Archive for the ‘graduates’ Category

St. Petersburg College’s health graduates are currently at the center of a storm that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care workers today face longer hours, heartbreaking shifts and potential illness – in addition to the normal rigors of their jobs. Eric Carver, Acting Provost at St. Petersburg College’s Health Education Center, said that, despite the challenges presented to them by COVID-19, SPC’s graduates are serving in many crucial clinical and paraprofessional roles.

“Our Titan health graduates are exemplifying what it means to remain resilient and compassionate during our community’s time of need,” Carver said. “We are so proud of their accomplishments and continued engagement in the fight against COVID-19.”

Carver noted that SPC faculty, staff and campus leaders remain committed to supporting students and graduates, no matter the challenges presented.

“We have more graduates on the way to fill vacant positions within our community health systems,” Carver said. “We will remain Titan strong in our commitment to our students and community throughout COVID-19 and well beyond.”  

Below are just a few of the stories of our graduates who are dedicated to bringing the Titan spirit into their workplaces to ensure the very best patient care.

Andrew Portale with daughter in front of fire engine

Andrew Portale Paramedic/Firefighter

Andrew Portale is a St. Petersburg College triple threat: He attended the Fire Academy, EMT school, and earned a paramedic certification. Currently employed by the Safety Harbor Fire Department in Pinellas County, he works as a firefighter and paramedic. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best in health care workers, which can be seen throughout the ranks.

“People are selflessly coming together to serve a common mission and taking care of their own along the way,” he said.

The importance of mitigating the risk of contamination among the ranks has increased, and he and his co-workers have dedicated themselves to that cause.

“We’re no longer operationally effective if all of our firefighters are on quarantine,” he said.

Portale said he learned in his studies to be ready for anything, which has been a bonus in this unexpected time.

“We learned an important lesson about being flexible,” Portale said. “While our paramedic class dealt with adversity early in the outbreak, (SPC Emergency Medical Services faculty) Dr. Cedric Harrington and his team reminded us that being flexible and having a contingency plan will set us up for a more favorable outcome throughout our career.” 

Portale said that, despite the challenges, he has no regrets regarding his career choice.

“I believe in being a good steward and leaving this planet a better place than how I found it,” he said. “My hope is to make a difference when others need help the most.”

Linette Brodowski – Registered Nurse

Since March 2020, Linette Brodowski has been working on a COVID unit at a Clearwater hospital. She began her studies at SPC directly out of high school, first earning an associate degree in nursing, then a bachelor’s degree in nursing, graduating in 2015. She says she has used what she learned at SPC to advance in her career.

“I have used my knowledge and experience to move up very quickly in my hospital,” Brodowski said. “I currently work as charge nurse on my floor, overseeing all aspects of care.”

Brodowski says COVID has been a testament to the capabilities of health care workers.

“I have seen patients leave and go home to their families, and I have seen people who do not survive this terrible virus, and it tears families apart,” she said. “It has been taxing on every single one of the amazing nurses I work alongside, as well as the great physicians, respiratory therapists and patient care technicians who endure the same struggle.”

She hopes her hard work will make a difference.

“I hope to make my family and friends proud as we go down in history for what we are accomplishing,” she said.

Danielle Kurutz Respiratory Therapist

Kurutz said she chose health care as a career path because she has always been fascinated with the human body and its workings. After graduating from SPC’s Respiratory Care program, she is employed as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

Having come into the respiratory therapy field shortly before the pandemic, Kurutz said it has made a tremendous impact on her career.

“Since this virus is a respiratory-related virus with an increasing demand in oxygen needs, it has propelled RRTs into the spotlight and put us in high demand,” she said. “Now is the time to be in this field and seek further advancement of respiratory therapy, as a whole.” 

Between lab simulations and real-life clinical experience of cardiac arrests, emergent intubations, critical thinking and troubleshooting, Kurutz said she felt prepared in her studies for the high-pressure work situations she has encountered.

“Nobody has seen or experienced anything like this, and it has humbled many and evened the playing field for those who are veterans to the field and those who are new,” she said. “Newer graduates are fresh and have the book knowledge that many veterans have forgotten about. Together, with their experience and the knowledge we gained at SPC, we have been able to unite in this difficult time.”

Kurutz, who is currently in SPC’s bachelor’s program in Health Services Administration with a subplan in Respiratory Care, said that, despite the challenges, she is very fulfilled by her work.

“I gain immense satisfaction from connecting with and helping my patients,” she said.  

