Brianna Waters

AVON PARK, Fla. – March 28, 2019 – Brianna Waters, a freshman at SFSC and prospective dental hygienist, began her second term as Hardee County Cattlemen’s Sweetheart in February. The Bowling Green, Fla. native originally applied for the honor while a senior at Hardee Senior High School and, this year, was asked to continue her efforts. She will wear her crown and sash for another one-year term—February through January.

“I thought becoming the Hardee County Cattlemen’s Sweetheart would be a good opportunity,” Waters said. “I could do a lot of things to promote the beef industry and expand my knowledge as well.” To apply to be Sweetheart, Waters’ father had to be a member of the Hardee County Cattlemen’s Association in good standing for two years. “My family has cattle, and I’ve raised cattle for most of my life,” she said. “I have my own herd at my house. They’re cross-bred cattle—Angus and Brahman.”

As county Sweetheart, Waters’ duties are varied. “This year and last year, I was present at the Hardee County Fair, and I carried the American flag at the Hardee County Cattlemen’s Ranch Rodeo in July. This year, I want to do as much as I can. I’d like to go to the different schools in Hardee County and promote the beef industry because so many careers are influenced by it. For instance, restaurateurs need to know about the healthier cuts of beef. It’s a great industry to be involved with.”

As a county-level Sweetheart, Waters is eligible and plans to compete for the state title with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association at its annual convention in June. Competitors make PowerPoint presentations on the beef industry and answer impromptu questions at the Youth Appreciation Luncheon. They are required to take a written exam on the beef industry and have two interviews with the judges.

“This is not a beauty pageant,” said Kim Strickland, Florida Cattlemen’s Association Sweetheart chairman. “These young women are judged on how well they know the Florida cattle and beef industry and how well they can spread the word about it. They serve as ambassadors to educate the general public about the industry. While serving as Sweetheart, they gain valuable experience—public speaking, communications, and leadership skills.”

Throughout the following year, the winner represents the Florida Cattlemen’s Association across the state. Some of their duties are teaching elementary school children about ranching, agriculture, and the beef industry; helping the Florida Cattlewomen’s Association in cooking demonstrations; and appearing at livestock shows. Upon completion of a one-year term, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association Sweetheart can earn a $2,000 college scholarship.

Although cattle has been her focus for much of her life, Waters developed an interest in becoming a dental hygienist. Currently, she’s working on pre-requisites toward acceptance into SFSC’s Dental Hygiene program. She hopes to start the program in August 2020.

“I liked the dentist as a kid and thought dentistry was interesting,” she said. “I’ve wanted to become a dental hygienist since I was a freshman in high school, so I was planning to become a dental hygienist before I became Sweetheart. It’s a career that’s needed. No matter where I end up, I can still be a dental hygienist.”

Waters chose to pursue SFSC’s Dental Hygiene program because she heard “how great it is. It’s local, too. I can stay at home and be involved in Hardee County and be with my family.”

After graduating from SFSC, Waters would like to remain in Hardee County, if possible. “I don’t know if I’ll work in Hardee County, but if a dentist’s office opened, I’d definitely try to get a job there. I don’t want to leave Hardee County. I want my family and kids to have the agricultural advantages that I did— the opportunity of being able to participate in the county fair and have their own cattle, everything that I got to do. They wouldn’t be able to do those things if we lived in a bigger town.”

FLORIDA CAPITOL, TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – March 22, 2019 – The Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog announced at a press conference the results of its independent assessment of the economic impacts of the Florida College System. The research performed by the Florida TaxWatch, alongside economist Richard Harper, Ph.D, shows that the Florida College System provides a significant return on the State’s investment, increases expected work-life earnings for students, and compares favorably to colleges nationally in terms of enrollment and graduation rates. The assessment highlights that the return on investment for students is significant. Students experience increased expected work-life earnings of $491,777 to $838,023 and a repayment of total cost time of only 2.5 to 3.8 years. In addition, the higher work-life salaries earned by degree holders compared to high-school completers compared with the public investment in the system translates to a return of $10.80 to $15.42 in increased Florida Gross Domestic Product for every $1 invested and generates nearly 10,000 new jobs.

“The TaxWatch report highlights the value provided by the Florida College System given the corresponding high return on investment,” said Dr. Thomas Leitzel, president of South Florida State College (SFSC). “The report confirms that students, upon graduation, enter jobs that provide high wages and salaries. SFSC Associate in Science degree recipients earn more than $56,000 on average in their first year of work following graduation, placing SFSC as the top college in the state for this criteria. We’re thrilled to see SFSC graduates contributing to Florida’s economy in a meaningful way, plus they remain in Florida and as a result of their academic success, they enjoy a high degree of professional and personal satisfaction.”

