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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.

Many of St. Petersburg College’s students are participating in distance learning; however, they wanted to come together to give back to their community for the holidays. About 60 of SPC’s Early College and Early Admission students collected more than 200 toys to donate to Toys for Tots. On Wednesday, the students organized the toys at the SPC Seminole Campus.

Early College Student Delaney Redmond was excited and grateful for the opportunity to go above and beyond to help.

“Even if I only make one kid’s Christmas special, that is what will make my Christmas special,” Redmond said.

Also, while purchasing toys at a local store, Redmond saw a homeless individual sitting in the cold, wearing shorts. She quickly sprang into action and gave him a duffle bag with jackets, blankets, water and some food.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Rich, for all the help I’ve received from you, and thank you for organizing this, so we were able to donate toys,” Redmond said.

St. Petersburg College is offering fast, affordable certificate programs this spring in entrepreneurship, risk management and insurance, and supply chain management – areas with the sought-after skills employers need.

Earning a certificate in these areas will provide graduates the opportunity to earn competitive salaries in solid career fields. According to the Florida Association of Insurance Agents (FAIA), the insurance industry expects to see 87,000 open positions in the state of Florida in the next five years.

SPC College of Business Dean Marta Przyborowski said these certificates, each offered fully online, can up the professional ante.

“Our new short-term certificate options will open doors to career opportunities that are viable and in-demand,” Przyborowski said. “Students will be able to increase their knowledge in order to be key players on any organization’s team.”

The Business Development and Entrepreneurship Certificate offers students a competitive advantage when it comes to developing their own businesses. This 25-credit certificate is financial aid eligible and fully embedded in the Business Administration associate degree at SPC, meaning students can easily continue their education if they choose and transfer into the college’s associate degree program.

Those who complete an associate degree while earning the Risk Management and Insurance Management Certificate can earn three state licenses without taking state exams:

  • 4-40: This license certifies graduates to work as customer representatives who can transact automobile, water craft, home, motorcycle, and pet insurance under the supervision of a licensed and appointed general lines agent.
  • 20-44: This license certifies graduates to transact business related to property and casualty insurance sold to individuals and families for noncommercial purposes.
  • 2-40: This license certifies graduates to solicit applications for or to negotiate and effectuate health insurance contracts for health maintenance organizations. 

SPC’s Supply Chain Management Advanced Technical Certificate builds on your current skills and expertise so you can move up in the growing supply chain industry. Successful companies rely on the skills of supply chain management professionals to ensure their products are delivered in a quick, efficient and cost-effective manner. The COVD-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of efficient supply chains to our local and global economies.

Enrollment for the Spring 2021 Term at SPC is underway. Anyone interested in learning more about obtaining these certificates can contact the College of Business directly at COB@spcollege.edu or visit the college’s website at spcollege.edu/business.

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.

Adrian Bright

Adrian Bright was feeling lost, sitting in a bed in the CASA women’s shelter, where she was staying with her daughters after fleeing an abusive marriage.

“I looked in the mirror and said, ‘God, what do you want me to do now?’,” she said. “I heard a voice that said, ‘Remember your gifts. Go to school and be ready when I call you.’ A week later, I was enrolled in my first LPN classes, which I successfully completed in 2015.”

Later, when contemplating earning her RN degree, she worried over the time it would take, the cost, and even her ability to complete the program. But she enrolled at SPC, and after applying for financial aid, the SPC Foundation offered her the Dr. Gerald F. Whittaker Endowed Scholarship in Nursing, which benefits Black students in nursing programs.

“Without that scholarship, I couldn’t have done it, because I would have needed to work full time to take care of my daughters,” she said.

As an opportunity to highlight the impact their financial support has had on St. Petersburg College, Dr. Gerald Whittaker, along with his wife, Betty Gaston Whittaker, visited SPC’s Health Education Center on Wednesday, December 2, where they were given a tour of the nursing labs and shown demonstrations of the equipment and computer programs used to prepare students to practice on real patients. After their tour, they were surprised with a permanent plaque placed in the HEC’s media center honoring the impact they have made with their contributions.