 Monica Nicolas – Registered Nurse

At a young age, Monica Nicolas was surrounded by people who worked in the health care field. She always looked up to them and knew she wanted to do the same thing one day. When, years later, her mother fell ill with cancer, she was grateful to have chosen that path.

“It allowed me the knowledge to care for my mother when she was diagnosed,” Nicolas said.

Amid a full time job, starting a small business and caring for her mother, Nicolas graduated in 2020 from SPC’s BSN program. She is now working as a Registered Nurse in a cardiovascular intensive care unit. She says COVID has added new layers of stress to an already high-pressure job.

“As a frontline health care professional, I risk everything to care for patients,” she said. “I have been a nurse for 11 years, and I have never seen so many deaths and codes. There are times where I am physically and mentally exhausted from working long shifts, and every day when I go to work, I risk my own health and safety to care for others. I also fear that I will get the virus and pass it to my loved ones.” 

The pandemic has also sparked innovation, and Nicolas started her own business, Heart Buddies, LLC., where she teaches basic life support (BLS).

“While working during the pandemic as a health care professional, it has pushed me to help more people,” she said. “It’s my dream that everyone gets certified in BLS, which can save lives. I care for so many post-code patients. Most of the patients go into cardiac arrest in the home, and the ones who received CPR immediately are the ones who have better outcomes.”

Glenn LaPlanteParamedic/Firefighter

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Glenn LaPlante first began taking classes at St. Petersburg Junior College in 1988. After a few career detours, he found himself back at SPC, finishing emergency medical technician paramedic certifications in November 2020. Not long after beginning his job, things took a wild turn as a global pandemic changed life and work for everyone.

“We had entire chapters and discussions on infectious diseases, but we weren’t truly expecting this to happen,” LaPlante said. “There was an awareness, but you never really think you’d need to use all that information.”

LaPlante, who recently accepted a position as a firefighter with St. Pete Beach, says COVID-19 has affected his job as a paramedic in many ways, from how calls are approached to hours worked to interaction with co-workers.

“COVID calls have increased call volume and hospital capacities, to the point where we sometimes have to go to other cities to find a rehab center or COVID facility with a bed. We’ve taken patients all over Florida.”

LaPlante says he works anywhere between 40 to 60 hours per week and wears a mask almost the entire time.

“The changed protocols mean that we have to stay masked, not just when we’re with patients, but also when we’re with co-workers. In a vehicle, in common areas, everyone must be masked. It adds up for a 12- to 15-hour shift.”

LaPlante says that the mask forces him to find new ways to find new ways to earn a patient’s trust.

“That comforting smile you’re giving them isn’t there any more,” he said. “I try and do it through a sense of humor. I make little jokes with my partner and the patient. Having some fun with the job and each other is very therapeutic for everyone.”

JD TrentRegistered Nurse

All through high school, JD Trent worked as a lifeguard. He loved the adrenaline rush of saving a life, so a career in nursing was an easy decision for him. He earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing from SPC, and is now a Clinical Coordinator in the intensive care unit at Palms of Pasadena Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Ten years into his career now, Trent says the pandemic has him working 60 hours a week – at double speed. With families not allowed in, he has to balance his time between talking to families on the phone and caring for patients. 

“Every day you get to work and it’s run, run, run,” he said. “Lately, it has been work harder not smarter, instead of the other way around.”

Trent, who is now looking for a master’s program in nursing, said the rigor he experienced in his studies, along with the personal attention he got from his instructors at SPC, prepared him for anything his career in health care might throw at him.

“I love that the classes at SPC are smaller, and I wasn’t just a number. I was taught to have confidence and trust in my abilities. They empowered me to be a better nurse and be an advocate for my patients.”

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Earning a degree or certificate, especially for many St. Petersburg College students who have families and jobs, is never easy. But the college’s Fall 2020 graduating class came to the finish line under the extra stressor of a global pandemic. This forced them to face many additional challenges, including new modes of instruction, layoffs, illness and, for some, loss. But the grads persevered and earned the degrees and certificates that they had worked so hard to get.

Watch the ceremony at spcgraduation.com

With the health risks posed by COVID-19, SPC had to get creative in their effort to honor these graduates and keep everyone safe. So, the college marked a milestone with its first virtual commencement ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 12.

The prerecorded SPC graduation ceremony premiered on YouTube at 11:45 a.m. with images of graduates appearing on screen along with their names and degrees earned. There was also a chat box where family and friends, along with SPC faculty and staff, could post messages.

Virtually the Same

As with past commencements, SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams opened the noon ceremony with remarks of support and congratulations.

