Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” These sentiments align perfectly with St. Petersburg College’s mission, vision and values, so it’s no surprise that SPC celebrated King’s birthday with the community. SPC began the festivities with a food giveaway on Friday, January 14 and took part in St. Petersburg’s MLK Day Parade on Monday, January 18.

SPC partnered with Farmshare to host the food giveaway on the college’s St. Petersburg/Gibbs campus. More than 100 SPC students, faculty and staff members volunteered shoulder to shoulder, serving up boxes of food that included beef, chicken and fish, as well as produce, grains and bread to more than 500 local families in need.

“Often, it’s canned foods and produce, but there was a really great bag of goodies this time,” said Tara Newsom, Director of SPC’s Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement.

Newsom said that community service has become a part of the college’s culture, and the effects of that could be seen in the volunteers on site that day.

“We took time to do the Day of Service, but these are the things we do every day,” she said. “I saw SPC faculty, staff and students offering their time, along with our community partners and our alumni, who are everywhere from the free clinic to the mayor’s office to local business owners and more. It’s a powerful testament to what we’re trying to teach our students: to give back to the community.”

At the food drive, it wasn’t just the givers and the takers – Newsom said many people in need of a food donation also volunteered.

“It was so powerful to see people who needed support serving others,” Newsom said. That was probably one of our best MLK Days of Service, ever.”

On Monday, dozens of Titans showed up early on a chilly, windy morning to help decorate the float with garland and load it up with beads to pass to the crowds. SPC Recruiter Joven Jocelyn volunteered to DJ on the float.

“Joven not only played great music, but he also encouraged parade-goers to get their education and challenged them to register,” said Jason Nicholson, SPC Student Life and Leadership Coordinator. “It was a real highlight for everyone.”

SPC senior Charlotte Finnical took part in both the Day of Service as well as the parade. She believes SPC’s MLK Day activities were a worthy tribute.

“The college did a really good job celebrating Dr. King’s birthday,” she said. “The Day of Service really celebrated his emphasis on community connections, and on Monday, we just celebrated his life and impact along with the rest of the community. SPC is all about those connections.”

St. Petersburg College will host the seventh annual Titan Trot on Saturday, February 12. This 5K always promises plenty of fun and swag to participants.

The race, which is open to all community members, begins at the SPC Clearwater campus quad at 8 a.m., and the course runs to Cliff Stephens Park before returning to the Clearwater campus. SPC Science Professor Shannon Ulrich, one of the event organizers, says all fitness levels are invited.

“This race is for all ages, fitness types – we welcome everyone,” she said. “You can run, walk or do a combination of the two.”

Ulrich noted that the event has been thoughtfully planned with public health in mind.

“We’re not doing a lot of close interaction things this year, in order to make sure everyone stays healthy,” she said. “But we will have pre- and post-race snacks, and music and yard games set up on the quad.”

Anyone who can’t make it on race day is invited to sign up as a virtual runner, run and record their time, and receive a gift bag.

Entry fees for the race fund the Titan Trot 5K Finish Line Scholarship, which is specifically for students in the final year of their studies. So, participants can enjoy a fun, active day for the entire family and make a difference in the future of a student. Separate donations to the scholarship fund are also welcome and appreciated.

Entry fees are as follows:

  • $15 for current SPC students
  • $20 for SPC employees
  • $35 for the public
  • $45 for virtual runners

2022 Titan Trot sponsors include Bayside Urgent Care, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and The SPC Foundation, but any individual or organization interested in becoming a sponsor can contact Shannon Ulrich at Ulrich.Shannon@spcollege.edu .

Be sure to check out our hashtags on social media to keep up with the action leading up to the race: #SPC5K and #TitanTrot2022. Or, check out our Facebook event page for updates.

“Come out and get your health on and help us get our SPC students across their own finish line,” Ulrich said.

Register here for the 2022 Titan Trot!

Less than seven days in office, newly elected St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch shared first-hand his administrations’ equitable development priorities. More than 100 community members joined him virtually for the Economic Equity Policy Dialogue on Jan. 11, hosted by The Equity Institute of St Petersburg, the St. Pete NAACP, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, and USF St. Petersburg.

St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch

“Equity is fundamental to inclusive progress,” Welch said. “When you have that foundation as a start, it helps you to move in the right direction.”