Over the past three years, The Whittakers have created endowed scholarships at St. Petersburg College in both their names, totaling $521,500 to date. Mrs. Whittaker retired from her position as librarian at SPC’s Gibbs campus in 2015, even further sealing their dedication to SPC students. In 2019-20, Dr. Whittaker made additional gifts to help grow the funds in order to impact more SPC nursing students.

At the ceremony, SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams noted the influence of their generosity.

“The support of donors like Dr. and Mrs. Whittaker, who learned early on the importance a good education, provides SPC the ability to change students’ lives,” Williams said.

Jesse Turtle, SPC’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation, noted that since both Whittakers come from a long line of nurses, they honor the memories of their loved ones with their gifts to SPC’s Nursing program.

“The dedication of their mothers and sisters, paired with their desire to change the lives of African American students, is why the Whittakers chose to honor them by establishing a Nursing scholarship,” Turtle said.

“Thank you for honoring us,” Dr. Whitaker said. “Bringing us to the light shows what can be achieved with small means.”

After moving the room to tears with her story, Bright offered her gratitude to the Whitakers.

“Your generosity helped me to overcome the failed experiments I had in my life and fall forward,” she said. “Your gift allowed me to focus more on my education and studying, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my daughters that dreams can come true.”

St. Petersburg College (SPC) today announced its new partnership with Mantra Health, which allows students to receive free mental health services through an online platform that is convenient, personalized and a step forward into the future of health care.

Mantra Health utilizes telehealth and an ecosystem of proprietary software applications to deliver evidence-based mental health care that integrates directly with on-campus services. This approach supports its mission of improving the mental health of young adults, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Our students’ mental health is a high priority for St. Petersburg College,” said Dr. Tonjua Williams, SPC President. “To achieve academic success and gain opportunities for economic mobility, students must have access to mental health and wellness services. As more students are seeking support this year than ever, this partnership with Mantra Health will give our students resources that are critical to their health and well-being.”

SPC has 11 learning sites throughout Pinellas County, with more than 46,000 students. Between 2019 and 2020 the number of college students seeking mental health care in Florida increased by 30 percent. This year, that number has increased to about 80 percent. While the number of students reaching out for support is on the rise, the U.S. is simultaneously experiencing a shortage of mental health providers. Pinellas County is among several counties in the state suffering from the shortage of mental health providers, which is affecting 188 million people nationally.

“We’re proud to be launching with our second school in Florida.” said Mantra Health Co-Founder, Ed Gaussen. “We like to partner with schools that not only care about increasing access for students but want to make sure they are also getting quality care. We saw that alignment very early through our conversations with St Petersburg.”

While Mantra Health has historically worked with schools that offer students a counseling center on campus, SPC’s unique approach leverages mental health-trained faculty and staff who make referrals to mental health care resources.

“There are multiple campuses around the country who do not necessarily have a traditional counseling center set up,” added Mantra Health Co-Founder, Matt Kennedy. “At SPC, students can sign up for our program directly on our website or get referred by a trained faculty or staff member. They are then able to see a mental health provider within the same week over telehealth and have it covered by their school.”

Mantra Health began partnering with college and university leaders in late 2019, providing an integrated virtual care platform that puts campus health providers and Mantra mental health specialists on the same page, getting students off of waiting lists and keeping them from falling through the cracks. Mantra Health’s closed-loop telemental health platform made it possible for schools to continue to provide care with an immediate and seamless shift to 100 percent online care when many campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. St. Petersburg College campuses remain open, but most students are taking virtual classes.

To learn more about how Mantra Health is transforming campus mental health care, visit MantraHealth.com 

St. Petersburg College will take part in the largest global giving day of the year, Giving Tuesday, on Dec. 1. A gift to the SPC Titan Fund has the power to transform the lives of our students, helping them to realize and achieve academic success and economic mobility.