“Despite the challenges our students faced this year, they rose above it all and kept their eyes on the prize,” Williams said. “I am so incredibly proud of the grit and determination they’ve shown to get to this very special milestone.”

SPC student Kyleigh Long sang the National Anthem, and students Andrew Davis and Alyssa Kovatch conducted the Pledge of Allegiance, both in voice and in American Sign Language.

Student speaker Than Nguyen addresses his graduating class.

Nursing graduate Thanh Nguyen addressed his graduating class.

“We have accomplished a major milestone in our lives,” Nguyen said. “2020 has been a most difficult year for all of us, but we’re grateful to be here to celebrate this moment.”

Nguyen, who came to SPC five years ago to learn English, commended the college for the support he received on the path to his degree.

“Thank you, SPC, for giving me the opportunity to make my dream come true. You set high standards but provided tremendous support throughout my journey,” he said.

In her speech, Michelle Rutkowski, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Organizational Leadership, thanked programs like SPC’s Women on the Way for supporting her as a student also raising a child single handed.

“I was a single parent, working full time and finishing my degree,” Rutkowski said. “I also faced financial hardship and tragic personal experiences. But SPC is like a second family and offers many services for students.”

By the Numbers

After the remarks, SPC awarded 2,026 degrees and certificates for the Fall 2020 Term, including:

  • 876 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 410 Associate in Science degrees
  • 357 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 273 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 110 certifications  

Each graduate’s name was called, as a slide appeared on screen with their names, degree, and a personal message written by the honoree. With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 182,174 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927. The graduate’s ages ranged from 17 to 75 years old, with 102 being aged 50 or older.

In her closing remarks, Rutkowski summed up the value of her degree in business terms.

“In Business, we discuss ROI – return on investment. We have made the greatest investment in ourselves. The return is immeasurable.”

Friends and family can watch the ceremony on demand at spcgraduation.com.

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St. Petersburg College will hold its 141st commencement ceremony virtually at 11:45 a.m. EST on Saturday, Dec. 12. The ceremony will include remarks from SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams and student speakers, followed by the formal conferring of degrees and credentials.

“Despite the challenges our students faced this year, they rose above it all and kept their eyes on the prize,” said SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams. “I am so incredibly proud of the grit and determination they’ve shown to get to this very special milestone. While we may not be physically together on Dec. 12, we will still celebrate the accomplishments of our Fall Class of 2020.”

Friends and family can watch the ceremony:

  • Online at spcgraduation.com via YouTube starting at 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 12
  • Locally on Channel 636 with a Spectrum cable TV box or on WOW! TV Channel 19
  • After the event on demand at spcgraduation.com

SPC will award 2,026 degrees and certificates for the Fall 2020 term, including:

  • 876 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 410 Associate in Science degrees
  • 357 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 273 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 110 certifications  

The college’s youngest graduate is 17 years old, the oldest is 75 years old and 21 graduates are over the age of 60. With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 182,174 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

To learn more about the virtual ceremony, visit spcgraduation.com.

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A global pandemic couldn’t stop St. Petersburg College from celebrating its recent Spring and Summer graduates, a fact that the newest class of Titan alumni was incredibly grateful for.

A young woman in blue graduation regalia stands on stage next to Dr. Williams and Dr. Conner for a picture. They are all wearing face masks.

While SPC would normally host a full in-person commencement ceremony at the end of the Spring Term for graduates, a modified celebration was planned to keep everyone safe and healthy. The college organized two individual celebrations for recent degree recipients on Saturday, Oct. 10, one in the morning at the Clearwater Campus followed by one in the afternoon at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. The events allowed graduates the opportunity to cross the stage, pose for a picture with college leadership, and celebrate their accomplishments with loved ones outside.

A young man in blue graduation regalia and a surgical face mask snaps a selfie with Dr. Williams outside the Gibbs Campus Music center.

“Saturday was amazing and meant a great deal to our students,” said SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams.

Graduates were limited to four guests each and had to register for time slots ahead of the Saturday festivities. All participants were also required to wear face masks and encouraged to maintain social distancing whenever possible.

Despite the face mask requirement, the joy on the faces of guests was very obvious with many happy tears being shed by proud parents, siblings, children, and partners. Some graduates even took the opportunity to accessorize their masks to match their decorated caps, turning an otherwise somber symbol into one of celebration.

A young woman in blue graduation regalia with a red face mask and a red flower in her hair flashes the peace sign while taking a picture on stage with Dr. Williams.

