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St. Petersburg College graduate and blogger Maria Thurber now has another entry on her resume – embassy intern.

Maria, who writes the college’s “Ask Maria” blog, also is interning this summer in the Ambassador’s Office at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington, D.C. In one of her posts, she creditsembajada-630x210 social media for getting in touch with the embassy about a possible internship.

“I follow the ambassador and her office through Twitter and one day I tweeted to her office regarding possible internships opportunities. She responded back with the contact information to apply,” Maria wrote. “Through this experience I learned to never underestimate social media ever again and that opportunities can come in all formats.”

In May 2013, Maria graduated from SPC with an Associate of Arts degree. She received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which provides a full-ride, good-through-graduation scholarship to the student’s college of choice. She now attends Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She has been blogging for SPC, answering questions from potential and current students, since Fall 2013.

Read more about Maria’s internship and other posts on her Ask Maria blog.

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SPC graduate Melissa Dohme, who survived a brutal stabbing by her ex-boyfriend, will share her story on national television Saturday, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Dohme was a 20-year-old college student when Robert Lee Burton Jr. stabbed her 32 times outside her home near Crest Lake Park in January 2012. Burton is serving a life sentence.

Dohme went on to graduate from SPC in December 2012. She earned an associate degree, graduated with high honors and was named Clearwater Campus’ student of year and the future.

The “48 Hours” episode will air at 10 p.m. on CBS.

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Spenser ReedSt. Petersburg College alumnus Spenser Reed joins Class of 2014 Cornell University graduates on May 25 for the prestigious school’s commencement ceremony in Ithaca, NY. Reed completed a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Food Science and Nutritional Science, with a concentration in molecular nutrition.

A serious illness during high school did not keep him from pursuing his education. In fact, he spent most of his high school years in and out of hospitals, unable to go to school and compete in sports.

“Immense struggles with my health served to spur my passion for science and medicine and inspire me to pursue a career as a pediatric endocrinologist,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Spenser studied molecular biology and genetics at SPC, earning an A.A. Degree.

“Isaac Newton once said: ‘If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants,’” Reed said in a speech to the Florida Board of Education soon after graduation from SPC. “My faculty here are my true giants and SPC has provided a superb learning environment with which to realize my academic passions. As I look to the future I can say without a doubt that I am a more dedicated student, have a more inquisitive mind, and see my professional career more clearly because I am an SPC alum.”

After graduating from SPC, Reed transferred to Cornell where he dove into research and published three studies, two as first author. Before applying to medical schools, he plans to complete his research at Cornell and present at major conferences in San Diego, Brazil and Ethiopia.

“It has been so exciting to be involved in research at Cornell, especially in work that is so pertinent to public health and medicine,” said Reed. “I am working on a study now, in collaboration with Israeli scientists involving micronutrient deficiencies, which affect upwards of 4 billion people around the globe.”

Awards:

  • National Science Foundation Scholars
  • Hunter Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholar
  • SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence
  • President of the Honors College Consortium
  • All-USA Community College Academic Team
  • Florida Coca-Cola New Century Scholar
  • SPC Presidents Award winner

His struggles, his achievements and his life serve as an inspiration to other students facing obstacles to their education.

“Whatever your passions are – whatever makes you tick – continue to explore your interests and continue to investigate how you can you can use your aptitudes to impact our world.”

Related stories:

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2013-14 Apollo Award finalists

Five outstanding St. Petersburg College students have been selected as finalists for the annual Apollo Award, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve.

The Apollo Award is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. Winners are chosen for their outstanding leadership abilities, scholastic standing, community service, honors and awards. It has been presented each year since 1966.

This year’s finalists are:

Oldrin Bataku

Oldrin Bataku

Oldrin Bataku, Seminole Campus, graduates today with an Associate in Arts degree. He was a member of Honors College and a student editor of the Honors College scholarly journal, META; a math and science tutor in the Learning Commons; and a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Innovative Engineering Club. He has a 4.0 GPA.

He was a founding member of Rotaract where he was involved with a number of community service events such as a silent auction to benefit the Ronald McDonald House and trash pickups along Pinellas beaches and roadways.

He received Outstanding Student awards in chemistry, calculus and Interdisciplinary Studies. Mathematics instructor James Klinedinst said Oldrin is “one of the hardest workers I have ever seen . . . he strives to pursue topics well beyond the scope of the course.”