From housing to economic development practitioners, SPC Provost of the Downtown and Midtown Centers Dr. Tashika Griffith joined an esteemed panel from diverse sectors including:

  • Dr. Cynthia Johnson, Economic Development Director, Pinellas County Economic Development 
  • Deborah Figgs-Sanders, City of St. Petersburg Council Member, District 5
  • Jason Mathis, CEO, The Downtown Partnership 
  • Jillian Bandes, Vice President, Bandes Construction & President, YIMBY St. Pete
  • Karl Nurse, former St. Pete City Councilman, District 6 
SPC Provost of the Downtown and Midtown Centers Dr. Tashika Griffith

Griffith shared SPC’s focus on equitable economic mobility through the opening of the Center for Economic Impact and Inclusion (CEII) at the SPC Downtown Center. During the event, she asked Welch how the city plans to collaborate with local, higher education leaders to expand the educational ecosystem and partner with CEII to address workforce development needs.

“Building that ecosystem is important,” Welch said. “A family of an elementary student can see the pathways available and connect to them. SPC does such a great job, not only in four-year access and beyond, but also the certificate programs. Making sure we connect our youth with the right track and the fundamental tools they need to change gears sometimes is important.”

Last year, SPC announced plans to open CEII as a training and learning space for understanding diversity and inclusion and the economic implications of these practices on the local community. The center will assemble businesses, community organizations and workforce members to build an inclusive community that drives economic development.

“The convening of economic equity practitioners was extremely significant to hear and potentially assist with informing the policies of Mayor Welch’s new administration,” Griffith said. “Being able to share CEII’s purpose and goals with Mayor Welch and residents of the City was invaluable as we continue to engage and build partnerships.”

CEII will serve as a think tank that addresses important economic inclusion, community-based issues, demonstrating SPC’s commitment to economic mobility for all its students. The center will provide invaluable services to local businesses and industries and connect students to real-world learning and networking opportunities.

The St. Petersburg/Pinellas Higher Education for Racial Equity (SPHERE) Consortium has been named a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (THRT) Campus Center by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).  The consortium will join a diverse network of more than 50 centers at colleges and universities across the country, marking a key milestone in AAC&U’s effort to establish at least 150 self-sustaining, community-integrated TRHT Campus Centers.

“We are thrilled to welcome these new host institutions into the growing network of TRHT Campus Centers across the country and to both recognize and support their groundbreaking work to promote racial equity and healing,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella.

The SPHERE Consortium includes:

  • St. Petersburg College
  • Eckerd College
  • Stetson University College of Law
  • University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus
  • Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

SPC Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Director Dr. Devona Pierre is excited to represent St. Petersburg and Pinellas County as a part of the TRHT team. 

SPC Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Director Dr. Devona Pierre

“Through SPHERE, I look forward to working with our partners in building an inclusive community that drives economic development,” Pierre said. “SPC has the overall goal of providing opportunities for our students to be prepared for high-wage, high-need careers and professional growth, which will contribute to their economic success and improve the quality of life within our community.”

“Today, as we recognize our progress toward reaching our partnership goals and as we thank the institutional leaders who have joined with us in the TRHT effort, we remain focused not on the numbers, but on the necessary work ahead with a community of educators and students who are dedicating their time and expertise to dismantle racism and racialized practices within our institutions and communities,” said Tia McNair, AAC&U Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Student Success and Executive Director for the TRHT Campus Centers.

TRHT Campus Centers play a vital role in the national TRHT effort to address historical and contemporary effects of racism and to promote transformational and sustainable change. With the shared goal of preparing the next generation of leaders and thinkers to break down racialized practices and to dismantle the false belief in a hierarchy of human value, each campus center uses the TRHT framework to implement its own visionary action plan to promote racial healing through campus-community engagement.

At the annual AAC&U Institute on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Centers, teams from institutions interested in hosting a TRHT Campus Center come together with teams from existing host institutions to identify evidence-based strategies that support their visions of what their communities will look, feel, and be like when the belief in a hierarchy of human value is no longer held. The AAC&U Institute is central to building the capacity of new and existing centers to further the vision of the national TRHT movement.

“TRHT Campus Centers provide evidence—and hope—that, working alongside community partners, colleges and universities can help transform the racial narrative and heal the wounds of racism’s legacies,” Pasquerella said.

Florida is facing a critical nursing shortage and St. Petersburg College and its partners are taking a solutions-based approach at fixing the problem. A spring 2021 survey by the Florida Hospital Association found that one out of four registered nurses and one out of three critical care nurses had left their jobs in the previous year. They also found a 25 percent turnover rate, the highest over the past several years, and a projected deficit of 59,100 nurses in Florida by 2035, with 37,400 of those being RNs, and 21,700 licensed practical nurses.

