Ricki Vann, class of 2011, chose South Florida State College thinking she would play intercollegiate volleyball, earn her associate degree, and then transfer to a four-year university.

Vann had options for sure admission at several universities. Still, she had a special choice, one she thought might prove too daunting.

“As I was nearing graduation from SFSC, I thought I would apply to Barry University in Miami Shores,” Vann said. “But I really wanted to go the University of Florida.”

Vann said she had a respectable GPA at SFSC. But with thousands of high-performing transfer students from across the state vying for a seat at the Gainesville-based university, Vann thought she might have set her sights too high.

ricki vann on air

Ricki Vann on air at WEAR in Pensacola

When not on the volleyball court or in class, the Highlands County native interned at a Sebring country music radio station. It was there she learned a career in broadcasting was in her future. Her most pressing decision was where she would finish out her education.

In her second year at SFSC, Vann recalled she was struggling through a biology class taught by James Broen, who was keen to offer her tips on how to prepare for class examinations. One day he asked where she planned to finish up her undergraduate work.

“I told Dr. Broen I wanted to be a Gator but wasn’t sure if I would apply,” Vann said. “He told me I could make it into the University of Florida, ‘After all, Ricki, you’ll be getting your degree from SFSC, so you can do it.’”

Vann said that Broen’s words of encouragement gave her the boost she needed to get through his class and the motivation to apply to the University of Florida.

“I applied and got accepted,” Vann said. “Broen’s support was awesome and it made all the difference for me.”

At Florida, Vann studied broadcast journalism, earning her degree in 2013 and gaining invaluable experience through two internships at local radio stations.

Vann parlayed that education and experience into the job that she had wished for: a spot as an on-air reporter with WEAR, an ABC affiliate in Pensacola, Fla. Vann’s classmates at SFSC will remember her as Vicki Vann Albritton. She now uses her middle name as her surname in her professional role.

“I always remember my time at SFSC and the solid foundation that made my success possible,” Vann said. “Playing volleyball I learned teamwork, I acquired knowledge in the classroom, and learned how to treat people from my time with the faculty and staff at SFSC.”

Vann said she’s on the career path of her dreams, one that keeps her busy. In addition to her current assignment, she will take on sports reporting for a sister station later this month.

“I won’t be going back to Sebring until Christmas,” Vann said, with an air of playful apprehension. “I sleep now whenever I can, sometimes even in my car,” she joked.

 Looking back on her choice of colleges coming out of high school, Vann said that while she chose SFSC mainly to take advantage of the volleyball scholarship, she has come to appreciate another benefit of studying at a college where the headcount was under 2,500.

“One of the fondest memories I have is the individual attention I received from faculty and counselors,” Vann recalled. “I also got a chance to play volleyball, serve in student government, and really get to know people, which is not easy to do at large university like Florida.”

Now 24 years old, and one year into her marriage with husband Riley Stewart, Vann said her tight schedule has her putting off plans to start a family anytime soon.

Does Vann have any advice for folks trying to settle on a college? Drawing on her experience at SFSC and the University of Florida, Vann takes a practical view.

“I’d tell them not to cancel out plans to attend SFSC because they want the so-called four-year experience,” Vann said. “You can get that ‘college experience’ at SFSC and in a more intimate setting.”

She said students can enhance their time at SFSC by getting involved in student government, spending more time hanging out on campus, and nurturing a sense of school spirit.

What’s more, she noted when she left SFSC for the University of Florida, she had already completed all her core courses, allowing her to focus exclusively on her major’s coursework.

“I was amused meeting students who were worrying about history 101 with 900 students in the same room,” Vann said.

“I was way past that and focusing exclusively on my major,” Vann said. “I can thank SFSC for that.”