His goal is to attend a research university and become heavily involved in undergraduate science and mathematics research.

“St. Petersburg College has engrained in me its deep scholastic values and taught me to develop as a student, a friend, an employee and a contributing member of society.”

 

 

 

 

Alia Davis

Alia Davis

Alia Davis, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, graduates today with an Associate in Arts degree. She was a member of Honors College and as a St. Petersburg Collegiate High School student, was a member of its Ethics Bowl team. She also was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Junior Achievement and was captain of the Seminole High School volleyball team. She has a 3.98 GPA.

She was a Suncoast Hospice teen volunteer and received an award for 67 hours of service to this organization.

In 2013, she was named the St. Petersburg Collegiate High School Junior of the Year and received the Dr. Vilma Fernandez-Zalupski Academic Excellence Award in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Communication instructor Lori Madden said, “Students gravitate toward Alia because they know her to be a serious yet kind and approachable person.”

Her goal is to attend Colgate University to study neuroscience and eventually become an M.D.

“St. Petersburg College has not only set a sturdy foundation for learning, but supplied me with tools to expand my knowledge and understanding.”

 

 

 

 

Caitlin Hardwick

Caitlin Hardwick

Caitlin Hardwick, Clearwater Campus, graduates today with an Associate in Arts degree. She was a member of Honors College, the Florida Engineering Society, International Club, Junior Achievement, Student Government, and was interim president of Phi Theta Kappa. She has a 3.98 GPA.

She has been a volunteer math tutor in the Clearwater Learning Support Center and through Junior Achievement, volunteered as a tutor in a local elementary school. She also has volunteered with the Salvation Army and the UPARC Foundation.

She received the Edna Allwurden Andrews Memorial Math Award in 2013 and was named a member of the All-Florida Academic Team in 2014. Political Science instructor Heather Roberson said, “Caitlin’s independent research, experiential scholarship and enthusiastic participation exhibit the traits of a focused learner. She is a model student.”

Her goal is to receive a master’s degree or doctorate in mathematics and continue to participate in community service.

“At SPC, I have discovered a pathway to fulfilling my dreams.”

 

 

 

 

Jasmine Salinas Corona

Jasmine Salinas-Corona

Jasmine Salinas-Corona, graduates today with an Associate in Arts degree. She was a member of Student Government, Spanish Club, Student Music Club and Phi Theta Kappa where she was a part of the Honors and Action Committee. She has a 3.89 GPA.

She was a teen volunteer with Suncoast Hospice with more than 100 hours of service and has participated in roadside cleanups with Phi Theta Kappa. She volunteered as a math tutor in the Learning Commons on the Seminole Campus and has participated in Seminole Campus Welcome Back events for returning students.

In 2008, 2011, and 2012 she received the Dr. Vilma Fernandez-Zalupski Academic Excellence Award. She won first place in her campus’ Tag Competition in 2013. Lisa Borzewski, academic chairman of Mathematics on the Seminole Campus, said, “Jasmine has a willing spirit, caring demeanor and enthusiasm for learning and service – all strong indications there are great things in her future.”

Her goal is to earn a doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Florida.

“SPC has taught me that no matter where someone comes from, no matter the age, no matter the background, no matter the purpose, it is never too late to learn.”

 

 

 

 

Sorany Son

Sorany Son

Sorany Son, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, graduates today with an Associate in Arts degree. She was a member of Honors College, Phi Theta Kappa, Innovative Engineering Club, Junior Achievement and was president of St. Petersburg Collegiate High School’s National Honor Society. She has a 4.0 GPA.

She volunteered as a tutor in chemistry, college algebra and composition/language arts. For the past two years, she has been a volunteer at the Children of the World Preschool, holding mini workshops and reading to the children. She also volunteered as an SPC Student Ambassador.

In 2012-13 she received the William Ketchum Memorial Award for Mathematics and was a presenter at the Honors College annual research conference. Communication instructor William Range said, “I can recall very few students who stand out the way Ms. Son does. Her complete devotion to acquiring a sublime education is unmistakable.”

Her goal is to become a physician and make modern medical facilities more accessible to people throughout the world.

“SPC has helped me develop leadership skills, such as communication, research, service and proper etiquette needed for life after college.”

 

 

Alumni Achievement Award finalists

Four outstanding St. Petersburg College students have been selected as finalists for the annual Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve.

The Alumni Achievement Award is presented annually by the SPC Alumni Association. Winners are chosen for their outstanding leadership abilities, scholastic standing, community service, honors and awards.

