Spotlight On: Angela Garcia Falconetti, President, Polk State College

Spotlight On: Angela Garcia Falconetti, President, Polk State College

2023-06-07T11:43:18-04:00June 6th, 2023|Education, Spotlight On, Tampa Bay|

2 min read June 2023 To be bolder is the name of the game in the coming years for Polk State College. “We’re going to have a bolder presence. We’re growing rapidly. We have land, we have resources,” President Angela Garcia Falconetti told Invest:. Falconetti also discussed how the college is navigating the economic landscape and what is being done regarding affordability. 

What have been the key highlights and achievements for the college in the past year? 

We’ve been very fortunate to have appropriated funds for construction, renovation and remodeling projects. We received $40 million and so much of those dollars if not all came from some of the COVID relief money that the state was provided. That was an amazing gift for us. Currently, we are renovating our fine arts building on our Winter Haven campus. It might not seem like renovation projects are all that important but they are because the buildings are old and we want to ensure we have state-of-the-art facilities with top-notch technology and equipment so that students know what they’re working on when they hit the workforce.

How do you expect Polk State to navigate the current economic challenges? 

The most important thing that we can do at this juncture is to continue doing what we do best, which is to provide quality education to our students and quality services so that they can complete their education, whether that means transferring to a major university or entering the workforce. We want our students to have what they need so they can be viable workforce members. We also want to provide customized training to businesses to help meet those needs.  

What does the growth of the Tampa Bay region mean for Polk State College?  

The Haines City-Davenport area is the fastest-growing area in the county. The Hispanic population I believe is over 42%. We know that that demographic profile is growing and we need to make sure that we are providing the services that they need to succeed. 

It’s also exciting because we have land we can build on. We’re not landlocked like a lot of other major cities. The growth of the Tampa Bay area, or any kind of growth, is positive for us. Our job is to ensure that we have the quality services and efficiencies in place to knock it out of the park when attending to that growth. 

How would you analyze the progress that’s been made overall in keeping education affordable for students? 

In our state, there hasn’t been a directive not to increase tuition; however, it is understood that our mission is to keep the cost low, so we have not raised tuition at Polk State. We have many scholarships and, of course, there’s federal financial aid. We also had the COVID relief money that helped our students throughout a very tough time. We try every which way possible to ensure that students don’t leave here with that large loan debt that we see across the country. 

How do you evaluate the value of higher education?

When I speak with students, my main message is that education is something that no one can take away from you. I do believe that that is a critical message. The other message is if you want to enhance your livelihood, at the minimum, you’re going to need a specialization. You may not need a two-year degree or a four-year degree but you need to be a specialist in something. Higher education is the key to moving individuals out of poverty to prosperity. I believe it’s the key to the future. 

How do you adapt your curriculum to meet local business needs?

We need to understand as an institution what the business needs are and what that environment looks like. Oftentimes, on-site training as opposed to having it at our institution is beneficial. For example, during the onset of COVID, we began a partnership with Nucor Steel, a Fortune 500 company and one of the largest steel manufacturing companies. We have in-class courses on our campus but we also went on-site to fully understand their needs, including holding conversations with their CEO. 

I believe that exposure to and partnerships with businesses and what they look like are critical. 

What is your vision for the college’s future?

We just completed our new five-year strategic plan. The theme is A Bolder Polk State College. We’re going to be even brighter and bigger than what we were before. We’re going to have a bolder presence. We’re growing rapidly. We have land, we have resources and as these businesses continue to come here, we hope to be their primary trainer.  

What are some of the projects or initiatives that you’re excited to push forward for the college?  

We launched the National Public Safety Innovation Academy in partnership with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. We graduated the first cohort in March and featured participants from eight states, including Florida. The goal of the program is to develop middle-level managers who want to become executives within law enforcement or corrections. It is a STEM-based program and it’s only one of three in the country. We’re very excited about that and look forward to growing that program.

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