the St. Petersburg Times, who has written extensively about nuclear energy issues facing Tampa Bay.

In March, the second forum in the series, will focus on renewable energy and conservation efforts. The third, in April, will assess energy policy from the 2012 session of the Florida Legislature.

The program is free, but advance registration is requested. To register, please visit the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions website. For more information: 727-394-6942.

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Numerous media outlets covered the recent arrest of SPC baseball coach Rob Francis, including the St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel and Bay News 9.


The St. Petersburg Times covered the story of a former SPC student who graduated from the University of South Florida despite crippling disease. The Times also covered a recent study that shows location is key for dual enrollment programs.


The Sunday Times’ Latitudes section featured an article on the benefits of a local art museum membership, including the Leepa-Rattner Museum.


UrbanClimber Magazine recently profiled Ronnie Dickson, a 2010 graduate of SPC’s Orthotics and Prosthetics program who competes in rock climbing competitions.


The NewRootNews previewed the MIRA program’s recent showcase at the Palladium.


The Pinellas County Osteopathic Medical Society recently announced two joint ventures with SPC, including a scholarship program and an annual health fair.

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Hillary Last
Hillary Last

When we think about diversity, we think about the elements in life that make us different. Usually, the first things we think about are race and culture. Yet, there are a variety of additional elements that contribute to making each person different.

Hillary Last, one of two commencement speakers at the morning session on Dec. 17, embraces the differences.

Last, who will receive an Associate of Science degree in Sign Language Interpretation, has unique experiences within the Sign Language Interpretation Program to tell the graduates and their families. A native of Fond du Lac, Wis., Last moved to Florida to escape the brutal winters of her childhood home, as well as to continue her studies in American sign language.

“I knew I wanted to move down here, but I wasn’t sure what school I was going to go to,” said Last, who often visited family in the Clearwater area during vacations. “I did my research and found that SPC had a stellar reputation for the program, so I enrolled as soon as I got my residency figured out and the rest is history.”

Residing in Tarpon Springs, Last has no intention of returning north. Instead, she plans to complete her Associate of Arts degree and possibly transfer to the University of Florida to major in business.

“With my future plans, a business degree would come in handy because I would like to open my own deaf services center,” she said.

To prepare for her future, Last carried a heavy course load while working two jobs and maintaining an internship. The hard work is preparing Last for the career in interpretations that she has dreamed about since meeting a deaf person when she was 13.

“I did community work; I did internships along with my own experiences, whether it be actual volunteer time or just social events that get you into the deaf community,” said Last, who connected with the deaf community by attending events for the deaf such as bowling, movies and coffee nights.

During her final term, Last interned at SPC, working as an interpreter in the classroom for deaf students.

“Through the disabilities office, they have set up resources for any student who has exceptional needs, whether it be blindness, deafness or other disabilities,” Last said. “So that provided me the opportunity to go in and work under the mentorship of the staff interpreters at St. Petersburg College.”

As she recaps her experiences as a student, Last hopes her upcoming speech will leave the audience thinking and considering life’s differences. Committed to dissolving communication barriers, Last not only speaks sign language, she speaks life.

“I would like the audience to take away the fact that there’s diversity all around them, there’s diversity everywhere and knowledge is power,” she says. “To know about it is to be able to deal with it and work with it.”

NOTE: Fall commencement ceremonies are scheduled at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Those who can’t attend graduation can watch the ceremonies live online. Click on “Live Broadcast.” The broadcasts will begin about 9:20 a.m. and 12:50 p.m.

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Digital Media student John Vitale works with cast members on the set of his short film "Ignition." Foreground, from left: Heinz Hinrichs, John Vitale and members of the Burghounds Car Club.

Seminole Campus student John Vitale is making his dream a reality after snagging the role of Art Director in the upcoming film “Sunlight Jr.,” which is in production in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Vitale, 40, who owns Vitale Art Studio, said he landed the role through a series of circumstances that began when he went back to school in January, 2011. With years of art, design, murals, printing and set design experience through his business, he wanted to put his skills to use in a different way. He enrolled in Digital Media classes at the college, where his wife, Alisha, is the collegewide Testing Coordinator in Enrollment Management.

“When I started working on the projects for class, I realized that I was kind of a natural at putting a story together,’” he said. “I decided that if I was going to explore how to do this, I’d just go ahead and make a movie.”

In August, he began working on “Ignition,” a short film set in the 1960s in an alternate reality, post-apocalyptic St. Petersburg. It was through this experience that he began networking with others who have worked on local films.

He met with local film professionals who were working on the Christian film “The Investigators.” They hired him to work on a few props.

Around the same time, “Sunlight Jr.” came into town. The film, which stars Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts, delves into the lives of Melissa and Richie, a married couple living near poverty in a rundown motel in Clearwater who faces an unplanned pregnancy, unemployment and eviction.

Vitale, who wrapped up his last day filming “Ignition” on Oct. 30, got a call the same day about becoming the film’s art director. Several professionals recommended Vitale as art director to the production designer of “Sunlight Jr.”

“It just was like a right place, right time kind of situation,” Vitale said.

He began working for “Sunlight Jr.” in November. Though he has to remain tight-lipped about the film while it is in production, he said the experience of working on the set has provided an incredible learning opportunity that he has brought back to the classroom and shared with his fellow video students.

“Being able to see them filming the actors on the set that I designed is really rewarding,” Vitale said.

“Everyone here is really excited for him,” said Eric Hulsizer, an adjunct instructor who teaches the Basic Video Camera class in which Vitale is enrolled. “He’s learning here and he’s learning a lot there with the movie. What I’m teaching him is camera work, but what he’s using is his skilled history as an artist. He’s learning how the photography interacts with it.

“I think that he’s getting a good taste of how dedicated you have to be to be in that business,” Hulsizer said.

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Patch.com reported that St. Petersburg College baseball players (Team USA) are in the lineup again for the second annual International Spring Baseball Training Series that begins March 6 at Al Lang Stadium.


Greek USA Reporter featured details on additional Greek classes offered at SPC Tarpon Springs Campus for Spring 2012 term.

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The Tampa Tribune previewed the TedX conference held Nov. 19 at the Seminole Campus, while Positive Impact Magazine covered the event.

David Klement, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, wrote a guest editorial in the St. Petersburg Times discussing the institute’s Dec. 7 forum on the national debt.

The Times also covered Bill Law being named Citizen of the Year by the Eta Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and former SPC pitcher Zach Gordon, who is heading to Jacksonville University.

The Seminole Beacon covered the recent expansion of the Seminole Community Library.

The Piqua Daily Call profiled an Ohio man who plans to attend SPC’s Orthotics and Prosthetics program.

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