More than 200 graduates were able to attend the Saturday celebrations with many expressing their happiness over SPC finding an innovative way to recognize this important milestone in their life.

“I’ve received emails of gratitude from students because many who attended were the first in their family to earn a college degree. Walking across the stage was very meaningful to them and their families,” said Dr. Williams.

The college is already preparing for the Fall 2020 Commencement Ceremony, which will be entirely virtual and feature video speeches from college leadership as well as the traditional calling of graduate names. Graduating students who want to be recognized and have their name announced during the ceremony must register online by Friday, November 6.

For more details on Fall 2020 graduation, please visit spcollege.edu/graduation.

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The St. Petersburg College Alumni Association has named and would like to congratulate the college’s 2020 Apollo and Alumni Achievement award recipients.

Garrick Roe was selected as the Apollo Award winner, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve. Erika Ostos Perez received the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve.

2020 Apollo Award Recipient

Headshot of Garrick Roe, SPC's 2020 Apollo Award recipient

Garrick Roe

In 2017, Roe received the SPC Student Life and Leadership Award in recognition of founding the SPC Permaculture Club. With collaboration and support from the Gibbs Campus Student Government Association, the Permaculture Club had an amazing year hosting events such as membership drives and middle school class garden tours.

He is an active volunteer within his community. From 2015 – 2018, he served as campus representative, president, and events coordinator for the Honors Program Student Consortium.

Roe plans on pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration at St. Petersburg College and maintaining the Gibbs Campus Food Forest.

“Graduating Summa Cum Laude and earning the distinction of the 2020 Apollo Award would be a testament to future late academic bloomers: that, even though we started later in life, it is never too late to grow, learn and reach one’s potential as students and leaders.”

2020 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient

Headshot of Erika Ostos Perez, SPC's 2020 Alumni Achievement Award recipient

Erika Ostos Perez

Ostos entered the college as an SPC Presidential Scholar. The two-year scholarship allowed her to focus completely on her studies, where she excelled.

She is no stranger to volunteerism. She volunteers in the activities/life enrichment department of Brookdale Senior Living where she assists in the delivery of wellness and recreation programs to meet the specific needs of residents of the assisted living facility (ALF) and of patients in the skilled nursing facility (SNF). In addition, she is a Weekday Warrior for Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer science tutor/mentor at her local church and volunteers at Moccasin Lake Nature Park through the Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society.

She plans to achieve a career in medicine and will be applying for admission to medical schools in Florida, preferably in the fall of 2021.

“I want to learn all the skills necessary to become an excellent doctor, both intellectually and through outstanding bedside manner.”

She aspires to complete her residency and fellowship programs. Her interests are in General Surgery, Urology and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“I am the living proof of the effort St. Petersburg College puts into helping its students succeed. SPC has taught me skills well beyond the books by allowing me to have access to an environment that constantly encouraged me to become a better student, classmate and person. I have maximized all of the resources and opportunities my college had to offer me and used them to become not only academically knowledgeable, but also socially responsible.”


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St. Petersburg College will award more than 2,100 degrees and certificates to its spring graduates, who successfully completed their academic journey this month while also facing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak during their final term.

SPC President Tonjua Williams offered her congratulations and shared her pride in the achievements of the college’s latest Titan graduates.

“They have faced challenges and overcome obstacles unlike any other graduating class in the history of St. Petersburg College,” Williams said. “Titans exemplify strength. And their perseverance, ingenuity and creativity proves their excellence. Their hard work and dedication inspires us all.”

SPC will award 2,162 degrees and certificates to Spring 2020 Term graduates, including:

  • 975 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 463 Associate in Science degrees
  • 255 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 238 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 230 Certifications

This term, the college’s youngest graduate is 17 years old, the oldest is 75 years old, and 15 graduates are over the age of 60. With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 180,843 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

The St. Petersburg College Alumni Association also named and congratulated the college’s 2020 Apollo and Alumni Achievement award winners. Garrick Roe was selected as the Apollo Award winner, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve. Erika Ostos Perez received the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve.

The college announced earlier this year that it was postponing its May graduation ceremony due to concerns about COVID-19. Currently, SPC is reviewing the possibility of holding commencement for this graduating class at a later date, which has yet to be determined.

Right now, SPC is celebrating with graduates online. The college has created a personalized webpage for them at spc.edu/celebration. They can find their name and the degree or certificate they’ve earned, a special video message from SPC’s president, and some interesting facts about their graduating class, plus social media tools so they can share their success.