 

This years finalists are:

Lauren Frantzis

Lauren Frantzis

Lauren Frantzis, Tarpon Springs Campus, today receives a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with ESOL and Reading endorsements. She has a 3.97 GPA.

She was a member of Golden Key International Honor Society and the American Sign Language Club, where she donated 39 hours of volunteer work.

She was a Pinellas County Schools volunteer with 130 hours of volunteer service and also has volunteered with Toys for Tots, Tampa Bay Coastal Cleanup and several projects on her campus.

She was the winner of several scholarships including the Cecil B. Keene Memorial Scholarship, the Domidion Education Grant and the Florida Alpha Delta Kappa Scholarship. Elementary Education Professor Cher Gauweiler said, “Lauren exudes creativity, a positive spirit and collegiality . . . Her peers say she is a future teacher to emulate.”

Her goal is to have her own classroom where she can help empower students toward fulfilling their educational dreams.

“The skills, knowledge and experiences I have gained at SPC have made me the teacher I am today.”

 

 

 

Eunmi Ko

Eunmi Ko

Eunmi Ko, Clearwater Campus, received a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education in December. She had a 3.6 GPA.

She was a member of Kappa Delta Pi, Golden Key International Honor Society and the International Club where she assisted other international students with registration, student issues and composing their My Learning Plans.

At the Tampa Korean Reformed Presbyterian Church and Dunedin Highland Middle School, she volunteered as a math tutor.

She was the winner of several scholarships including the Alpha Delta Kappa Scholarship, the Anna Lawson Endowed Scholarship in Education and the Sel Rel Inc. Scholarship for first generation immigrants. In 2013, she was chosen for the All Florida Academic Team. International Student Representative Angela Cole said “Eunmi is an exemplary student, polite and courteous. She has a positive attitude in all she does.”

Her goal is to enter graduate school and teach high school mathematics.

“I have learned that if I work hard with confidence, others will step forward to help me reach my goals. I want to help students achieve their goals just as others have helped me.”

 

 

Diana Moulton

Diana Moulton

Diana Moulton, Clearwater Campus, today receives a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics Education. She has a 3.98 GPA.

She was president of Kappa Delta Pi, a founding member of the Math Club and a club representative to Student Government.

She was a member of the All Children’s Hospital Guild and volunteered at local schools as a member of student advisory councils and fundraising committees.

She was the recipient of several St. Petersburg College Foundation scholarships and received the Outstanding Achievement in Calculus award. She also received the Outstanding Achievement in Field Biology of Florida award and the Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Science award. Mathematics Education Professor Andrea Kelly said “Diana is an exemplary student with consistently high grades and a deep commitment to the teaching profession. “

Her goal is to pursue a doctorate in Mathematics and one day teach in SPC’s College of Education.

“St. Petersburg College has prepared me to juggle the commitments of work with those of service and family. I enjoy giving to my community and seeing the positive effect I can have on others.”

 

 

Melanie Poirier

Melanie Poirier

Melanie Poirier, Caruth Health Education Center, today receives a bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene. She has a 3.8 GPA.

She was a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Pinellas County Dental Hygiene Association.

She participated in Give Kids a Smile, an event that provided free dental care to children in need, and the Back to School Care Fair at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Public Health Center. She also made weekly visits to local elementary schools to provide oral health education to children. She was active in volunteer activities at her church.

In 2012, she received the Hu-Friedy Golden Scaler Award given to a student with high academic and clinical standards. She received scholarships from the SPC Foundation, the West Coast Dental Association and the Pinellas County Dental Hygiene Association. Dental Hygiene Instructor Sandra Marcil said “Melanie’s personal traits and skills make her an outstanding dental hygienist and an asset to any dental team.”

Her goal is an MBA in Health Care Management.

“SPC has given me the knowledge to be a well-informed and diverse professional who will provide excellent, quality care to every patient.”

 

 

 

 

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The St. Petersburg College Alumni Association annually presents this award to honor alumni who, through their accomplishments, have made meaningful contributions to their professions and their communities. They are persons who exemplify how best to use and develop the education they gained at SPC and who, as a result, are outstanding representatives among our alumni.

Helen GilbartHelen W. Gilbart

St. Petersburg College as we know it today would look much different if it were not for this year’s Outstanding Alumna. Helen W. Gilbart graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College in 1964 with her Associate in Arts degree and returned to the school just five years later after completing a bachelor’s degree in English, Speech, and Journalism. Helen started out as a faculty member at the Clearwater Campus where she later became the program director for Humanities, Fine Arts and Communications.

