Exploratory LabA collaborative career development program known as the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp has been named Best Student Program of the Year by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF).

The program, designed to generate well-rounded, highly skilled IT workers for Tampa Bay employers, is a joint venture between TechData, Valpak, Agile Thought, St. Petersburg College, University of South Florida St. Petersburg and TBTF.

The partnership and boot camp arose from a 2012 information technology skills gap analysis conducted by Pat Gehant, Director of Workforce Initiative at TBTF. That study showed that Tampa Bay area technology companies are facing a critical shortage of qualified personnel to fill open jobs. The boot camp program is creating a pipeline of skilled employees to meet the needs of local businesses.

“The exploratory lab is a way for us to formalize and structure an overlay program to what the students are learning in school and expose students to all the different types of skills necessary in the technology industry,” said Angie Beltz, Vice President for Cisco Solutions Group at Tech Data. “The other piece is to really ensure there is a good connection between these students and businesses in the Tampa Bay area that will help keep the students here and working after they graduate.”

Among the 43 graduates from two sessions held this year, 78% of them seeking a job or internship were hired as interns or for new jobs by Tech Data, Agile Thought, Raymond James, Ernst & Young, local start-up Lets Share Value, and an international company in Thailand. Some students returned to existing jobs seeking promotions and others returned to school with a new purpose.

“The ability to strengthen our programs to better meet the needs of world-class employers is fundamental to our vision of success for our students,” said SPC President Bill Law. “The Exploratory Lab Boot Camp is a great example of creative partnerships that move education out of the classroom and into the real world.”

“Angie Beltz, Pat Gehant, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and St. Petersburg College have done an excellent job of leading the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp,” said James Connolly, director of the Workforce Institute at SPC. “By combining Industry needs with innovative educational strategies, we have been able to increase the preparedness of the student to enter the workforce.”

To be eligible for the free 70-hour program, participants must be enrolled at one of the partnering institutions: St. Petersburg College and St. Petersburg College Workforce Institute, USF, University of Tampa, Eckerd College or Stetson College of Law. Students do not have to be enrolled in an IT area of study to apply.

Work is under way to develop a sustainable business model that includes a collaboration between five to six companies to deliver the curriculum in May 2016. Tech Data also will assist in mentoring other companies to deliver the curriculum and plans to offer a third session of the boot camp in June 2016.

#WeAreSPCFor nearly 90 years, St. Petersburg College has offered educational opportunities that change lives and impact the Tampa Bay area. At SPC’s 129th commencement on Dec. 12, the college will mark the milestone of graduating its 150,000th student.

Students, alumni, community partners – help us celebrate this momentous occasion by participating in the college’s campaign to honor SPC alumni and graduates who have helped shape the college over the years.

Spread the word and share your own story today on social media by adding the hashtag #WeAreSPC to your posts and tweets on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Need inspiration?

Start by learning about some of our December graduates and notable alumni on the WeAreSPC landing page. View videos of our amazing graduates – and be prepared to be inspired. Become a part of our story by sharing yours.


Achieving the DreamThis week, St. Petersburg College officials co-hosted a webinar entitled When Legislation Changes the Game: The New Playbook for Responding to Remedial Need for fellow Achieving the Dream (ATD) institutions.

Part of the ATD’s Technology Solutions Webinar series, the 45-minute presentation featured Jesse Coraggio, SPC’s Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness & Academic Services; Joseph Leopold, SPC’s Director of Learning Resources and Christa Ehmann Powers, Vice President & Chief Academic Officer for Pearson’s online tutoring service Smarthinking.

During the webinar, Coraggio shared how leaders at SPC got ahead of the 2014 Florida law that overhauled developmental education and now exempts most younger students from taking college prep courses although they may need them. To promote student success, SPC devised a new approach to identifying students’ remedial needs, advising students on their options, and integrating campus-based support and online services, such as Smarthinking.

Students exempt from developmental education are placed in flexible placement tracks, which allows college advisors to recommend courses based on predictive models using mainly high school and/or military records.

“We wanted to build a system to give students as much information as possible and wanted to make sure everyone had a good idea of what this legislation was about, and how we were approaching it,” Coraggio said. “We were able to accomplish a lot in a very short period of time by making sure we were focused on helping our students as the legislation became enacted.”

In 2011, with help from a state grant, SPC began offering free modular courses or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), aimed at preparing students for college-level reading, writing and math courses. It then began focusing on integrating five high-impact practices that would become known as the College Experience, which has proven invaluable to student success. SPC employees monitor the results of these five measures each week in an effort to provide the best support to students.

So far, SPC students have increased their use of out-of-classroom support at Learning Centers by 47 percent and Smarthinking by 16 percent. SPC students who seek out-of-class support at least ten times in a semester have an 80 percent chance of completing the course with a “C” or better.

While most students receive tutoring services in person at SPC campuses, 10 percent use Smarthinking, which provides critical support for students who may not be on a campus.