Earlier this month, college administration, instructors, graduates, their families and even some cats and dogs all logged on to celebrate SPC’s 153 nursing graduates. Due to social gathering restrictions during the pandemic, they became the first class in the 64 years of the program to graduate via Zoom conference.

The college’s Veterinary Technology program also celebrated their 39 graduates virtually.

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State and local legislators shared stories about their successes and struggles with St. Petersburg College’s graduates at the Indian Rocks Baptist Church on Saturday, Dec. 14.

More than 1,800 students graduated this semester with:

  • 868 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 396 Associate in Science degrees
  • 263 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 245 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 228 Certifications

Photo of SPC graduate at Fall 2019 Commencement

The college held three ceremonies, divided up by program, during the day.

The 9 a.m. ceremony was for graduates in the Health Sciences and Veterinary Technology and Public Safety, Public Policy and Legal Studies programs, also known as Career and Academic communities. After a welcome from SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams, the guest speaker was State Rep. Chris Latvala, who reminded the graduates that they are in good company with notable SPC grads, including Douglas Jamerson who was the first African American to be elected to the Florida Legislature, astronaut Nicole Stott and U.S. House of Representatives member Gus Bilirakis. He also urged them to keep learning and be active in their community.

“Let me be the first of many to say to you today that I am proud of you,” he said. “Enjoy this day, but don’t stop here. Continue to set goals. Consider how you can use your education and knowledge to make an impact in your community.”

Next, Ashley Corral-Harrel addressed her fellow graduates. Corral-Harrel, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing completely online, thanked her family, friends and the nursing faculty and staff before speaking about the hurdles she faced in order to earn her diploma.

“Social media tells a story everyone wants you to see, but there are unfiltered realities. I know it wasn’t always Instagramworthy – I had to give up family time and sleep to write a perfect APA style paper by 11:59:59 p.m.,” she said to a commiserative audience. “I’m not a textbook example of how life is supposed to happen,” she said. “Life gets rough, but you have to make a choice between what you want now and what you want for your family later.”

The noon ceremony celebrated Technology, Education and Business students, with Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters addressing the crowd. Peters, who earned her associate degree from SPC, was the first in her family to graduate from college.

“When I walked down this aisle,” she recalled, “I was so proud. I’m in awe of all of you, and I applaud you for your hard work. It’s a really big deal.”

Peters encouraged them to never stop learning.

“You’re graduating, but your journey of education is just beginning,” she said. “As things evolve, you’ll have to adapt to stay viable in your field. I challenge you to think about what you’re going to learn tomorrow.”

Photo of graduate at SPC Fall 2019 commencementSylvia Cardenas, who earned her Associate in Arts in Marketing, addressed her fellow graduates, recalling her story of moving to the United States and starting high school without knowing any English.

“I didn’t give up,” she said. “I practiced every day.”

Cardenas graduated from high school and entered the Summer of Success program at SPC.

“The Summer of Success program faculty were willing to help new students, and I was supported and guided and put on the right track,” she said. “SPC has become like a second home. It’s a place to grow and develop qualities I didn’t even know I had. SPC wants students to succeed. That makes all the difference.”

The final ceremony at 3 p.m. honored students graduating from Arts, Humanities and Design; Communications; Science and Mathematics; Engineering, Manufacturing, and Building Arts; Social and Behavioral Sciences and Human Services; and general Associate in Arts programs.

State Senator Darryl Rouson spoke to the graduates of overcoming homelessness and his personal achievements, then wished then success in their own lives.

“Remember, the only person you are destined to become is the person you desire to be,” he said. “It is my dream today that each of you find your passion and walk in your destiny.”

SPC vocal students Scott Bender, Noah Rosenberg and Priscilla McLain, along with accompanist Joshua Cessna, performed music for the ceremony.

Williams closed out each ceremony with congratulations and an invitation to stay connected to SPC.

“As graduates, you are alumni of the greatest college in Florida,” she said. I encourage you to join our Alumni Association and stay in touch.”

In her speech, Cardenas advised her fellow classmates to dream big.

“Keep dreaming and never forget that anything is possible,” she advised. “Imagination is imperative for success.”

Some fun facts about our graduates:

  • The college’s youngest graduate is 17 years old; the oldest is 71 years old
  • With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 178,680 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.
  • 112 graduates are over 50 years old

Photo of graduate, family and President Tonjua Williams at SPC Fall 2019 graduation ceremonies


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St. Petersburg College will hold its 140th commencement ceremonies at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14 at Indian Rocks Baptist Church, 12685 Ulmerton Rd., Largo. The guest speakers will include State Rep. Chris Latvala at 9 a.m., Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters at noon and State Sen. Darryl Rouson at 3 p.m.

