SPC AAC&U project team: Lisa Borzewski, Jason Krupp, Brian Bell, Kellie Ziemak & Jason Nicholson

St. Petersburg College (SPC) is one of 20 institutions to receive a $30,000 grant from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) to scale the college’s current involvement with the American Association of Community College’s (AACC) Guided Pathways initiative. Over the last several years, SPC has merged academic and student support services into a holistic, meaningful approach to help students successfully earn degrees and certifications more quickly.

The AACC Guided Pathways is a concerted effort aimed to create a unified student experience, take the guesswork out of course selection, offer personalized support, deliver relevant and clear communication and provide students with a concise roadmap to graduation and economic opportunity.

Through the grant, SPC will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with AAC&U and the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin to beta test a research-based, scalable prototype to ensure students are learning, an important component of the Guided Pathways framework. Grantees will also contribute to the development of a research design for studying the effects of teaching and learning practices within the pathways framework.

SPC will focus on how extracurricular activities and engagement will influence the success of a student’s learning progress. For example, the Social Behavioral Sciences and Human Services Community will design a way to measure how their key Community Week activity supports overall learning within Ethics courses.

The AAC&U, founded in 1915, is the leading national association dedicated to helping institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges. The association has 1,400 member institutions including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

A lot of people loved back-to-school shopping as children. There was something about freshly sharpened pencils, a pristine box of crayons, and a new backpack that would make the impending school year feel more tangible and exciting.

But not everyone has the luxury of new school supplies. For some, a new backpack every year ranks low on the priority list when money is stretched thin, and you have bills to pay and a family to feed.

The Care Fair was a family affair, with older siblings helping younger brothers and sisters pick out their favorite backpack design from 20 options.

That’s where Junior League of St. Petersburg (JLSP) and Community Health Centers of Pinellas, Inc. (CHCP) step in.

In partnership with the St. Petersburg College Midtown Center, the two local organizations hosted the 23rd Annual Back-to-School Care Fair on Saturday, July 27. SPC frequently teams up with area groups and businesses both on- and off-campus as part of its Community of Care initiative. A large part of the college’s mission is to make sure that the entire SPC family—students and employees—as well as the surrounding communities, have what they need to lead a healthy and productive life.

The Care Fair was busy from start to finish, with many guests showing up before it began at 8:00 a.m. Not only were there a plethora of local vendors and community resources located inside of the Jamerson Building at the Midtown Center, including an SPC recruitment table, but school-aged children could also pick up a free backpack filled with new school supplies. The backpacks and supplies were provided by JLSP and kids were able to choose from 20 different colorful designs.

Just next door at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center, students received complimentary medical and dental exams from CHCP, ensuring that they show up on the first day of class with a bright smile and clean bill of health. Ten local barbers were also on-site to provide fresh haircuts for the kids.

Members of CHCP leadership officially cut the ribbon on their new Mobile Health Center at the Care Fair.

Outside in the SPC parking lot, fairgoers were treated to a live DJ, a drumline, fitness activities, a multitude of vendor tents, and even a police K-9 demo. Representatives from area professional sports teams handed out branded giveaways while the always colorful NOMAD Art Bus acted as a canvas for anyone feeling creative. Kids were given free teddy bears from the Tampa Rough Riders and a close-up look at a fire engine from St. Petersburg Fire Rescue’s Station 3.

The Care Fair was also an opportunity for CHCP to cut the ribbon on their new Mobile Health Center. The completely paperless clinic on wheels will allow for greater patient accessibility and is even equipped with a dental chair and dental x-ray machine. It is also wheelchair-friendly.

Overall, the Care Fair was a great success, and many kids and parents left the festivities with big smiles on their faces. SPC was happy to collaborate with so many local organizations and vendors as it continues to cultivate a Community of Care in Pinellas County.

To learn more about SPC’s Community of Care initiative, please visit stpe.co/communityofcare.

For the past six weeks, 100 recent high school graduates took classes at St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater, Seminole, St. Petersburg/Gibbs and Tarpon Springs campuses as part of the annual Summer of Success program. They were all first-generation college students and represented area high schools from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties.

Students who attended classes at St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus proudly show off their Summer of Success completion certificates.

