Support staff at PTC

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Always willing to go the extra mile, the student services team at Pinellas Technical College (PTC) in St. Pete provides a number of resources and options to help students succeed in their education and ultimately their life goals.

As with many life goals, this begins with the first step.

“We make sure that students get registered for the appropriate classes, we make sure that they’re set up for their financial aid or being funded by any special agencies,” said guidance department chair Nancy Stevens. “We make sure that all that is in place before they get registered.”

Khalilah Roberson, a student services team member, stressed that they try and make sure that the program placement is appropriate and is in alignment with the students’ real program of interest and ultimate career goals.

“They also do personal counseling,” added Carolyn Kilpatrick of the records department. “With some of the students struggling through personal issues they try to help them in any kind of way to getting through the program. They find different avenues for the students.”

Stevens explained that they like to give the students an opportunity to meet with all the instructors, so they will personally walk students down to the classroom. PTC has a career-testing program called Career Scope, she said, for students who may not have a clear idea of what career path they want to pursue.

“We try to set them up with that so at least that puts them on a better path,” Stevens said. “They can shadow the programs if they would like to do that, and we encourage them to do internet searches. They just learn more about what they may or may not want to do.”

Students can “shadow” a program by coming in for five minutes or an hour or all day, she explained. To Stevens, it is extremely rewarding to see students find an area that sparks their interest, finish a program, find work in their field and ultimately become successful.

“It’s not just getting a job for them,” she said, “it’s getting a career and it’s something that they can be proud of and help their family and help themselves!”

A St. Pete native, Roberson explained that she is familiar with all the resources and avenues available to students and graduates and can readily help them along their career paths.

“A lot of our students come to us in an effort to redefine themselves, rebuild and reestablish themselves,” added Arilee Still of admissions. “Some or many of them with a college degree or they’ve been in the military, so they’ve had a life of accomplishment somewhere along the way. Some of them have not had a whole lot of academic success along the way, so they come here and they’re able to redefine themselves.”

Still estimated that 99 percent of students come to PTC with a program goal in mind but are not sure how they’re going to accomplish that goal.

“So many of the things that we do is to support them throughout the time they’re enrolled in the program,” Still said, “so by the time they get through a 12 week PCA class or a nine month AC Repair class or a two year Auto class those students have been supported throughout. Many of them [have] that sense of knowing that whatever their previous failures were, they no longer exist. Now a new chapter for success has been created out of the time that they’ve spent here.”

It is evident that the student services team—which includes Stevens, Roberson, Kilpatrick, Still, Debbi Humbel, Mary Cleary and Robinn Prater—is not only involved in the students’ lives on a professional level but a personal one as well.

“We all live in the community,” Still said, “but to shop in the same grocery stores, sit in the same churches in some cases, sit in some of the PTA meetings with some of the parents and students that we work with, and to know that we were a part of their success? That’s life changing even for us!”

Debbi Humbel, who works with dually enrolled high school students, attested that PTC offers incentive not only to learn a trade or pursue a career path, but provides additional motivation for students to focus on their studies in high school.

“I get a lot of high school students that are not college bound, necessarily,” she said. “They’re kind of struggling through high schools and I definitely see it as a turnaround for them because they know that if they can’t keep up their grades in high schools they can’t continue to stay here. In the past I’ve had high school students graduate, come back and finish as adult students. They’re graduating from high school and finishing a program here at the same time. I get to see a lot of success.”

Added Kilpatrick: “We’ve had some students say that this is the first graduation they’ve had in their lives, so it’s very important to feel that we were a part of it!”

From doing all they can to get students whatever financial aid is available, to helping guide them in any of several great programs at PTC, it is apparent the student services members work together as a unit.

“It’s each and every one of us,” Still affirmed. “It’s not one bigger or smaller than the other, but each and every one of us comes with the heart to serve our students every single day. It’s good to be on the same team with everybody. We all really do have a role in the end with each student’s success.”

“We all work in the student services area as a team,” echoed Stevens. “We couldn’t work without the people in records, we couldn’t work without the people in financial aid and they couldn’t work without us—we’re so interconnected. And the students see that. They see the commitment, they see the hard work, they see the caring that comes out of this office and I think they appreciate it.”

Kilpatrick agreed that the students see that the student services team is there for them, and every member is willing to do her part to ensure that students achieve their goals.

“If they come up against something,” she said, “we will try to figure out a way to get the students through it but were going to make sure you’re going to become successful one way or the other.”

Known as the “best kept secret” in Pinellas for many years, PTC has recently seen an increase in enrollment and awareness through the area. Kilpatrick speculated one reason is that the campus is multi-faceted, more frequently serving as a venue for community organizations and gatherings these days.

“We’re doing more things out in the community and inviting them into our home,” she said. “This is our home, this is where we work this is where we pretty much live and breathe.”

Word of mouth helps, too, according to Stevens: “We have opened up our school to agencies and functions and organizations and they are the people who would say, ‘I’ve no idea this school was here,’” she said.

As to why more and more people of all ages are turning to PTC for the first step in a new career opportunity, Stevens said that one reason is that it’s much more affordable than many educational institutions, including traditional colleges and private schools.

“We don’t have any loans,” she explained, “so when the students leave our school they don’t owe anybody anything. At a lot of the other schools, they’re racking up debts of up to $50,000. We are affordable.”

Humbel added that the students get to see firsthand what PTC has to offer.

“The students here are doing hands on work,” she said, “so they can come out and see what a job is going to be like, what they’re going to be doing while they’re here. It helps high school students kind of visualize. Being able to visualize what the job is going to be really helps them make a better decision.”

Still said that they are able to offer that all-important personalized approach for any student and they strive to get “to the heart” of what the students’ needs really are.

“Not one of us minds hand holding that student through every step of what it takes for them to sort out a program,” she said. “I’ve had students come in and say, ‘Well, I’m thinking about nursing and I’m thinking about welding’ and I’ll say, ‘Those are huge gaps apart! Let’s talk more about what your interests really are.’”

Stevens noted that the students are thankful of the extra effort the student services team is willing to make on a daily basis.

“They appreciate the time that we give them, the personalization,” she said. “I had a student thank me over and over one day in my office because he’d been to a different school where it was in and out of the office—what do you want—sign up—here you go—have a nice day. And we don’t do that, we really take the time to talk to the students and listen to what they’re saying.”

Every member of the student services team cited the new leadership as another reason that PTC is earning a more prominent spot on the educational map. Boe Norwood, former assistant director at the St. Pete campus, took over as director in September 2014. Norwood was instrumental in bringing back some relevant programs to the campus.

“Both district level leadership and school based leadership are working in tandem,” Still averred. “One of the approaches in the last couple of years is making sure that most programs that are offered are in step with the job market that’s out there. If we can continue to evolve in that direction we’ll continue to be a very vital part of what goes on in the community.”

As PTC continues to grow and offer career paths to students from all walks of life and all backgrounds, the reward is apparent to the student services team, which functions as the backbone of the college.

“To watch someone who has struggled in life and they felt like life gave up on them,” Kilpatrick said, “but then to succeed in something, they leave with a smile and that is the most rewarding thing to see —that they made it and their self-esteem was improved by it.”

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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