The college’s youngest graduate is 17 years old, the oldest is 71 years old and 15 graduates are over the age of 60.

With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 178,680 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 868 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 396 Associate in Science degrees
  • 263 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 245 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 228 Certifications

Ashley M. Rodriguez Corral-Harrell, Sylvia Cardenas and Tammie Ryan will address fellow graduates and guests. Harrell will earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Cardenas will earn an Associate in Arts in Marketing, and Ryan will earn an Associate in Science in Human Services.

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When 2019 St. Petersburg College graduates Mirah and Stanley Robles walked into class in Fall 2014, neither suspected that one short month later, they’d be married to one of their classmates and, a little over four years later, receiving their diplomas together at SPC’s Spring 2019 Commencement.

Mirah, an education major, said there was an instant attraction.

“He was cute, so we started talking and exchanged contact info,” she said.

The two married one month later, Stanley said, and now are the parents of a 6-year-old daughter from Stanley’s previous relationship, and their son, who is 3.

The Robles shared a lot of the same classes, though Stanley, who finished an associate degree in Education, made the switch to Information Technology.

“It has been amazing doing this together,” Stanley said. “We’ve helped each other out along the way, and since we were on the same path, we could debate ideas about teaching and education.”

More than 2,000 degrees and certificates

The couple received their diplomas at SPC’s 139th graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 18 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. With this graduating class, SPC has awarded 176,808 degrees since the college was founded in 1927.

SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams welcomed students, families and friends of graduates as well as faculty and staff, and the invocation was given by the Rev. Esther Robinson from Pasadena Community Church. Hannah White, a 2019 graduate, sang the National Anthem before Jesse Turtle, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation, announced the winners of the 2019 Apollo and Alumni Achievement awards.

Graduates and award winners

SPC Spring 2019 GraduationLorena Hmelas, an international student from Croatia, was named the 2019 Apollo Award Winner, the highest honor for an associate degree graduate. Hmelas earned an associate degree in Business Administration but couldn’t attend the ceremony due to a family emergency. She wrote in the speech she had prepared that, though she was far from home, SPC became her second home.

“For the past three years,” Hmelas wrote, “St. Petersburg College has truly been my home away from home. I was lucky to have support from many amazing staff and faculty. The environment and the people are so welcoming and helpful that you don’t feel away from home.”

Savannah Strandlof was awarded the 2019 Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s graduate can achieve. In her acceptance, she thanked the SPC Alumni Association, her fellow graduates, and the faculty and staff who saw her through her program. Noting the importance of those connections, she named one special professor, Dr. Bruce Brodney, a beloved Education professor who passed away earlier in the year.

“His legacy has continued to live through me and other students and teachers each day in the classroom,” she said. “I emulate him in how I connect with my students. I look for my students’ passions. When I see that, I can connect with them in one hundred different ways.”

Graduation by the numbers

Some fun facts about Spring 2019 graduates:

  • The youngest graduate was 17 years old; the oldest was 75.
  • SPC awarded:
    • 978 Associate in Arts degrees
    • 459 Associate in Science degrees
    • 303 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
    • 223 Bachelor of Science degrees
    • 208 Certifications

Family time, a new job and USF bound

When the diplomas were all handed out and the pomp and circumstance behind them, Stanley and Mirah celebrated their accomplishments by taking their kids to the Tampa Zoo on Saturday afternoon. He will begin a job with Pinellas County Schools as a substitute teacher in the next school year, and Mirah is headed to the University of South Florida to get her bachelor’s degree in Education.

“SPC has been amazing,” Stanley said. “And we’re excited to share this milestone together, so our kids will see it and be inspired.”

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St. Petersburg College will honor its top graduates and alumnus during commencement ceremonies May 18 at Tropicana Field. Lorena Hmelas was selected as the Apollo Award winner, the highest honor an associate degree graduate can achieve. Savannah Strandlof will receive the Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor a bachelor’s 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:

“Without St. Petersburg College I wouldn’t be where I am today and who I am today. This school has changed my life positively in so many ways, and what past year has taught me is that if I really want to accomplish something I just have to work really hard for it.”

Lorena Hmelas, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, Winner

Hmelas will receive an A.A. degree in Business Administration and Management and currently has a 4.0 G.P.A.