Their college application fee? Free. Their tuition for the four-credit program? Free. Their textbooks for the classes? Completely free.

Summer of Success is part of the initiative for SPC’s Student Support Services Department, which helps first-generation and limited-income students graduate from college. This year, the featured classes for the program were SPC 1017—Introduction to Speech Communication (3 credits) and CGS 1070—Basic Computer and Information Literacy (1 credit). Career exploration and leadership opportunities, along with weekly career and business tours, rounded out this exciting opportunity for students.

Capping off the students’ educational summer was an awards ceremony held at the Seminole Campus Digitorium. They were recognized for their hard work and awarded completion certificates while their friends and family proudly watched. Ernest Hooper, assistant sports editor for the Tampa Bay Times, was also in attendance as a guest speaker. He gave an inspiring speech to commend the students on their dedication to their education, adding a few sage words of wisdom for them to remember along their academic journey.

Ernest Hooper, assistant sports editor for the Tampa Bay Times, was the guest speaker for the awards ceremony.

“Remember the people who believe in you,” Hooper advised. “Don’t be afraid to get help; don’t be afraid to reach out.”

With the successful completion of the Summer of Success program, students will continue their education at SPC this fall. They have already enrolled in classes and will build upon what they learned and experienced over the summer.

The 2019 Summer of Success program was administered and coordinated at the four participating campuses by Keith Windom, Clearwater Campus; Juan Herrera-Medina, St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus; Benjamin Woods, Seminole Campus; and Jackie Addis, Tarpon Springs Campus.

To learn more about the objectives of Student Support Services and how it helps students succeed at SPC through programs like Summer of Success, please visit stpe.co/studentservices.

Recipient at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Scholars eventThe St. Petersburg Gibbs Campus Music Center hosted the Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke Scholars Award Ceremony presented by the National Council on Black American Affairs on July 15. The scholarship provides disadvantaged and underrepresented students with 12 credit hours per term over two consecutive years. 

The 2019-20 class of Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke scholars is a diverse group of 75 students. There were lots of smiles, laughter, and hugs in the rows reserved for scholarship recipients before the ceremony. Many of them will be the first members of their families to attend college.

Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clark scholar Emily Plante is looking forward to making new friends and learning a lot in the year ahead. When she graduates from SPC, she is interested in finding a nursing program or transferring to the University of South Florida.

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m excited to start college and finish my A.A.”

Another scholar, Remy DeBari, said that reading about Dr. Clarke motivated her to apply. While she has not decided on a major, she is interested in art and science. 

Mistress of Ceremonies Daisha Gardner introduced the evenings speakers and spoke about her experiences as a Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke scholar. Scholars and their families were welcomed by Dr. Jamelle Conner, St. Petersburg College’s Vice President of Student Affairs, and Dr. Leslie Hafer, the Provost of St. Petersburg Gibbs Campus. La Crecia Wright, President of the Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke Chapter of the NCBAA, introduced members of the Clarke family who were attendance, and the evening’s keynote speaker, Florida Sen. Darryl E. Rouson of District 19.

Sen. Rouson gave a moving talk about his experiences growing up alongside the Clarke family and Dr. Clarke. Guests also enjoyed music by Jerard Williams and a reception in the gallery at the conclusion of the ceremony.

This scholarship honors the legacy of Dr. Clarke, a St. Petersburg native. She was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from the University of Florida’s College of Education, and the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at any Florida public university. She taught at Pinellas County public schools, at two Florida colleges, and was the dean of the all-black Gibbs Junior College in the 1950’s. She organized programs to fight sickle cell anemia and other diseases as an assistant director of the Florida Regional Medical Program in 1972. She also wrote a column for the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, where she frequently expressed her hope for St. Petersburg’s minority community. The ceremony welcomes the new class of Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke scholars to college, and recalls her legacy as a tireless fighter for social and economic justice. Learn more about the Dr. Johnnie Ruth Clarke Scholarship.

The dog days of summer came to St. Petersburg College on Saturday, July 13 when volunteers from Southeastern Guide Dogs paid a visit to the SPC Planetarium at the St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, along with their canine companions.

Southeastern Guide Dogs breeds Labradors, golden retrievers, and a mix of the two called a goldador.