“Your gift, no matter the size, makes a huge difference to the students, faculty, and staff at SPC,” said Jesse Turtle, SPC Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the SPC Foundation. “Our students go on to build better lives for themselves, their families, and our community. An investment in SPC is an investment in all of our futures.”

The SPC Titan Fund is a way of giving that illustrates the powerful impact that the collective generosity of alumni, faculty and staff, friends and community partners can have on areas where the college needs it most – year after year. A gift to the fund helps sustain academic programs, scholarships, innovative programming, student support services, and every other aspect of the college.

Each gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000 by the SPC Foundation Board of Directors until Dec. 1.

To donate to the fund, visit here.

The Pinellas community has experienced many economic setbacks in the past year, given the number of jobs lost in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the holidays approaching, money woes are even more exacerbated, and many may find themselves wondering how they will feed and provide for their families. In response, St. Petersburg College has partnered with Hope Villages of America, formerly RCS Pinellas, to offer food packages for SPC students, staff and the surrounding community.

Funded by the Pinellas Cares grant, the program provided food for SPC’s participating campus provosts, Student Life and Leadership teams and volunteers to work together to create packages that include non-perishable items including canned fruits, vegetables and meats, along with pasta and sauce. The boxes will also contain community resource flyers, including information for mental health care.

SPC is planning a distribution in the coming week, as well as again in December. According to Misty Kemp, SPC’s Executive Director of Retention Services, anyone can sign up for a box, whether it be for themselves or someone else, though distribution is limited to one box per household.

“We want this food in the hands of anyone who needs it,” Kemp said. “We did have someone call and say they wanted to pick one up for their elderly neighbor. If you or someone you know is in need, please sign up for yourself or for them.”

Each of the eight campuses chosen for distribution will have 150 boxes of food for pickup. In order to get a box, people can fill out this survey and select the campus where they’d like to pick up. The food is first come, first served, so once all a campus’s boxes are claimed, that pickup location will disappear from the options list in the survey.

Kemp said she’d like to encourage all who have the need to fill out the survey, which also has a section that asks how households have been affected by COVID-19, which can alert SPC to other ways to help.

“The college can utilize that feedback from community to let us know of needs we may not be aware of,” she said. “We want the community to know we’re here. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s one step forward.”

Campus pickup times and places are as follows:

Clearwater: Wednesday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., ES Building parking lot
Tarpon Springs: Monday, Nov. 23, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Agora Building
Tarpon Springs: Tuesday, Nov. 24, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., Agora Building
Seminole: Monday, Nov. 16, 9 a.m. – noon, Conference Center
Midtown: Thursday, Nov. 19, 1-4:30 p.m., MTJC – 141
Downtown: Tuesday, Nov. 17, 1-4:30 p.m., DC-210
Carruth Health Education Center: Thursday, Nov. 17, 1-4 p.m., Auditorium
Allstate: Thursday, Nov. 19, 1-4 p.m., Student Services Suite
Gibbs: Tuesday, Nov. 24, 9 a.m.- noon, SA 135 Suite

Finances can often be a stumbling block to education, but many people are eligible for more financial aid than they may suspect. The process to apply for aid can be daunting, as well, so that’s why St. Petersburg College is hosting free Zoom events to offer virtual help for high school seniors and their parents, as well as current college students, who are navigating the process for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2021-2022 and/or the 2020-2021 academic years.

Attend an online FAFSA: Fill It Out! event.

Online Fill It Out events will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, and Thursday, Nov. 19.

“This event provides families with the opportunity to get assistance from financial aid professionals,” said Todd Smith, SPC’s Executive Director of Financial Assistance Services. “We can answer any questions they may have and guide them through the process.”

Smith said families who attend events like this one are often surprised at how smooth and fast the process can be.

“Quite often, the financial aid process is about on par with completing your taxes, signing mortgage paperwork at closing or going to the dentist,” Smith said. “They eventually find out it isn’t as painful as they thought it would be.”

