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College, Technical School Graduates Fill the Talent Pipeline in Polk County

June 12, 2023 News

As college graduation season wraps up across the country, more than 3,100 students graduated from six institutions of higher education in Polk County. Those students are now in the talent pipeline, and you can connect with them through Handshake. 

Handshake is a technology platform focused on connecting students with work experiences, including internships. 

“This career center software, used by five of our colleges and universities, provides a convenient location for local employers to find college graduates to fill their open positions,” said Sean Malott, President & CEO of the Central Florida Development Council. The CFDC provided grants for colleges that transitioned to Handshake. 

Stacy Campbell-Domineck, President & CEO of CareerSource Polk, a private, nonprofit administrator of workforce funds, said it’s important to keep college graduates here. 

“Polk County has become one of the fastest-growing, vibrant business communities across the nation. The rapid growth requires a talented and skilled workforce to meet our employers’ ever-growing needs,” she said. “One of the most critical assets any community could have with regard to its workforce is a strong ability to retain and maintain a talent pipeline, which includes its college graduates. Polk County is home to 10 colleges, technical colleges, and universities that turn out graduating students every year. This makes it critically important for our young talent to be aware of the tremendous career and growth opportunities right here at home.” 

Those institutions are critical to retaining talent, Campbell-Domineck said. “They demonstrate a commitment to excellence and are keenly focused on equipping students to meet our labor market needs. Our local colleges and universities understand the pulse of Polk County and remain abreast of its industry needs. They maintain strategic partnerships with businesses and industries in our community, which makes them highly adaptable to the changing demand for specific skills in our area.” 

They also help connect students to internships and other opportunities for hands-on experience through programs like Handshake.  

“For graduates, this promotes a seamless transition into the workforce,” she said. “They are doing an incredible job in helping graduating students obtain the skills necessary for success in today’s job market.” 

All of that helps the organization Campbell-Domineck oversees, she said. “They remain engaged with employers and work tirelessly to address skills gaps in our area. This business engagement creates synergy that drives curricula to ensure that the knowledge and skills of the talent pipeline are relevant to business and industry. The result? Employers in Polk have a skilled talent pool of eager individuals who are excited to enter the workforce and drive our economic growth.” 

U.S. News & World Report named Florida as the top state for higher education for the sixth year in a row – since the ranking started. Florida Polytechnic University is one of 12 public institutions within the State University System and the only one in Polk County. 

Following is information on the local institutions and graduates, when available.  

Florida Polytechnic

Florida Poly graduated more than 200 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates.  

Thomas Dougherty, the Warburg Chair in International Relations at Simmons University in Boston and a former U.S. ambassador and Fulbright leader, was the event’s guest speaker. He urged graduates to use their expertise and their voice to guide policymakers and decision-makers on issues they may not fully understand. 

“STEM leaders must also be policy leaders. In a historic and unique period of technological disruption, do not cede the policy space. Instead, lead that space,” Dougherty said. “As STEM graduates, you are among the few speakers of a global language that few others understand.” 

Southeastern University

Southeastern graduated 943 students as part of its 86th graduating class. In total, the college has graduated more than 23,200 students from its Lakeland campus and 83 partner sites. 

In addition to Florida, graduates hail from 44 states and 18 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Italy and Lebanon.  

Three graduates completed the SEU Link Program, an inclusive, post-secondary education program designed for young adult students with mild intellectual disabilities. 

Florida Sen. Colleen Burton received the President’s Award for her work in the Florida Legislature. Burton served eight years in the Florida House of Representatives before being elected to the Florida Senate in 2022. She is chair of the Health Policy Committee and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. 

Florida Southern University

More than 500 undergraduate students earned degrees at the Lakeland college’s 139th graduation ceremony.  

Keynote speaker John K. Adams, who graduated with a degree in accounting from FSC in 1992 and is now the CEO of Altus Fire and Safety, headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., told students that “hard work and education are the fundamentals that lead to a better existence.” His advice to students:  

  • Work hard and persevere. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take a chance and stretch yourself. 
  • Be open to change. 
  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

Polk State College

Polk State College held its 128th commencement, graduating 1,140 students, including 89% from Polk County. Others reside in Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Of those who graduated were:  

  • 109 with Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management degrees. 
  • 15 with Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Aerospace Sciences degrees. 
  • 36 with B.S. in Nursing degrees. 
  • 21 with B.S. in Criminal Justice degrees. 
  • 17 with B.S in Elementary Education degrees. 
  • 3 with B.S. in Early Childhood Education degrees. 

Another 766 received associate in arts degrees and 125 received associate in science or associate in applied science degrees, which prepare students to transition directly into the workforce in fields including health sciences and engineering technology. An additional 48 graduated with certificates that give them a competitive edge in the workforce. 

Distinguished 1994 Alumnus Bo Boyte was the keynote speaker. The vice president of Commercial Banking for Bank of Central Florida, Boyte worked for TD Bank Group and Wells Fargo before joining Bank of Central Florida. He was instrumental in opening the office in Downtown Winter Haven and is very involved in the community, including serving on the Polk State College Foundation board of directors as the Development Chair.  

Webber International University

At its 96th graduation celebration, the Babson Park university graduated 150 students. Keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin focused his speech on the graduates being prepared and displaying integrity in all they do, said Ryan Reis, director of Alumni Affairs.  

The university also celebrated Charles Wunker, a 39-year professor who retired. Webber recognized him as a Distinguished Professor of Science, an honor never before awarded, Reis said. 

Warner University

More than 180 students graduated from the Lake Wales university as part of the Class of 2023. In his keynote speech, Corey Brooks, founder and senior pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago and CEO of Project H.O.O.D. Communities Development Corp., urged graduates to seize the day and make a positive impact in the world. “It’s not the duration of your life; it’s the donation of your life,” said Brooks, who received an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contributions to society. 

Traviss and Ridge Technical Colleges

At Traviss Technical College and Ridge Technical College, students can pick from more than a dozen programs that can lead to certificates or degrees.  

For instance, Traviss in Lakeland offers everything from Building Trades & Construction Design and cosmetology to electricity technician and welding technology. 

Ridge in Winter Haven offers everything from diesel technician and drafting to plumbing and medical assisting. 

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