Southeastern has been operating in Florida since 1982, raising and training guide dogs for people with vision impairment, severe disabilities, mobility issues and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To date, they have graduated more than 275 classes of guide dogs.

As part of training, volunteer puppy trainers select a different venue every month for their dogs to visit, exposing them to new environments, sites and situations. SPC’s star theater was chosen as an appropriate field trip for the canine trainees due to its theater seating, the various lights and sounds that are used during shows, and the darkness that every production is plunged into to mimic a night sky on the 24-foot domed ceiling. These are all sensory situations the pups may experience as full-time guide dogs.

Six dogs were in attendance at the July 13 planetarium show, each wearing a blue vest denoting their status as guides-in-training. All of them successfully sat through the 40-minute production without trouble. There were even a few wagging tails peeking out from under the seats just before the lights went down, and Dr. Craig Joseph—planetarium director and SPC’s resident astronomer—kicked off the show. He took viewers across the summer sky, exploring celestial formations like Cygnus the Swan and the lion constellation, Leo. The dogs showed off their impeccable training when not a single bark could be heard at the appearance of the big cat.

Dr. Craig Joseph (center) with two SGD volunteers and their guides-in-training outside of the SPC planetarium.

Joseph ended the show with a treat for the special guests, pointing out Canis Major, or, as the constellation is more commonly known, the Greater Dog. Canis Major contains the star Sirius—the brightest star in the sky and typically called the dog star—and is only visible in the summer sky in Florida. The Southeastern volunteers were delighted to learn that the expression “the dog days of summer” actually originated from the summer appearance of the canine constellation.

After the show, the dogs were awarded a little vest-free time, allowing them to enjoy ample petting and some well-deserved belly rubs. They will continue their training and, should they successfully complete the program, eventually be paired with owners who will benefit from their special training as guides. To learn more about Southeastern Guide Dogs, visit guidedogs.org.

Interested in seeing a show at the SPC planetarium? There are two free public shows on Friday nights at 7 and 8:15 p.m. when the college is in session. The star theater comfortably seats 46, and admission is on a first-come, first-served basis. Group reservations are welcome. Learn more about the planetarium by visiting spcollege.edu/planetarium.

When Christine Garner was born, doctors predicted her death twice before she was even 2 weeks old. She had a host of problems, including cerebral palsy and PVL – Periventricular Leukomalacia, a type of brain damage that causes tight muscles and limbs that do not bend easily. But she didn’t die. In fact, she began to thrive, armed with a steel will, a big heart and devoted friends and family. Last March, after entering the first pageant she’s ever entered, the St. Petersburg College student was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2019. Garner says she’s going to take that crown and use it to fight for inclusion for people with disabilities.

Garner, now 22, grew up in house with a single mom and a lot of kids: she has two sisters and two brothers, all of them older than she. But her disabilities didn’t mean she got special treatment, which is one thing she attributes to her successes.

“I’ve had such a wonderful life,.” She said. “I’m very blessed, and I thank my mom and siblings. They never treated me like I was disabled. We would roughhouse just like all brothers and sisters.”

At the age of 10, she began a series of what would total seven surgeries to correct hip problems, which led to years of recovery. Still, Garner graduated Valedictorian from Enterprise High School in Clearwater. She followed her brothers to SPC and just finished her second semester at the Seminole Campus. She’s in the FUSE program, which guarantees her a seat at the University of South Florida after earning her associate degree in biology, where she will pursue her dream of becoming a neonatologist. She says SPC has been a great fit for her.

“I love SPC very much,” she said. “They’re community-based, and teachers and staff do everything in their power to make sure their students succeed. A school where they value student success just felt like home to me.”

In addition to her classes, Garner volunteers every Tuesday at the Disability Achievement Center in Clearwater. She’s also very active in her church, Sacred Heart Catholic, where she has been a member since the age of 3. She also does motivational speaking, and is active in groups for people with disabilities.

SPC Professor Sharon Olsen, who taught Garner in her General Psychology class, says Garner is dedicated to her education, but what stands out to her is how driven she is to serve others.

“She always has a smile to share,” she said. “Her positive outlook on life and service to others are qualities that stand out in my mind as driving her path to success.”