To look at ways to address a burgeoning nursing shortage in Florida, St. Petersburg College gathered more than 50 regional stakeholders in December. Leaders from area hospitals, nursing education institutions, nursing associations and government officials met to try to assess problems that are contributing to the decline in the number of Florida’s nurses, as well as to brainstorm ideas for addressing those problems.

The Collaborative Problem-Solving Event: Taking Action to Address the Critical Nursing Shortage in Tampa Bay, was hosted at SPC’s Collaborative Labs by St. Petersburg College, Pasco-Hernando State College, State College of Florida and Hillsborough Community College.

“A nursing shortage affects all of us. We recognize that it is imperative to the health and well-being of citizens throughout the state that we address the issue and come up with bold and sustainable solutions,” SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams said. “This meeting of the minds was a fantastic way to work directly with our partners to find ways to fill these crucial nursing positions in our community.”

Aggravating factors: an aging workforce, COVID-19 pandemic

This isn’t the first time that the nursing profession has faced a shortage, but certain factors are exacerbating the situation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for nurses in Florida is expected to grow by 21 percent, while at the same time, 40 percent of working nurses will approach retirement age in the next decade. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic created stressful working conditions that brought about an increased turnover rate. According to Cheryl Love, Chief Clinical and Patient Safety Officer, Florida Hospital Association, there is a definite problem, and it’s especially so in Florida.

“In the middle of 2021, we asked hospitals to report vacancies and turnover,” Love said. “Overall, there was an 11 percent RN vacancy rate in Florida over 12 months, which is higher than the national rate of 9.9 percent.”

 “We need to add more (nurses) than a couple thousand per year to mitigate the workforce shortage that is projected,” Love said.

Collaborative solutions needed

The group established priorities for employers and nursing education institutions. Employer issues included low salaries, which make it hard to recruit good hires; the need to hire and retain experienced nurses; and the desire to create a work environment that promotes job satisfaction and loyalty. Educational priorities include a faculty shortage due to low salaries and a need for recurring state funding to address that, as well as a lack of clinical site access.

The group broke out in teams to look at ways to address the priorities. Some of the top solutions were:

  • Increase and allocate recurring funding from the state for educational technology and to raise faculty salaries;
  • Be creative in scheduling outside the 12-hour scheduling model for nurses, which would free experienced nurses to teach;
  • Create dedicated partnerships for clinical experiences;
  • Re-imagine clinicals to explore alternative experiences and add clinical capacity;
  • Create a healthy work environment assessment;
  • Increase National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rates in Florida, which are over 17 percent lower than the national average; and
  • Cultivate student engagement and look at student evaluation methods to ensure that they are rigorous, fair and equitable

Higher education initiatives

Dr. Louisana Louis, Dean of SPC’s College of Nursing, says the college is already actively working on some of these ideas. A gift last year from the Hough Family Foundation to SPC’s nursing program is allocated to enhance the college’s simulation area, where students get hands-on training with high-tech manikins, mirroring situations they would see in a live clinical experience.

“The Hough donation gives a bit more leverage,” Louis said. “It allows us to add three simulation rooms, so we can better prepare our nurses with the challenges they’ll meet at clinical sites.”

Louis said another focus is getting more nurses out into the community.

“We are creating a special cohort in the summer for students who were not successful in their last semester to give them another opportunity to graduate early,” Louis said. “And we are working on implementing an evening and weekend program within the next year, which will produce more nurses.”

Louis said the collaborative session was a great way to get state representatives, key hospitals and agencies and higher education representatives in one room to discuss the top barriers and issues and come up with creative solutions.

“Before this session, everyone was having their solo discussions on how to address the nursing shortage,” she said. “This allowed us all to be in one room. It had not been done this way before, and that made all the difference.”

Congratulations to SPC Foundation board member Bill McCloud, who has been awarded the James L. Wattenbarger Award by the Florida College System Council of Presidents. This award is bestowed upon individuals, students, trustees, administrators, faculty, legislators or community partners who have demonstrated exceptional commitments to the Florida College System.

SPC Foundation Board member Bill McCloud

“My family and I are greatly honored to be selected for the prestigious Dr. James Wattenbarger Award,” McCloud said. “This award underscores the team effort of the outstanding leadership and work of the SPC Foundation Board.”