“Providing students with adequate out-of-class supports is important for any college, but it’s especially critical in an environment where students have the ability to forego developmental education that they might truly need,” Leopold said. “It’s also important that these supports are available in delivery formats that work for students. Our Virtual Learning Commons offers a simple, streamlined way to connect students to out-of-class support they need and is available both on grounds and online.”

For Fall 2014, 70.5 percent of the students who took courses that college advisors recommended were successful compared to a success rate of 55 perecent among students who did not take the recommended courses.


Coraggio cautioned that it’s often difficult to “convince students they need to remain in remedial education despite all the information we provide them. At the end of the day we see the lower success rates and we just need to find a way to help these students be successful.”

For its ongoing work on student success, in 2012 SPC joined the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network. It is considered the nation’s most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for student success in higher education history. Currently more than 200 colleges from 36 states are among its members.

In September, Achieving the Dream named SPC a Leader College. This is a national designation awarded to community colleges that commit to improving student success and closing achievement gaps. SPC was the only college in Florida selected to receive the designation this year.

Check out the entire webinar

Clearwater Campus Celebrates 50 YearsThe St. Petersburg College Clearwater Campus celebrated its 50th birthday this week with two campus events. More than 100 former and current Clearwater Campus faculty, staff and community friends attended a VIP reception and presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The event had the feeling of a family reunion as old friends came together to reconnect and celebrate. The second event was held on the Clearwater Campus Quad the following day.

See pictures from both events on our Facebook Gallery.

Florida’s first woman provost

Vilma Zalupski

Former SPC Provost Vilma Zalupski

“It is a true honor to look around and see so many people that I worked with,” said Vilma Zalupski, the first woman provost in Florida, and the longest-serving provost of the Clearwater Campus (1979-1995). “This campus will always be home in my heart.”

She brought tears to the eyes of many of her old friends and colleagues as she spoke of how they hand-planted many of the trees that still stand on the campus today and watered them with little cans and coffee cups.

“As you walk across this campus you see her fingerprints everywhere,” said Susan Demers, Dean of SPC’s College of Policy, Ethics and Legal Studies who emceed the event.

SPC President Bill Law also had memories of Dr. Zalupski: “The thing I remember about you is your fierce commitment to students.”

City of Clearwater officials join in celebration

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos took the crowd back in time to 1965 when bread cost 30 cents, you had to have a dime in your pocket to make a phone call, the Dodgers won the World Series and Medicare became law.

“Things have changed but one thing that has not changed is the commitment of this institution to educate and to help its students become productive members of society and give them a chance to live their dreams,” said Cretekos.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne quoted a headline from the Clearwater Sun Archives: “Modest Now But Watch Us Grow.”

Clearwater Sun, May 9,1965

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne

The first semester of classes were held during the summer term of 1965. Currently, more than 9,500 students call the campus home. In addition to the growth in numbers of students, the campus facilities continue to expand. Plans are now underway to replace the current campus library with a new Community Library, a partnership between St. Petersburg College and the City of Clearwater.

“We are all excited about the joint-use library project,” said Horne. “I hope you feel that you left a legacy that will continue to move this community forward.”

A walk down memory lane

Dr. Joy Moore, a Clearwater Campus math professor, along with three members of the Badeya Club (Bianca Cage, Keiasha Fisher and Ariel Davis) provided a glimpse back in time with an impressive Motown Medley complete with costumes and choreography.

“All that and she teaches math too,” said Clearwater Campus Provost Stan Vittetoe. Vittetoe presented an overview of the growth of the campus, key programs and contributions of faculty, staff and community members. He also noted that Clearwater Campus was the home of two students honored among the top 20 scholars in the nation: Spenser Reed and Alistair Glover.

“You never know where your students are going to land and the impact you are going to have,” said Dr. Patricia Rowell, a Clearwater Campus provost from 2001-2003. “This campus not only had the top echelon of faculty, but we also had a lot of fun.”

Working at Clearwater Campus

Some students loved the Clearwater Campus so much they came back to work there later. Kathleen Griffin, a Clearwater Campus student, later served as Clearwater Campus Associate Provost.

“I love this campus,” said Griffin. “I started here and retired here.”

50 years of Clearwater Campus Associate Provosts: Matt Bowen, Dr.Kathleen Griffin, Jeffrey Davis and Dr. Dave Walthall.

50 years of Clearwater Campus Associate Provosts: Matt Bowen, Dr. Kathleen Griffin, Jeffrey Davis and Dr. Dave Walthall.

Jeff Cesta

Jeff Cesta

Jeff Cesta, Director of SPC’s Dual Enrollment, Early College and Early Admissions programs, graduated from SPJC Clearwater Campus in 1986.

“I was fortunate enough to return to the Physical Education & Athletic departments on the Clearwater Campus as part of my student teaching/internship for the University of Florida in 1988, and began working at the Clearwater Campus in the fall of 1989,” said Cesta. “It’s truly been a wonderful opportunity to work here at SPC Clearwater!”

The Merriam family has had someone working at Clearwater Campus consecutively since the campus opened in 1965.

Pictured from left are Fred Merriam, Rod Keskiner and Lynne Merriam.

Pictured from left are Fred Merriam, Rod Keskiner and Lynne Merriam.