What to bring

Attendees should come prepared to fill out the FAFSA by having the following information on hand to ensure a successful online submission.

For the 2021-2022 FAFSA:

  • The student’s Federal Student Aid FSA ID, which can be obtained by visiting the FSA website
  • Student’s/parent’s 2019 federal income tax return (1040) and W2s
  • 2019 untaxed income (Social Security, disability, workman’s comp, etc.) 
  • Driver’s license or state ID
  • Social Security number, Alien Registration number, passports, date of birth for student, spouse and/or parents

For the 2020-2021 FAFSA: 

  • The student’s Federal Student Aid FSA ID, which can be obtained by visiting the FSA website
  • Student’s/parent’s 2018 federal income tax return (1040) and W2s 
  • 2018 untaxed income (Social Security, disability, workman’s comp, etc.)
  • Driver’s license or state ID
  • Social Security number, Alien Registration number, passports, date of birth for student, spouse and/or parents

Anyone who would like to attend a Fill It Out event to see what benefits they may be eligible for can register here.

Individuals with disabilities who require accommodations to participate in this activity, please call 727-341-7924 at least one week prior to the event.

For more information, go to spcollege.edu/applyforfinancialaid.

A transformational gift from The Hough Family Foundation has provided St. Petersburg College with the seed funding needed to grow its nursing, certified clinical medical assistant (CMA) and patient care technician (PCT) programs.

The transformational gift will be used to expand SPC’s nursing simulation lab as well as provide additional training equipment and faculty support for the CMA and PCT programs.

“Bill and Hazel Hough were true philanthropists who worked tirelessly for their community. Longtime supporters of St. Petersburg College, they helped found our performance venue gem – The Palladium – and improved the lives of many students over the years,” said SPC President Tonjua Williams. “We miss them terribly but their spirits live on through their foundation and their beloved children. We are grateful beyond measure for this generous gift, which will help promote equity and excellence in education for our students and access to high-quality healthcare professionals for our community.”

Through 2026, there is a projected 21 percent job growth for nurses in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. With the increase of COVID-19 testing and the high demand for healthcare workers even prior to the pandemic, employers are in even greater need of trained medical assistants at outpatient clinics and urgent care centers.

To combat these healthcare needs, SPC is prepared to greatly increase the number of nursing students through simulation expansion.

“The College of Nursing is so honored and grateful for the generous gift by the Hough family to our frontline workers,” said SPC Dean of Nursing Louisana Louis. “Words cannot express the difference this expansion will make in providing the additional space to educate student nurses while making a difference in our community.”

Expanding SPC’s simulation lab will:

  • Offer an alternative learning environment needed due to decreasing hospital time and space
  • Provide a safe, nonthreatening learning environment for students to demonstrate their clinical judgement and critical thinking abilities
  • Allow faculty to use a controlled environment to create or choose scenarios to meet specific learning objectives without risk to an actual patient

SPC also offers a variety of healthcare programs to help students advance their skill sets. The expansion of workforce institute programs will include:

  • Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA)
  • Patient Care Tech (PCT)
  • Cath Lab Tech

“Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. We wanted to grow the capacity of the CMA training by doubling the number of students who complete the 18-week training and then can enter the medical field immediately,” said Dr. Susan Hough Henry, President of Hough Family Foundation, Inc. “SPC is very responsive to the needs of its students, and thoroughly prepares them to enter the workforce.”

Michael Ramsey, SPC Dean of Workforce, said the donation will provide opportunities for students to pursue their passion of helping others while providing a pipeline of skilled workers for area healthcare facilities.

“We are extremely thankful for this gift from the Hough Family Foundation. Their generosity will enable us to launch a new Patient Care Technician program and expand our Certified Clinical Medical Assistant program at the SPC Midtown Center,” Ramsey said. “These programs will help to open the door to a career in the healthcare field to the members of this community.”

To learn more about SPC’s health education programs, visit spcollege.edu/health.