“A great many of our university graduates started at a community college, myself included,” said Florida TaxWatch president and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Florida’s College System has provided an opportunity for generations of Floridians to have a better life, and the return on the State’s taxpayers’ investment has been significant. To make Florida No. 1 in the United States for workforce education, we must continue to invest in these worthy institutions.”

The announcement was presented alongside Representative Overdorf and Senator Flores.

“There are thousands of job openings in Florida because businesses cannot find employees with the set of skills they are looking for,” said Representative Toby Overdorf. “Thanks to the excellent research from Florida TaxWatch, we can see that the Florida College System is a national leader compared to other state systems and continues to be a good investment for the State.”

Representative Overdorf was joined by Helios Education Foundation, Florida TaxWatch, and several partners that are helping shape Florida’s economic growth, workforce development, and higher education.

“The findings by Florida TaxWatch should be of particular importance to Florida stakeholders and policymakers because they reinforce why the State’s investment into the Florida College System is important not only to current students but to Florida’s future workforce,” said Charles Hokanson, senior vice president, Florida Community Engagement at Helios Education Foundation. “The Foundation’s mission is to ensure more students, particularly first-generation, minority, and underrepresented students, complete a postsecondary degree. This assessment illustrates the value Florida colleges bring to that mission and to the prosperity of our state.”

Read the full report here.

University of Florida Choir

AVON PARK, Fla. – March 18, 2019 – The 60-member University of Florida Choir will perform its first concert on Tuesday, March 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus of South Florida State College (SFSC) in Avon Park. Conductor Dr. Will Kesling, who has served as the director of choral activities at the University of Florida for 16 years, has selected a program of spirituals and hymns from around the world and the Gospel Mass by Robert Ray.

Robert Ray’s 30-minute Gospel Mass premiered in 1979 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The response from audiences was wildly favorable. The joyful, toe-tapping music reflects African-American spirituals and jazz and the changes from the Second Vatican Council in the mid-60s. Ray composed the choral work in only two weeks.

“God controls everything I do,” said Ray, a composer, conductor and music educator. “It was written in about a two-week period. The hard part for me was not being a formally trained composer. The creativity was a result of divine inspiration. He was working with me.”

Under the direction of Dr. Kesling, with accompanist Tané Dekrey, the choir will begin with the “Kyrie” – Lord Have Mercy; then “Gloria” – Glory to God in the Highest; “Credo” – I Believe in God; “Acclamation” – Hallelujah Praise the Lord; “Sanctus” – Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts, and wrap up the first half of the concert with “Agnus Dei” – Lamb of God.

Dr. Will Kesling has conducted hundreds of choral ensembles and 46 professional symphony orchestras throughout the world. His talents for weaving together text and music, chorus and orchestra have garnered him international respect. Dr. Kesling has conducted a number of engagements in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as in major concert halls internationally. He served as the associate conductor of the Manhattan Philharmonic Orchestra in New York City; as the principal guest conductor of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra in Russia; and was the music director and conductor of the Mountain West Symphony Orchestra in Utah for 18 years.  

“This is a beautiful performance during this season of Lent,” said Cindy Garren, director of cultural programs at SFSC.  “We invite all the Gators in Highlands County to come out to support these students.”

Tickets are $12, $15, and $18.  Groups of 12 or more can save 25 percent on ticket prices plus receive a free ticket for the group leader. The Matinee Series is sponsored by the Palms of Sebring and Lampe & Kiefer Hearing Aid Centers. Videos and information are available online at Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 863-784-7178, or by visiting the box office located at 600 West College Drive in Avon Park. 

Paramedic graduates

AVON PARK, Fla. – March 7, 2019 – South Florida State College (SFSC) graduated a class of 17 paramedics during an evening ceremony at the SFSC University Center Auditorium at the Highlands Campus on Wednesday, March 6.

Receiving their paramedic certificates were Eric Adams, Terry Armstrong, Ashley Brown, James Bulger, Brian Conley, Lecil (“Sammy”) Deatherage, Jordan Eddins, Lisa Griffis, Darius Livingston, Antwann McMillan, Derek Odell, Jeremy Postin, Evan Scott, Cory Steele, Luke Turner, Taylor Walker, and Joshua Zahn. McMillan also earned his Associate in Science in Emergency Medical Services.

The graduates had just completed an 11-month college credit certificate course offered through SFSC’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) program. Paramedics work as part of an emergency response team called out to traffic accidents, fires, and other life-threatening situations.

Steven L. Ashworth, director of SFSC’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire Science programs, served as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

Ashworth told the graduates that there are five things needed to be successful in public safety. “Number one is showing up a little bit early,” he said. “Each one of you is going to work for an institution. Those people deserve for you to be there on time. Number two is working just a little bit harder. That means that when you show up, you have a good attitude. At 2 a.m., when a patient is having an event in their life, they don’t care that you don’t like your job or that you and your wife were having a bad day. That patient deserves to have 100 percent of you. It’s doing a little extra for your patient.”