A true example of a life-long educator and advocate of student success, Helen has published several student reading skills and test preparatory manuals throughout her career. She was one of the founding members of Women on the Way resource and support center, and along with her late husband Donald, was one of the early members of the St. Petersburg College Foundation’s Legacy Society. Helen continues to provide scholarship support for St. Petersburg College students through the Donald and Helen Gilbart Scholarship Fund, which recognizes outstanding students in the fields of Education, Social Service, Mental and/or Physical Health.

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SPC College of Education alumna Katelyn Pilsbury

Katelyn Pilsbury

SPC College of Education grad Katelyn Pilsbury has been named Florida’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Rookie Teacher of the Year. The award, given annually by the Florida Council for Exceptional Children, honors the state’s best new ESE teacher during their first three years of work.

Pilsbury, 25, is a full-time Autistic Spectrum Disorder kindergarten teacher at Plumb Elementary School in Clearwater. She emotionally recounted how her principal last year, Seymour Brown III, told her that she was the first teacher he had nominated for this award in 30 years.

“I always knew I’d be a good teacher and love my students,” said Pilsbury. “But I never thought I’d be a teacher that would win an award for what I did.”

This year’s winner will be announced at an awards dinner on Friday, Oct. 18.

Preparing for success

Pilsbury completed a bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Student Education (K-12) with a certification in Elementary Education with ESOL and Reading Endorsements at SPC. This summer, she also completed her Autism endorsement at SPC.

“I had personal relationships with my SPC teachers,” said Pilsbury. “They cared about me. If I didn’t get something they took the time to really explain it.”

In the classroom

Currently in her second year of teaching at Plumb Elementary, Pinellas County’s largest elementary school, Pilsbury leads a team of two ESE associates to provide the individual attention the six children, all boys, in their class require. Today’s lesson was focused on the difference between day and night.

Click to enlarge
In the classroom Learning about Whole Body Language Spelling my name

“What do you see in the day?” she said slowly. “Yes, the sun. What color is the sun? Yes, the sun is yellow.”

The cadence in her voice and simple repetitive phrasing have a calming effect on the children. Her classroom is cheerful, orderly and filled with bulletin boards and learning resources specifically designed to help autistic students learn. They each have their own color chair.

“Caden, sit in the green chair,” she says.

He comes back, sits down and the lesson continues. In this class, the lesson is as much about staying focused, following directions and listening as it is about the sun, the moon and the stars.

SPC Education Internships

All College of Education students at SPC are given extensive experience in public schools including diverse placements in elementary, middle and high schools. The role veteran educators’ play in coming alongside new teachers like Pilsbury is priceless.

“I learned so much in my final internships,” Pilsbury said. “That was when I really knew I was ready to be a teacher and have my own class.”

Her final internship was at Blanton Elementary School, where she was mentored by veteran teacher Kathleen Hehn in a K-2 classroom for Independent Varying Exceptionalities (IVE). The Kindergarten-Grade 2 children in her class had a variety of special needs stemming from Traumatic Brain Injuries, Seizure Disorders and Downs Syndrome.

Hands on learning

In her first year of teaching, Pilsbury worked with funding from USF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) to plant a garden on campus that the kids worked in. The produce stand they created brought a new level of excitement and learning to her class.

Click to enlarge
Hands on learning project pelican Hands on learning project

“They were exchanging money and communicating with others,” she said. “They said things like ‘What would you like?’ It was so exciting.”

She is applying for grants for the same project again this year in partnership with CARD, the Partnership for Effective Programs for Students with Autism (PEPSA) and The Florida Farm Bureau.

Local CEC chapter hosts state conference

Pilsbury was the winner of the local version of the same award in April. Since that time, she also was named Vice President of the Suncoast 176 Chapter of the CEC.

She and a team of other members of the local chapter are busy finalizing plans to host this year’s Florida CEC Annual Conference, Going to Bat for Kids, Oct. 17-19 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront.

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St. Petersburg College graduate Melissa Dohme was recently profiled in a piece from ABC Action News where Bay area leaders, politicians and celebrities are asked 10 questions about themselves.

“Our person of the week is a young woman who is a domestic violence survivor. Melissa Dohme is also a voice for hope,” the article stated.