Students attend campus birthday party

Faculty, staff and students came out in force on Wednesday, Nov. 18 to celebrate in the Clearwater Campus Quad. Students enjoyed pot pie, a dish dating back to 1965, birthday cake, key lime pie and ice cream.

Dr. Greg Byrd, Communications Professor on the Clearwater Campus and award-winning poet read a poem he wrote for the event entitled I am SPC-Clearwater.

See pictures from both events on our Facebook Gallery.

Courtney Ducharme

Courtney Ducharme

Two St. Petersburg College students from the Tarpon Springs Campus were selected as 2015 Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholars. They were chosen for outstanding academic achievement and leadership potential from more than 1,100 Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society applicants worldwide. The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation sponsors the program, providing more than 200 students with the $1,000 scholarship.

Phi Theta Kappa is an international honor society for two-year colleges. Members must demonstrate honor and service to others and maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Courtney Ducharme is an A.A. student on the Tarpon Springs Campus, is the Vice President of Fellowship for the campus PTK chapter. She plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at SPC.

Gabriele Prause

Gabriele Prause

Gabriele Prause is a dual enrollment A.A. student on Tarpon Springs Campus and a member of the Alpha Zeta Tau chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

The funds provided by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation not only aid college completion, but provide students with the opportunity to engage in society programs and develop leadership skills to become future leaders in their communities,” said Dr. Nancy Rieves, CEO of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. “Research shows that Phi Theta Kappa members are four times more likely to complete a college degree than their peers. The Leaders of Promise Scholarships recognize students for what they have achieved already and assure that financial need isn’t an obstacle to achieving their academic goals.”

Phi Theta Kappa is the largest honor society in higher education with 1,285 chapters on college campuses worldwide. More than 3 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918.

St. Petersburg College is one of 17 colleges nationwide to be honored by University Business magazine in its Winter 2015 Models of Excellence recognition program. Sponsored by Higher One, a leading provider of financial services to U.S. colleges, the Models of Excellence program recognizes innovative approaches to encouraging and nurturing student success on campus.

“St. Petersburg College’s use of real-time data, through its College Experience initiative, to boost student achievement is very impressive,” said University Business senior editor Tim Goral. “Including the entire college community in these efforts to help students succeed has clearly made a positive impact.”

Tonjua Williams

Tonjua Williams

St. Petersburg College initiated the College Experience in 2012 as a way to increase the percentage of students who successfully complete core, or gateway, courses. A review of the college’s records at that time revealed that only two-thirds of the student body was earning a grade or C or better in those courses; the remaining third received a D or F. Among African-American and Latino males, the percentage was even lower, said Tonjua Williams, senior vice president for student services at St. Petersburg College.

Committed to improving student success, St. Petersburg identified five key areas known to impact success rates and incorporated them into the College Experience:

  • Out-of-class academic support
  • Integrated career and academic advising
  • Early alerts to assist struggling students
  • A custom learning plan
  • New student orientation called “Smart Start.”

Once the College Experience launched, campus leaders, advising and learning resources staff, faculty, and academic leaders began tracking student movement and actions like career decisions, class attendance, levels of engagement, tutoring sessions, meetings with faculty, and other appointments. Using the college’s Pulse Business Intelligence system, officials and employees analyze and report on the data each week to review student performance and strategize how to take action where needed. These measures provide early observation of how students are progressing and allow college personnel to intervene early on, and make adjustments in student success efforts.

“We regroup each week to review leading measures in all five initiatives,” Williams said. “Sharing the data each week allows staff to work together to connect the dots for student success.”

In the first two years of the program, overall success rates rose more than 5 percent, Williams said.

SPC President William Law

SPC President William Law

“Our College Experience initiative at St. Petersburg College continues to garner notice nationally, and I am exceptionally proud of the hard work our staff has invested to help students succeed,” said SPC President Bill Law. “This honor builds on the work we’ve done to implement meaningful support systems to help students successfully earn degrees and certifications more quickly so they can find gainful employment and boost their earnings. We know these systematic steps change students’ lives and benefit our community in countless ways.”

“These honorees demonstrate insight into their student populations, as well as the ability to innovate in creative ways,” said Andrew Crawford, senior vice president of campus services & operations at Higher One. “We are pleased to recognize their efforts alongside University Business.”

Launched in 2015, Models of Excellence is a national recognition program honoring colleges and universities that have implemented innovative, effective and inter-departmental initiatives that are bolstering student success. The program is sponsored by Higher One, which provides financial aid refund services to SPC students.

Clearwater 50th AnniversarySt. Petersburg College will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clearwater Campus from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. Located at 2465 Drew St., the campus is home to the Crossroads Gallery, the Titans Baseball team and the Collaborative Center for Emerging Technologies, the Tampa Bay area’s first open manufacturing factory work environment to train tomorrow’s engineering technology and manufacturing employees.

The event, which is open to the public, will feature:

  • Student and faculty speakers
  • Poetry reading
  • Displays
  • Light refreshments

For more information, call Kelvin Weston at (727) 791-2474.


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