According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the third leading cause of death for college students. More than 40% of students reporting high levels of anxiety, depression and/or substance abuse do not seek help.

St. Petersburg College recently received a $283,781 grant for the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention initiative from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This grant will fund Project HEAL (Healthy Emotions and Lives), a collaborative infrastructure targeting suicide prevention and mental health and substance abuse awareness. In addition to SAMHSA contributions, SPC will provide a one-to-one match for the project.

For this project, SPC partnered with organizations such as BayCare, CASA, Metro Wellness, and NAMI to ensure that students have strong community resources.

SPC President Tonjua Williams is committed to expanding the college’s visionary pillar to be a community of care through mental health.

“Our students are faced with many challenges before entering the classroom,” Williams said. “Many of them need additional resources beyond academics and SPC is committed to providing as much additional support as we can. Project HEAL allows SPC to expand our services and help our students to be successful.”

Project HEAL is a three-year grant that will strengthen a community-wide provider network, implement a comprehensive suicide prevention plan and increase awareness of and access to resources for nearly 30,000 SPC students.

SPC Student Valerie Garcia believes in the importance of mental health awareness and Project Heal.

“As college students, our main goals are to graduate and be successful thereafter,” Garcia said. “However, dealing with life’s struggles can hinder our ability to focus on achieving our goals. Therefore, implementing mental health awareness across all SPC campuses is so important because good mental health is the gateway to success.”

It is SPC’s belief that supporting mental health is everyone’s charge, and that one death as a result of substance abuse, mental illness, or suicide is one too many. If you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

A time-honored construction site tradition, the “Topping Off” Ceremony, celebrates the placement of a building’s highest structural element. Join St. Petersburg College to celebrate “Topping Off” the last beam in the new Joseph H. Lang Sr. Student Success Center at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 at SPC’s St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus, 6605 5th Ave. N.

The new center is named in memory of Mr. “Joe” Lang, a longtime supporter of SPC students. Mr. Lang wanted to be sure students had everything they needed to help them achieve their dreams. The Joseph H. Lang Sr. Student Success Center will be the hub where students receive services and support that helps them move forward.

The signing ceremony will be from 11 – 11:30 a.m. followed by remarks from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Parking will be available in the West Parking Lot near the SPC Music Center.

Most kids William Maillis’ age recently graduated from elementary school, but Maillis, 11, graduated from St. Petersburg College on Saturday, July 21 with an associate in arts degree.

William Maillis

According to his father, Peter Maillis, it became obvious that William was special when, at seven months old, he began speaking in complete sentences.

“I asked him to lie down in his crib, and he said, ‘I don’t want to,'” Peter recalled. “He also surprised an entire waiting room at the doctors office when he said, ‘I want milk.'”

Early Bird

William was able to identify numbers by the time he was 6 months old, and he could say the alphabet forward and backward by age 1. He was performing multiplication by age 2, learned algebra at age 4, and was declared a genius at 5 by a psychologist, who noted that children like him are about 1 in 10 million.

After starting kindergarten at age 4, William had surpassed elementary school curriculum by the time he began third grade. He transferred to high school, where he had already earned some credits. After earning his high school diploma at age 7, William began studying at a local community college in Pittsburgh, before Peter, a Greek Orthodox priest, was transferred to the Tampa Bay Area. William was enrolled at the University of South Florida and already beginning classes when the family hit an unexpected snag: William is too young to receive federal financial aid. So they dropped all but two classes, finished the semester and enrolled at St. Petersburg College’s Tarpon Springs Campus.

“We’re out of state,” Peter said, “and SPC was a lot more affordable.”

Earning Respect

William surprised many fellow students and professors during his time at SPC.

“At first, they would ask me how old I was and if I was really in the class,” William said. “But eventually they’d get used to it.”

Not only did he succeed in his classes, he was even a leader in many of them. Peter remembered being approached after one of William’s classes by a “burly” guy who asked him if he was William’s dad.

“He said, ‘at first I thought it was a joke, but when I heard him speak in class, I asked him to be my lab partner,’” Peter said.

Tarpon Springs Campus Provost Rod Davis said that William really didn’t need any extra help.William Maillis

“William was a regular student,” Davis said. “He came here, put his nose to the grindstone and did what he had to do. He worked extremely hard and won all of our hearts.”

Peter said that William got everything he needed at SPC.

“The faculty and everybody over there was very supportive,” he said. “He was very well challenged.”

Still A Kid

Though he is surrounded by adults, William still gets lots of time in with other kids in the family’s church. He enjoys playing tag, hide-and-seek, football and basketball. Like other kids, he also enjoys video games. Unlike other kids, his favorite is a strategic history game, in which players envision alternative histories.

“It’s fun to theorize,” William said. “Like, what if Germany had won World War I?”

His father reported that he actually plays more than the average kid.

“He has lots of play time because he learns so fast,” he said. “He might have classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but the rest of the time he plays and plays.”

Future Plans

Of all his classes, William said Astronomy was his favorite, and he hopes to become an astrophysicist and work for NASA. He also hopes to explain some of the mysteries of the universe.

“So many people these days think that religion and science are separate,” he said. “But priests and bishops in the olden days used science to talk about God. I want to prove that God does exist through science, so that the world can know.”

William’s plan is to finish his Bachelor’s degree in physics, then earn a PhD in astrophysics by the time he’s 18.

Though it’s time for William to move on, Davis says that he is sure that SPC was the right place for him.

“William found in SPC a place where he could grow and show what he needed to show to the community. I think his experience here speaks volumes not only of him, but also of SPC’s faculty, administration and students. We really care if the student succeeds. That’s why we do what we do.”