She is has served roles in the Student Government Association as Vice President, Historian, Public Relations and Senator. She served as a member of the International Student Club, Latinos United, Phi Theta Kappa, Women on the Way and was a Student Assistant in the Associate Provost’s office on the St. Pete/Gibbs Campus.

Her accomplishments include 2017 & 2018 Servant Leadership Award, 2017 Certificate of Completion of the Management and Supervision of Campus-Wide Student Government Association Skills and a 2017 Letter of Recommendation from Dr. Law for her achievements in managing a budget that exceeded $239,000 and devotion to the Student Government Association.

Hmelas served her community as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and through the Student Government Association collected food, books and toys for people in need and helped many homeless children learn to read and develop a love of books. She volunteered through Student Life and Leadership and Women on the Way to organize events and fundraisers.

She plans to transfer to the University of South Florida to eventually earn her master’s degree in Global Business. Her goal is to find a career that will combine both business and the different languages that she speaks such as working at the UN or NATO.

“When I first arrived at SPC, I was a GED recipient with hardly any academic or life skills. SPC took me in when my life looked bleak and turned me into the person I am today, a college student on his way to university, pursuing a career and a love for the community. Like a big family, everyone at SPC was invested in my success.”

Stanley Edward Kordecki III, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus

Kordecki will receive an A.A. in Biology and currently has a G.P.A of 3.9.

He was Student Government Senator in 2016, a member of the Outdoors Club, Harambe, Campus Community Service Committee Chair, Intervarsity Club and Intramural Sports Coordinator Assistant. He served as short time as SPC’s mascot – Titus the Titan.

In 2017 he was awarded by the Social and Behavioral Science and the Humanities and Fine Arts Department for academic excellence.

Kordecki has served his community by volunteering at the St. Pete Free Clinic, at the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Keep Pinellas Beautiful, the Habitat for Humanity and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

His future plans are to attend USF in fall 2019 and eventually pursue a career in environmental conservation.

“My experiences at a young age taught me the value of life and the importance of utilizing life’s opportunities. My experience at SPC has taught me to lead with excellence, integrity and honor.”

Ronelia Bailey, Clearwater Campus

Bailey will receive an A.A. degree in Business and currently has a G.P.A. of 3.9.

Among her collegiate activities is membership in the Honors Program Student Consortium, Student Government Association, BSU Badeya Club, Multicultural Club, National Council for Black American Affairs, Phi Theta Kappa Tau Zeta, Golden Key International Honor Society, Women2STEM, and the Annual Collegiate Research Conference.

In 2018, Bailey received the Dr. Theodore J. Mazza Student of the Year Award and the Most Engaged Study Abroad Student Award. In 2017 she received the award for Outstanding Student in Fine Arts and Humanities.

She volunteered as a Peer Leader for the 2019 Florida International Leadership Conference, at the Eckerd Connects Raising Hope’s distribution center, for the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, the Salvation Army and various events on campus.

Bailey’s goal is to transfer to USF and major in both Global Business and Spanish. She would like to become a teacher in an under-resourced public school for a few years and then get a master’s degree in International Relations and Business Administration to fulfill her dream as an Ambassador of the United States or pursue a career in Global Banking.

“My enthusiasm for life in general and especially as it relates to animals is infectious and I know that as a SPC Veterinary Nursing graduate, I WILL make a difference. SPC has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and follow my passion.”

Michelle M. Werden, Veterinary Nursing Center

Werden will receive an A.S. degree in Veterinary Nursing and currently has a G.P.A of 3.7.

She is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Florida Veterinary Technicians Association. She received the P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education Grant and was the recipient of the Pinellas County Veterinary Medical Association Scholarship.

She has been a volunteer since 2016 with the Pet Pal Animal Shelter where she assists with community events and educates the community on the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.  Through Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, she helped organize activities and meals for the guest of the Ronald McDonald House.

Werden’s future plans include taking a full-time position at the Pet Pal Veterinary Clinic and to continue her education by pursuing the Human-Animal Bond and Pet Nutritional Certifications.

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 year’s finalists are:

“SPC instilled a passion in me for community service and always striving toward the goals that I have set. The College has overwhelmingly equipped me for life after college as I have listened and learned in constructive environments with life-changing professors and inspiring colleagues. The guidance of everyone I have come in contact with at SPC has impacted me in the way that I hope to impact each and every one of the students in my future classrooms for years to come.”

Savannah Strandlof, Clearwater Campus, Winner

Strandlof will receive a B.S. degree in Elementary Education (K-6) with Reading and ESOL Endorsement and currently has a 4.0 G.P.A.