McCloud is the 22nd recipient of the award, named for its first recipient, late Dr. James Wattenbarger. Wattenbarger is credited as “the Father of the Community College System of Florida”; his doctoral dissertation at the University of Florida outlined a master plan that the state used in 1955 to create the modern community college system.

Jesse Turtle, SPC Foundation Executive Director and VP Institutional Advancement, praised McCloud as a dedicated servant leader to SPC and the community.  

“Bill gives of his time, talent and treasure,” Turtle said. “He has served on the Foundation Board of Directors for well over 10 years, serves on the Gibbs Jr. College Alumni Association and supports a scholarship for students in STEM. He is a prime example of how successful you can become after graduating from SPC and has been a wonderful advocate and ambassador of College.  Bill is an SPC Titan through and through!”

In the business world, he is co-owner, vice president and chief operating officer of McCloud Transportation, a national multimodal transportation consulting firm. In the military, he served 20 years and retired as Chief Warrant Officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. And in education, he serves on numerous boards – including his status as a member and former Chairman of the St. Petersburg College Foundation Board of Directors. In 2012, he was selected by the National Council for Resource Development as Community College Benefactor for St. Petersburg College. Other honors include being selected by the City of Tampa and the Police Athletic League as Citizen of the Year.

In addition to a Master’s degree in Management and Business Administration from Webster University in St. Louis, McCloud has a Mechanical Engineering Technology degree from SPC.

If ever there was a reason to celebrate, years of hard work and dedication spent earning a degree is a really good one!

St. Petersburg College celebrated its Summer and Fall 2021 graduates on Saturday, Dec. 11. The college held two “Grad Walk” ceremonies to ensure that the graduates’ hard work was recognized with pomp and circumstance. There was a lot of joy and pride – and also some sadness and loss. But overall, it was about rewarding grit and dedication.

The morning celebration was held at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. Each graduate was scheduled a time to walk, and as they crossed the stage to be congratulated by SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, their families could also join them for photos and cheers. At 3 p.m., North County grads celebrated in the same way at the Clearwater Campus.

One special degree was awarded posthumously at the Clearwater commencement ceremony. Ana Ponce De Leon, 36, an Army veteran and mother of two daughters, died from COVID-19 only seven weeks before completing her bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration. Her mother and her sister, Yesenia Chaparro Aleman, were present to accept her degree, alongside six of her classmates who were graduating, and her Program Director Jeff Kronschnabl.  

“Ana would probably wonder why we are all making such a big fuss,” Aleman said. “But she worked so hard, and when she decided to go back to school for this degree, she totally went for it.”

Here are some facts about SPC and its newest group of graduates:

  • Since 1928, SPC has awarded 189,394 degrees and certificates.
  • There were 1,918 graduates this semester.
  • There were 17 graduates over the age of 60, with the oldest being 76 years old. The youngest was 17.
  • SPC’s top two degrees and certificates by number of graduates were the Associate in Arts degree, with 829 grads, and our Nursing Associate in Science degree, with 195.

St. Petersburg College freshman Gabriel Paskevicius, an Associate in Arts student with his eye on a degree in business, was one of 20 students who won iPads for applying for the Now, Not Tomorrow Scholarship, which was funded by a grant from the Florida College Access Network.

The scholarship, offered ahead of the college’s Fall 2021 Term, provided a free class to eligible applicants – Florida residents who are First-Time-In-College students and 2020 or 2021 high school graduates who registered for two or more classes. More than 160 scholarships were awarded.

As one of the first 20 students to apply, Paskevicius also won an iPad that SPC gave away as an incentive to apply for the scholarship. Paskevicius said he was using a borrowed laptop for his classes before winning the iPad.

“It’s going to be a big help,” he said. “I’m using it to work on my classes and communicate with my teachers.”

SPC’s Director of Recruitment Services Jacob Wortock said the scholarship opportunity helped students facing financial hurdles to start college in Fall 2021. “It was an opportunity for students who may have had financial barriers due to COVID or other circumstances to get into college.”

Technology needs have been another struggle for students, especially those coming from low-income families, which is why the college decided to give away iPads, Wortock said. “In this new world that we are in, they want to take the online classes but they can’t. They’re stuck in both regards. They can’t get transportation to classes, but they also don’t have the technology to take the online classes. That’s why we chose those incentives because we noticed there were technology hurdles.”