It was at a Family Café conference in Orlando, which is a trade show for families and people with disabilities, where Garner and her mother, Tricia, met 2016 Ms. Wheelchair Florida, Heather Quinn.

“We talked for a while,” Garner said. “She told me she thought I’d be perfect for the pageant.”

Garner’s mother – always her biggest cheerleader- quickly jumped on board and encouraged her to enter. Though Garner had never even considered a pageant, she finally relented.

“I told myself, ‘I’m just going to be myself, and whatever happens, happens,’” she said.

She wanted to use the pageant to bring to light an issue she had faced in college. Throughout high school, she always had a companion to help her with things she couldn’t reach or do by herself in her chair. When she got to college, despite the accommodations provided her, she missed that assistance.

“The people in Accessibility Services at SPC genuinely care, Garner said. “They are accommodating for people with disabilities. But people with disabilities could do so much more if they were provided a companion.”

When she finally got to the competition, she was nervous, but she made friends quickly, which helped.

“I was doing it with my girls, at that point,” she said. “Winning is great, but entering the contest wasn’t about that. I loved being in a room full of women who were advocating for the disabled community.”

The night of the pageant, with family and friends on hand, clad in an evening gown with her hair and makeup on point, she gave her platform speech, advocating helping individuals gain independence through a companion.

“My biggest thing is to bring awareness and educate,” she said. “I am Miss Independent, and I will try to overcome all barriers, but I still need help.”

In the end, when her name was called as the 2019 Ms. Wheelchair Florida, Garners said she started crying instantly.

“I asked the announcer, ‘Are you sure?’ I could hear my family and friends screaming.”

Garner said she would do it all again in a minute if it will move the needle on accessibility.

“All of it was worth it,” she said. “I’ll fight for inclusion. Everyone, disabled or not, should be able to achieve their dreams, and I want to give support to those who need it.”


Graduates of St. Petersburg College’s PITCH program were recently recognized at the St. Petersburg City Council meeting at City Hall for their achievement.

Green at St. Petersburg City Council meeting

“When I heard about the medical assistant program in January, I thought, ‘It’s time to get back to school,’” said Luther Green, who graduated from SPC’s Certified Medical Assistant program in May. “I’ve come a long way since January.”

The City Council presented plaques to Green and other graduates from the city’s Cohort of Champions program, which, through community partners including SPC, provides workforce training and mentorship to African American boys and young men. Graduates and other cohort participants enjoyed a reception after the presentation.

“History and statistics would tell you if you are born black, male in St. Petersburg, Fla., that your options are few,” said Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Dr. Kanika Tomalin as she addressed the graduates at the City Council meeting. “All sorts of labels will have been assigned to you before you even enter kindergarten. Well, we want to give you some different labels: exemplar, scholar, leader, graduate. You earned every single one of those labels. Wear them proudly every day of your lives.”

Now in its third year of grant funding from the Cohort of Champions initiative, PITCH (Persistence Incorporated inTo College, Hired) focuses on helping low income students obtain industry certifications that enable them to move towards economic mobility through higher wage jobs or continuing their education.

Green works at St. Anthony’s Hospital in the housekeeping department, and had been looking into options to enter the medical field when he found out about PITCH.

PITCH provided the financial assistance he needed to go to school. “It would have taken me a lot longer to save up for the program. I couldn’t be more thankful for it,” he said.

The flexible schedule allowed him to continue working while going to school. Both he and his brother De’Montae completed the certification in May and are currently gaining hands-on experience through externships at Bayfront Convenient Care Clinic and Baycare Medical Group, respectively. Green plans to continue his education and pursue a degree in sports medicine.

Thus far, PITCH has served more than 100 students, and has exceeded its enrollment and outcome goals, with 22 percent already placed in jobs and many still enrolled in longer-term certification or degree programs.

“Seeing students succeed – that’s my passion,” said PITCH Coordinator Ernest Gant. Gant provides ongoing guidance for students, checking in with them throughout their classes and offering help or connecting them to resources wherever needed. “Life happens. I try to get students the help they need so they can be successful in their classes. Seeing students like Luther walk across the stage; that’s what it’s all about.”