Strandlof is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Education Society – Education society which promotes excellence in teaching and fellowship. She is also a member of the Student Florida Education Association.

She participated as a member on the Model United Nations Academic team and attended the National Model United Nations conference in New York to represent the country of Bolivia. Ms. Strandlof was recognized by the National Collegiate Conference Association at the NMUN New York Conference as a Distinguished Delegate for her representation for Bolivia on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Strandlof served as the Chair of Model UN Women at the Pinellas County Model United Nations conference held by SPC where she led and monitored sessions and discussed issues affecting women globally.

Strandlof serves her community actively as a volunteer for Belcher Elementary’s Ninja Warrior Fun Run Family Day, Calvary Baptist Church preparing meals for families in need and Champions for Life Kids Camp as a buddy for abused, abandoned and neglected children.

She plans to obtain a Masters degree in Gifted Education and a Doctorates in Curriculum and Instruction or Educational Leadership.

“I invested my time and resources into this college and I have managed to make a second home here at SPC. I’ve built new relationships, developed new skills and actively served to spread the knowledge and blessing that SPC has to offer.”

Jerrick Rivera, Seminole Campus

Rivera will receive a B. A. degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and currently has a 3.5 G.P.A.

He has served as the 2018-2019 President of the SPC Student Government Association on the Seminole Campus and has served as an officer with SGA since 2013.

Rivera is active within his community serving as a volunteer for such organizations as Habitats for Humanity. Every Sunday he commits seven hours or more to his church’s production team as the lighting director, programming lights and commanding lighting queues. He also serves as a vocalist during worship and services. Mr. Rivera has also volunteered with several local 5K Marathons.

One of his most proud moments was being chosen to deliver the “2017-2018 Student Life and Leadership Annual Budget” presentation to the SPC Board of Trustees at their monthly BOT meeting.

Rivera plans to continue his education and obtain a Masters in Business Administration. His aspiration is to one day to earn a position as a CEO and serve his community as a city council member.

“I felt so proud of myself for attempting and succeeding in college. I am the first in my family to attend college and it has impacted my life greatly. SPC has taught me things about teaching and working with students I feel like I would have never learned anywhere else. It has allowed me to make close connections with great professors, advisers, and peers.”

Allison Rae Thompson, Tarpon Springs Campus

Thompson will receive a B.S. degree in Educational Studies and Community Leadership and currently has a 3.89 G.P.A.

She became a member of Phi Theta Kappa in September of 2015. Ms. Thompson served as a member of the Elite Educators which is a group of teachers/students who learn together in the same classes and workshops to become better leaders and teachers of the future.

Ms. Thompson serves her community as a volunteer for many nonprofit organization. Through Feeding Children Everywhere-Hunger Project she helped package several bags of food to families all around the world. She also volunteers at Heritage United Methodist Church in the nursery.

Ms. Thompson was the recipient of the Juvenile Welfare Board Scholarship and Helios Education Foundation First Generation Scholarship.

She plans to become a VPK teacher in a Pinellas County School and giving back to the community through her love for learning. Thompson plans on continuing her education and enroll in additional classes at SPC to further enrich her learning within the field of Education.

“My experience here at SPC has had a profound impact on my life. I have found the desire to advocate on issues relating to veterans. Because of my experience as a student veteran, I have developed a desire to assist future student veterans in succeeding throughout their transition and academic careers.”

Eric Tsai, Clearwater Campus

Tsai will receive a B.S. degree in Public Policy and Administration and currently has a 3.62 G.P.A.

Tsai has been very active at St. Petersburg College serving as a member of Student Veterans Association, International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honors Society, Golden Key International Honors Society and St. Petersburg College Underwater Research Society (SURS).

He obtained his A.A. degree with Honors and was the recipient of the 2017 Veteran Scholar Award, an award that recognizes Student Veteran Scholars who have demonstrated exceptional work in their courses.

Tsai is active within his community. He volunteers with the Avian Veterans Alliance assisting with the care and handling of bird of prey at The Narrows. He also volunteers with Wounded Warriors Abilities Ranch and assists the organization through photography and setup of event displays and has participated in the Great American Teach-In as a guest speaker addressing 5th-grade classes of Blanton Elementary School.

Tsai’s goal is to obtain a meaningful career as a Law Enforcement Officer where he can continue to make a difference in the lives of the people he meets and continue his work in veteran advocacy where he can influence policies related to veteran issues. Academically, Tsai would like to obtain a Juris Doctor degree.


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