Archive for the ‘alumni’ Category

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.

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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.

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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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From left: Tarpon Springs Campus Associate Provost Rod Davis, Summer of Success students, Nick Albini and Tarpon Springs Campus Provost Conferlete Carney

The fourth annual Summer of Success program held at the college’s Tarpon Springs Campus began its second week with SPC grad and Discovery Channel reality TV star Nick Albini.

Albini, who graduated from Tarpon Springs High School and later the University of Florida, spoke to recent high school grads on June 17 about life, networking, leadership and finding your way post-high school at SPC.

Some may recognize Albini from the Discovery Channel. He was one of the stars of the series “Out of the Wild: Venezuela,” when it premiered in 2011.

Albini began his career search at the Tarpon Springs Campus. He said he wasn’t a very good student until he made contact with an English professor who encouraged him, and it turned his thinking and life around. He went on to graduate from SPC and transferred to UF. He graduated in 2005 with a Criminal Justice degree and plans to become a lawyer. He joined the U.S. Army Rangers, serving two tours in Iraq. He now is a U.S. National Guard captain and in his third year of law school in St. Augustine.

Albini, whose roots are in the Tarpon Springs community, said he enjoyed the opportunity to return for the third summer to speak with the new Summer of Success students.

The event’s organizer said Albini is a great example of a local individual who can relate to the First Time in College students. He can give them advice, share a little of his experiences and encourage them to achieve their goals.

Summer of Success at Tarpon Springs

SPC is hosting Summer of Success students at the Tarpon Springs Campus for six weeks through July 19. There are 19 young adults, ages 17 to 19, who are recent high school graduates and the first-generation in their family attending college. The group represents 11 area high schools. Jackie Addis, Summer of Success administrator at the campus, oversees the curriculum, field trips and leadership activities.

For students who qualify, the college’s application fee is waived. They also receive free tuition for three college credits and free textbooks for college classes. Career exploration, along with weekly field trips, round out this exciting opportunity.

Upon successful completion of the summer program, students will be able to continue in the fall with an established SPC transcript and a GPA. This ensures students will have a smooth transition into the fall college routine with the assistance of an academic advisor.

This is the fourth time that north county students from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough have had this opportunity to learn about college firsthand in a way that will contribute to their future success.

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Jared Caya

Jared Caya

Jared Caya, a 2010 orthotics & prosthetics bachelor’s degree graduate, discovered his true calling at St. Petersburg College.

When trying to decide on a major, I needed to discover what was important to me. What would make me wake up excited to go to work every morning? What would make me feel fulfilled? St. Petersburg College allowed me to answer all of these questions and more!

The summer of 2000, before my freshman year of high school, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Luckily, the tangerine-sized tumor was non-malignant. After two surgeries and being in All Children’s Hospital for several weeks, I was sent home tumor free. Despite being told that I must be homeschooled for at least six months, I was able to start at a public high school (after only one month of recovery) right on schedule.

When transferring from Dunedin High School to SPC, my stomach was in knots! My nerves were quickly settled, as I was lucky enough to take part in a program called Summer of Success, run by Student Support Services. This summer semester program allowed me to start college with a 4.0, create lifelong friendships, learn great life lessons and become very familiar with campus life and course offerings — all within one summer. This provided me with a great jump-start into my college career.

Despite not being very active within my high school, SPC brought me to life! I was active in Student Government, High Achievers, Student Support Services program and have also been a voluntary note taker for the Office for Services for Students with Disabilities. These extracurricular activities allowed me to discover myself and make lifelong friendships. Student Government allowed me to travel to great places, meeting local politicians both in the community and at the state capitol. I was able to get over my fear of public speaking by participating in Toast Masters (free of charge), participating in team-building rope courses and even camping in Disney! The list of positive experiences is countless.

I mistakenly transferred to another college (for family reasons only) after spending a year at SPC. I immediately regretted the decision as this other college did not come even close to providing me with a sense of community or learning experience as compared to SPC. After only one semester, I quickly returned to SPC. My SPC family welcomed me back with open arms and I was able to pick up right where I left off.

I began working (as a student worker) at the information desk as well as the fitness center, allowing me to obtain stronger communication skills. I was honored to have received several scholarships and financial aid from SPC, allowing me to continue my education with minimal expense.

All of these experiences lead me to feel the need to help others and become involved in changing the course of an individual’s life. During the spring semester of 2008, I was able to finish the prerequisite for the J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics program. The beautiful Health Education Center provided me and 20 classmates with a brand new state-of-the-art orthotic & prosthetic lab and training facility.

The O&P program allowed us to have hands-on experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. While learning biomechanical effects of various orthotic and prosthetic devices on the human body, we were also experiencing the effect in real time, providing us with an in depth and well-rounded education. After graduating from the program with a B.A.S. in 2010, I quickly started and completed my one-year orthotic residency in Colorado Springs.

After sitting for and passing the American Board for Certification exams, I traveled to Massachusetts where I worked as a Certified Orthotist while completing my prosthetic residency. Moving to another part of the country allowed me to experience another part of the country and learn various techniques within the field. I am now back in Colorado where I work as a Certified Orthotist, manage the clinic and await upcoming prosthetic certification exams. Thanks to SPC, I have achieved more than I thought possible in a very short amount of time. The high tech laboratory at SPC allowed me to be on the cutting edge of functional electronic stimulation, CAD/CAM, and 3D scanning technologies all new and relevant to our field.

SPC not only provided me with a remarkable career and lifelong friends, it has given me a sense of who I am and what I am capable of. I will always be very thankful for what SPC has given me.