While attending SPC, Dohme was attacked by her ex-boyfriend. She recovered, went on to graduate with high honors and was one of the student speakers at the graduation ceremony.

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Elizabeth Rasmussen

Elizabeth Rasmussen

St. Petersburg College alumna Elizabeth Rasmussen was one of 48 teachers from around the country chosen to study at Georgetown University this summer as a James Madison Graduate Fellowship recipient.

“The James Madison Fellowship is in many ways one of the greatest honors a social studies teacher can earn. I was in shock, and I still am sometimes, that I earned such an honor,” said Elizabeth, 27, a ninth and 12th grade social studies teacher at Fort Meade Middle Senior High School in Polk County. “In a way it was validation to all the hard work that I have poured into my career since Day 1. I have always strived to grow and learn from mistakes and be better than I was before.

Elizabeth was one of two fellows from Florida. She is a master’s degree student at the University of South Florida studying curriculum and instruction with a concentration in secondary education. The fellowship funds up to $24,000 of her study costs. As part of the fellowship, she studied at the Foundations of Constitutionalism at Georgetown University for a month this summer.

“I got to partake in a number of amazing experiences such as debating a mock Supreme Court case in front of a Federal Court Judge, visiting a number of historic sites such as Mount Vernon and Monticello, and visiting the U.S. Supreme Court on the day of the historic DOMA and Prop 8 decisions,” she said. She also was able to meet Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Elizabeth said SPC had a significant impact on her education.

“I can honestly say that I remember more professors from my experience at SPC than that of any other college experience,” she said. “That is not to say I had bad professors at the other schools, but at SPC Seminole, my instructors were more concerned about me as a person and not as a number.”

As a homeschooler, Elizabeth got her start in college at age 16 when she dual-enrolled at SPC .

“By this point in my academic career, regular high school curriculum was not challenging me, and my parents and family thought dual-enrollment would be my best option,” Elizabeth said. “The opportunity to earn college credit while in high school was also a motivating factor.”

By the time she graduated high school in 2004, she had earned 38 credits toward her Associate in Arts degree. She graduated from SPC in May 2005 and was a finalist for the Apollo Award, the college’s highest honor for lower division students. She then graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in education-social science education from the University of North Florida in 2007. She plans to pursue a doctorate in education and to eventually teach college one day.

“I firmly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t attended SPC,” she said. “SPC taught me at an early age to shoot for my dreams and that nothing was ever impossible if I worked hard and tried.”

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By Michael L. McCauley

Licensed Certified Orthotist and Board Eligible Prosthetist

St. Petersburg College O&P Class of 2011

Recently I had the opportunity through the St. Petersburg College Orthotics & Prosthetics program and the Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge (CWVC) to go on an expedition to the Florida Keys and conduct a case study on veterans and their prosthetic swim legs. Who would pass that up?!

I spent a week there diving, taking video and collecting data on each of these amazing men. The week was one of the greatest things I have ever experienced. To sum up the trip, I feel like I could write hundreds of pages but just to give you a glimpse, here is a summary of just one day.

It’s Sunday morning. Forty to fifty people stand around in the sun and around the pool. Some are media there for a news story. Amputees set up their scuba equipment. Videographers set up some cameras. The EMT’s get their machines ready. Some are there for no other reason but to watch.

And then there is me: young and very nervous, about to conduct my first field case study. Am I at this level? I don’t know.

What questions are they going to ask me? Is this going to run as smoothly as it does in my head? Are they going to listen? Am I going to say the right things? Hundreds of questions and doubts pulsate through my brain.

Regardless of how I feel at this exact little moment, it is about to change. I cruise with my eyes along the pool and see the wounded veterans setting up their equipment and the subtle differences they do in the process that prove that they have adapted.

These guys have had their legs and arms taken away while they were giving our country their best and yet their drive is unchanged. The inspiration hits me right in the chest and I think to myself: “Can I not adapt to this moment, too?”

Of course I can.

So with a long deep breath, I feel prepared and ready. Actually, not only am I prepared, but I am pumped and I need to do this. Not for me. Not for my school. Not for an academic paper I’m going to write.

I need to do this so these guys and others like them can have better lives. I can feel the challenge standing in front of me with boxing gloves on. Let’s do this!

The challenge and inspiration continue through the morning as I swim beside these guys in the pool with and without their prosthetics on. Look at them go! Never once did I hear ANY of them complain. Really? I think to myself…I am exhausted…and this guy just did 50 meters with no legs.