The Florida College Access Network or FCAN partners with educators and organizations throughout the state to work to achieve the state’s SAIL to 60 Initiative: for at least 60% of Florida adults to hold degrees and workforce-relevant credentials by 2030. SAIL stands for “Strengthening Alignment between Industry and Learning.”

Also supporting the scholarship opportunity and iPad giveaway was LEAP Tampa Bay College Access Network. This network of over 50 community partners is committed to changing lives by connecting resident to education and training beyond high school. SPC is among the organization’s partners. This year, the organization received the 2021 Member of the Year Award of Excellence from the National College Attainment Network.

Rayonne Berry, a senior at Disston Academy, has always dreamed of being a Florida A&M University Rattler. She recently visited St. Petersburg College’s Gibbs Campus for a morning of FAMU swag, music and information, where she learned about the Ignite program, which allows students to start at SPC and transfer to FAMU after earning an Associate Degree.

“I’ve always wanted to go to FAMU since I was 10, she said. “And I like the Ignite program because I can stay close to home until I’m ready to transfer.”

The Ignite program offers degrees in Accounting, Biology, Criminal Justice, Journalism, Mechanical Engineering and Pre-Physical Therapy.

While at SPC, Ignite students are supported by dedicated advisors at both SPC and FAMU, getting support in a smaller setting at SPC that will ensure their success at university. The degree pathways are prescribed, so no time or money is wasted on any classes that won’t transfer. Students also save money, because tuition at SPC is about half that of a state university. Lakewood High School junior Makeiha Smith, who wants to be a journalist, said the savings were attractive, as well as the support offered at SPC.

“It’s about the funds,” Smith said. “I can save money those first two years, and be prepared to pay for FAMU, but at SPC, I’ll also be learning what I’ll need to be successful at FAMU.”

Lorisha Biddines, now a Senior Accountant at SPC, graduated from FAMU in 2001. She says the strong pride Rattlers feel is because they believe in their alma mater.

“We’re proud of our school, and we brag because it really is something magical,” Biddines said. “There are so many different types of people there, and everybody brings their culture to make one big family.”

SPC Mathematics Chair Joy Moore, FAMU class of ’94, agreed.

“We say FAMUly, and it truly is,” Moore said. “You feel it the moment you step foot on campus. Everybody comes from different places but share the same goal.”

The event began with a welcome from SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, the students heard from several FAMU dignitaries, including College President Dr. Larry Robinson. Then, students were treated to an incredible performance by the FAMU Connection, a group of students and staff who sing and dance, offering an energizing performance to outline FAMU’s virtues. Before being served lunch, students got information about FAMU, as well as about the Ignite program.

FAMU Connection

Robinson touted FAMU’s offerings, as well as the opportunities offered by the Ignite program.

“We take our motto, ‘Excellence with character,’ seriously,” he said. “We care about you – the world cannot afford for you not to be successful.”

Learn more about the Ignite program at St. Petersburg College here.

What’s the best price for any purchase? Free! Anyone who attends one of St. Petersburg College’s upcoming Titans Live Get It Done webinars could be eligible for one free class in the Spring term.

If you’re considering a degree but are put off by the hurdles, this week’s webinars will walk you through the entire process. This series of webinars, delivered via Zoom, offer answers to questions about applying and registration at SPC, as well as help with advising, scheduling, paying for college and much more.

“This is a great opportunity for people to learn about SPC and do that last push to get every last detail finished so you can start classes Spring term,” SPC’s director of Recruitment Services Jacob Wortock said.

By December 8, you can be enrolled and registered, with a financial plan in place. The November 30 event, which offers options for 10:30 a.m. or 6 p.m. attendance, will cover the application process. The December 1 event offers advising for selecting and registering for classes. December 2 walks you through the financial aid process and discusses payment options. December 7 has enrollment specialists on hand to go over the to-do checklist for getting your degree or certification underway.

“There are so many things to get done before you can even start classes, it can be overwhelming,” Wortock said. “Let us help you out. We can walk you through all the processes step-by-step.”

Other webinars this month include the Baccalaureate Showcase, which will offer information about SPC’s bachelor’s degrees, and Registration and Advising, which will help attendees tackle the registration process.

Everyone who registers and attends a webinar will be entered into a drawing. According to SPC Director of Student Affairs Christine Costello, two names will be drawn, and each will win one free Spring Term class.

“All you have to do is show up,” Costello said. You can learn about SPC, get your enrollment taken care of and potentially win a free class. It’s an all-around win.”

Check out the upcoming webinars and register for them here.