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Cropped headshot of Kaley Sweeney

Kaley Sweeney

Kaley Sweeney graduated from St. Petersburg College with her Associate in Arts degree in 2008 at age 16. Since then, she has traveled to 23 countries and made it her life’s goal to spotlight human rights abuses around the world.

Tell us about yourself.

I am 21-years-old and currently live in Boston, Massachusetts, working full time for the World Photography Organisation and attending Harvard University part-time for my master’s. I founded and preside over Empowered Voices, a Massachusetts-based NGO that works to employ Ugandan women.

Wanting to continue on my track of self-sufficiency as a homeschooled student and frustrated with the lack of real engagement or personalized coursework through local high schools, I enrolled in SPC’s Dual Enrollment program at age 13. I completed my high school requirements and Associate in Arts degree simultaneously in 2008 and had soaked up every bit of my experience through coursework, student government, student activities and Phi Theta Kappa.

In fall 2008, I transferred to Boston University, where I completed my bachelor’s in journalism with minors in international relations and history. There, I continued engaging with campus life through the College of Communication and its numerous student-run publications. During my time as a student, I also took up internships including videographer for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, producer of a Boston-based social affairs show, and contributor to a local magazine.

My last semester of college, spring 2011, I set sail on the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea. I traveled to 11 countries over three months, studying human rights and history. I returned to Boston following graduation and immediately began my graduate program studying international relations and human rights (with thanks to my travels) while saving to go abroad once again. Throughout the course of my graduate program, I met a friend whose ideal visions for world change align with my own, and together we traveled to Uganda to launch Empowered Voices.

Last May, I added another 13 countries to my list as I traveled with friends (can you tell I’m slightly obsessed with travel?) from China to the Netherlands, couchsurfing the majority of the way and writing every bit of it. In October 2012, back in Boston once again, I was hired on by the World Photography Organisation, where I currently oversee all online content and our recently launched photography magazine. This fall, I plan to move to London to continue working with my company and work more closely with our chief NGO funders, also located in the UK.

How has SPC helped you get where you are going?

The individuals I met at SPC helped sculpt my mind in a new way and prepare me for wonderful things ahead. In all honesty, the support I received at SPC far surpassed that I received at Boston University!

As I was previously homeschooled, SPC was my first experience in any classroom. I couldn’t have been more pleased with my time as a student there and am so grateful for the opportunities it afforded me. I gained a voice I did not realize I had and was exposed to fellow students from all different backgrounds and ways of thought.

What did your time at the college mean to you?

College for me was certainly focused on academics for me, as I admit I am an absolute book worm. I knew charging through my education at a young age could only benefit me in the future, and I was determined to reach my next step. As a student, there are so many opportunities available that would never be open in other environments. I saw no reason to let any of these slip away, so I looked at my time in college as a way to completely engage with and expose myself to as many challenging courses, ways of thought, and individuals as possible.

What are you doing nowadays?

I am working for the World Photography Organisation, overseeing online content, social media, and web communications. I wear very many hats but love what I do. My position gives me a wonderful voice to share individuals’ stories from around the world and champion their works. Our main program, the Sony World Photography Awards, honors photographers in all genres of photography, many of whom use the media as a way of sharing important and underrepresented messages. As I spotlight those behind the lens, I find myself indirectly sharing the messages that mean a great deal to me and empower others through sharing their talents with the world.

What is your five year goal?

I want to be an integral component of the media in spotlighting human rights abuses or development issues that often go unnoticed around the world.

Please tell me about Empowered Voices. How and why have you become involved with human rights activism?

We unofficially began the project in October 2011 following a course at Harvard in sustainable development. As the main class project asked that we target a specific community and look for solutions to development problems, we were able, through a network of friends and colleagues, to connect with the village of Kyakasengula, Uganda. Instead of stopping at the end of the semester, we traveled to Uganda for two weeks to engage with the community and together find the best ways to address gender inequality and promote economic independence. We now run a business with 83 women in the village and export a series of handicrafts to the US, UK and Norway. Our main goal is to help the women help themselves and eventually allow them to take the reins of the project themselves – something to which we are getting quite close! My greatest joy is helping others reach their maximum potential, and that is what I wish to see as the end goal of this project.

I’m often asked, “Why Uganda? Why not your own community?” I find in Uganda particularly, there is no safety net that we enjoy in the Western world. You have no money – there is no system in place that can save you. More particularly, as a woman, you have no voice alongside men. I feel indescribably grateful that I have been able to find my voice, pursue my passions and be truly uninhibited in my pursuits. I want to share with other people that greater opportunities are possible for them as well.

How have your experiences, both in college and in your travels, helped shape or change you into the woman you are today?

I think everyone should push themselves to be exposed to a variety of people, cultures and experiences. In putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, you learn so much about yourself and are able to challenge yourself to new heights. I think everything I have pushed myself to achieve in life – through education, career or travel – has contributed to this. Not everything has been a cake walk. I work very, very hard and diligently, but I find myself so much stronger as a result of the combined experiences.

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St. Petersburg College student Allison Curtis and alumna Katelyn Sovocool were recognized by the Florida Department of Education in its May edition of the Florida College System newsletter.


Allison Curtis

Curtis, who was selected as a Chancellor Student of the Month, is pursuing her associate in arts degree at SPC and hopes to work  in the psychology field.

In April, Sovocool was named the winner of the Jack R. Lamb ESE Rookie Teacher of the Year district award from the Suncoast 176 Chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC).

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Monique Statham, a St. Petersburg College alumna, has been featured in an ABC Action News story for her participation in the college’s Accelerated Entrepreneurship Certificate Program.

The eight-week course is a collaboration by SPC and Pinellas County SCORE that helps veterans and their families start and run a business.

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