He also suggested that the graduates use diplomacy when communicating but that “it’s important to stand up and say something if a medical error occurs. Stand up and say something because it’s the right thing to do.”

Ashworth told the graduates to “be a student of history but don’t live in the past. As paramedics, we may make mistakes because we’re human. We need to look back on those mistakes and learn from them. But don’t dwell on the mistake.”

His fifth point was to embrace diversity and embrace change. “Embracing diversity means to know who you’re working with, and we should embrace how we are similar but we should also embrace how we are different,” he said. “Each individual has their own strengths, and we can learn from one another because of our differences.”

He urged the graduates to accept change, because medicine changes and will only continue to change. Therefore, he said, “If you don’t want to change, this is not the career path for you.”

Finally, Ashworth welcomed the graduates as paramedic colleagues. He said, “This is the first time that the instructional staff and I will get to call you by your first names, because that’s what friends do, that’s what colleagues do.”

Later in the evening, three students were recognized for special achievement. Jeremy Postin was acknowledged for having the Highest GPA – Lecture, and Lisa Griffis was recognized for having the Highest GPA – Lab. Antwann McMillan was awarded with Most Heart, the student who showed the most determination and drive.

In a heartwarming moment, the Graduating Class of March 2019 presented a plaque to their Paramedic program instructors which said, “We thank you for your commitment and tireless dedication to the EMS program and to our success as paramedics.” A second plaque was presented to honor Dolores Breedlove, administrative assistant for SFSC’s EMS program, thanking her for her dedication to the program’s success.

SFSC also offers a 300-hour course leading to employment as an emergency medical technician (EMT). EMTs provide entry-level patient care as part of an emergency response team.

SFSC offers a two-year Associate in Science in Emergency Medical Services, which includes training in both EMT and paramedic programs. Upon completing this program, graduates can work in a supervisory EMS capacity.

For more information, contact Ashworth at 863-784-7272 or

AVON PARK, Fla. – March 5, 2019 – South Florida State College’s (SFSC) Tau Epsilon chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) was one of 578 PTK chapters nationwide to be recognized for their efforts to bring the life-changing benefits and opportunities of PTK membership to more students on their campuses.

Dubbed “Reach” Chapters, these chapters achieved or exceeded a 15 percent membership acceptance rate in 2018. The Reach Rewards program recognizes and rewards Phi Theta Kappa chapters that excel in the area of membership development.

Currently, SFSC’s Tau Epsilon chapter has 192 members. According to chapter co-advisor and director of the College’s Honors Program, Dr. Charlotte Pressler, the Tau Epsilon chapter increased membership, in part, when it opened up membership to four-year baccalaureate program students and dual enrollment students a few years ago.

“This Reach achievement is also due to the dedication of the officers and the students of PTK,” said Michelle Macbeth, Tau Epsilon chapter co-advisor. “Last year, the officers fostered and invigorated the chapter with a passion for academics and for learning. These officers also encouraged students to become active in PTK, where they felt their scholasticism was appreciated. Former advisors Kim Hemler and Dr. Sonji Nicolas had a real passion for PTK and encouraged officers to be active in the chapter.”

“We created the Reach Rewards program because we believe strongly in the mission of Phi Theta Kappa and want as many students as possible to receive the benefits of membership,” said Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, PTK president and CEO. “Increased opportunities to apply for scholarships and engage with their peers and key faculty members lead to higher completion rates, and students get those opportunities through PTK.”

A full 91 percent of Phi Theta Kappa members will complete an associate degree or transfer to a four-year college, compared to just 38 percent of students nationally. Members have access to nearly $90 million in scholarships, can gain leadership experience, and can learn essential workplace skills employers seek.

In addition, more than 750 four-year colleges and universities have established more than $37 million in transfer scholarships exclusively for Phi Theta Kappa members. The average transfer scholarship a member could receive is $2,500 a year.

“The opportunities for learning, leadership development, community service, and fellowship among members are the true benefits of membership,” Tincher-Ladner said. “The real transformation happens when students get involved in campus programming and activities designed to help students explore leadership opportunities.”

The membership acceptance rate is determined by dividing the number of students that joined PTK in the 2018 calendar year by the number that were eligible. The rate is weighted based on each college’s demographics, such as overall enrollment.

“We love it when our students are on fire for excellence,” Dr. Pressler said. “An invitation to PTK recognizes their hard work and honors their achievements.”

PTK is an honor society that recognizes the academic achievements of community and state college students and helps them to grow as scholars and leaders. The society is made up of over 3.5 million members and nearly 1,300 chapters in nine nations. PTK celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018. For more on PTK, visit

For more information about SFSC’s PTK chapter or Honors Program, contact Dr. Pressler at 863-784-7247.