If I did not have my regulator in my mouth, my jaw would be dropped. These guys are outstanding and we breeze through the trials we need to conduct with no quirks. The study at the pool concludes and BOOM! We have data that has never been gathered before!

I gather information on these guys as they dive in three different planes of view, their starting and finishing heart rates, blood pressure, swim techniques, their times, speed, and soon I will have their efficiency. All with and without their prosthetics. Although it takes three long hours and I am sunburned, I could not ask for a more smooth and productive day for my case study.

As I sit on the bench with an imaginary hand patting me on the back, I overhear discussions of a group of people going to dive the Vandenberg, a 522-foot World War II transport ship that was intentionally sunk off the coast of the Keys several years ago. It is a sought-out dive for many thrill-seeking divers all over the world.

Let me set this scene for you. I am again surrounded by men and women with years and years of not just diving but technical diving skills. They tower over the “recreational diver”. Most of them do not even know how many dives they have been on because they stopped counting.

Chris Corbin, a bilateral transtibial amputee and an Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class, gives his best guess of “somewhere between 900-1000”. And again, there is me — a monster of a diver with 4 total dives. None of which were in salt water. I know what you’re thinking and please just keep it to yourself. So, I am approached and asked if I would like to go. Feeling the same pump I felt earlier through my chest, I say, “Yes.”

We gather our equipment and head to the boats. Greg Miller, a dive instructor in Key West, starts our dive briefing and I begin feeling unprepared. I love diving and I love the water but I have never been to this depth. I have never dived in saltwater, and I have certainly never dived a shipwreck. The boats head out fast and the wind is loud which silences most conversation. All you are left with is yourself. The pondering and imagination steers in all directions.

Should I let Greg know that I am just going to stay on the boat?

We get to the site off Looe Key and you can envision the ship below you but the size and magnitude is only a guess. Above, the water looks just like it does anywhere else.

We get in the water and as we head over to the descent line, I think, “I have seen this on the Discovery Channel.”

Greg gives the go to head down and we form a single file line to grab the rope. Greg leads with Chris following, then myself followed by Will Wilson, a transtibial amputee and Navy Master Chief, and Roland Vaughn, an Army Ranger who suffered a traumatic brain injury. I am looking down this descent line with maybe 15 feet of visibility. It is almost as if it never ends. There is no ship to be seen and the rope just vanishes into the bluish green water.

As we continue down, I am constantly talking to myself and saying, “I can do this.” I try to concentrate on Chris and his prosthetic legs as he maneuvers down the line, studying what could be better or what could make this easier for him. The boat above is no longer visible.

And then there it was…the Vandenberg. I begin seeing the ship’s layout, the sheer size, and all the compartments. Wow, am I really doing this?

We began to penetrate into the ship, heading down an elevator shaft. Okay mark that off the list; I have now penetrated a shipwreck. We head through what looks like an office and then into a hallway that is darn near pitch black.

The entire time, my breathing is slow and controlled. At this moment, I have no worries in the world. I have no school loans, no credit card debt, no job, and no struggles at all. It is just me, the water, and this amazing ship. This is one of the coolest things I have ever done.

We ascend through the first deck up through a satellite dish and we sit there gazing at the ship’s beauty. We begin to pose for a picture with our CWVC banner as I saw Greg swimming fast toward Chris. Chris was holding his gauge, eyes huge. At 92 feet down, he has had an equipment malfunction. All his air is gone.

Greg acts as the dive master he is and begins to share air just as I had learned three weeks ago in my certification class. We begin our slow ascent knowing that Chris is okay and that everything is under control. I take advantage of the safety stops built into our dive plan to stare like a kid at the ship below me.

I feel I accomplished.

This was my first ocean dive, my fifth dive ever, and it’s the Vandenberg at 100 feet! I was challenged twice today and I was inspired more than I can count. I say it all the time but sometimes it means more than usual. It was a good day!

See photos from the trip on the college’s Facebook page.

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Fox 13 Tampa Bay aired a story about recent St. Petersburg College graduate Mirah Earle as part of its “What’s Right With Tampa Bay.”

Earle makes cards for sick children and sent 3,000 in the past year to everyone from elderly residents in nursing facilities to young cancer patients, according to the report. “Making a card for a child that’s in a hospital can just make the world a better place, and it doesn’t take a lot of money,” Earle said in the report.

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