St. Petersburg College welcomed its newest alumni – more than 1,000 graduates – at the college’s 137th commencement on Saturday, July 21.

Summer 2018 SPC Graduation photo

“Today, we congratulate our students and their families who have persevered to graduation, which is a huge milestone,” said SPC President Tonjua Williams. “You inspired us with your determination and today we celebrate you.”

The college awarded more than 600 associate degrees this term. The top degree awards included respiratory care and advanced technology diploma emergency medical technician.

11 and a college graduate

One of SPC’s new alumnus is just 11-years-old. William Maillis walked across the stage, shook hands with President Williams, and graduated with an Associate in Arts. Up next? Attending the University of South Florida and working toward completing his doctorate by the time he’s 18, William said.

Graduates share their stories

Two student speakers, Kevin Wesley and Alessandra Korber, addressed their fellow graduates and relatives with messages of perseverance, courage, and hope that drew cheers from their audiences.

Wesley earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration. Korber earned an Associate in Science.

“There are no questions in anyone’s mind that each and every one of us have experienced our own adversities, hardships, successes, and triumphs throughout our educational journey,” Wesley said. “Whatever your story, whatever your motivation, be sure to continue forward.  Remember to be persistent through all adversities that life may bring to you.”

Korber shared a quote from John F. Kennedy, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”

Graduation by the numbers

SPC’s oldest graduate this term is 69 years old. Eight graduates are over the age of 60. Fifty-eight percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, SPC has awarded 171,685 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

St. Petersburg College will hold its 137th commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 21 at the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo.

The youngest graduate is 11 years old, the oldest is 69 years old and eight graduates are over the age of 60. Fifty-eight percent of the graduates are female.

With this graduating class, SPC will have awarded 171,685 degrees since the college – Florida’s first community college – was founded in 1927.

SPC will award:

  • 659 Associate in Arts degrees
  • 153 Associate in Science degrees
  • 51 Bachelor of Applied Science degrees
  • 39 Bachelor of Science degrees
  • 168 certifications

Kevin Wesley and Alessandra Korber will address fellow graduates and guests. Wesley will earn a Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Administration. Korber will earn an Associate in Science.

This year, 35 of the best and the brightest students from across Pinellas County were selected as the St. Petersburg College 2018 Presidential Scholars. They will receive a total of more than $230,000 in tuition scholarship awards. An awards presentation was held on July 10 at the Seminole Campus Digitorium to honor the scholarship recipients. At the event, Presidential Scholars were congratulated by:

The Scholars and their family members were also treated to remarks from Fraire, who is currently enrolled in the A.S. Web Development Program.

“I am thankful to SPC for not only awarding me with funds to go to school, but also creating a place where learning is encouraged and respect is displayed,” Fraire said.

Theresa McFarland, Acting Executive Director of SPC Foundation Presenting Medal to 2018 Presidential Scholar

SPC’s prestigious Presidential Scholarship recognizes outstanding achievement among Pinellas County high school students. Graduating seniors from public, private, parochial, and home school environments who have a minimum weighted GPA of 3.5 are eligible to apply.

The scholarship provides full tuition for 60 credit hours of study at SPC. As Presidential Scholars, these students are automatically accepted into the SPC Honors Program, which is committed to ensuring the optimal educational experience for dedicated and talented students.

Presidential Scholarship recipients are selected annually based on merit and test scores.

The dust has settled – and the smoke cleared – at St. Petersburg College (SPC) as the institution approaches its second anniversary of being tobacco free. The student-led initiative to ban all forms of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes, on all SPC campuses and properties was formally adopted in June 2016.

“Secondhand smoke is a major hazard, and a lot of people do not want to be around it,” SPC St. Petersburg Gibbs Campus SGA President Fallia Zacharopoulou said. “I’m very proud to be at SPC where we look out for each other.”

The Truth Initiative, a national foundation dedicated to ending tobacco use, awarded SPC a $10,000 grant through its Smoke-Free and Tobacco-Free Community College grant program to assist with implementing and publicizing the new tobacco-free policy.

“Our students raised a concern, performed research and professionally presented their findings,” said Dr. Jamelle Conner, Provost of SPC’s St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus. “Being awarded the Truth Initiative grant was further validation of their good work, and we greatly appreciate the support that the grant provided in making SPC smoke and tobacco-free.”

The grant wrapped up earlier this spring. However, SPC will not cease efforts to promote its smoke-free policy.

Under the Truth Initiative grant, SPC held multiple Wellness and Awareness events on campus. Tobacco Free Forums were also held on multiple SPC campuses to encourage open dialogue between students, faculty and staff on the new policy and related concerns to smoking and tobacco use. Information on the tobacco-free policy was regularly disseminated to ensure new students were aware of the new rules at the start of each term.

Zacharopoulou has helped to inform and educate her peers on the benefits of the initiative.

“I believe the tobacco-free campus policy is a great addition to the College,” Zacharopoulou said. “I strongly believe in being environmentally friendly, especially on a college campus, where students are here to learn with limited distractions.”

In Florida, 18-to-24 year-olds have the highest prevalence of cigarette smoking, compared to all other age groups. Many college students believe their current tobacco use is harmless, that they are not addicted and that they will quit smoking when they graduate, but studies show otherwise. Research demonstrates that young adults who smoke find that it leads to a lifetime of addiction, resulting in tobacco-related disease and premature death.

More than 20 colleges and universities have enacted smoke-free campus policies in the Sunshine State.