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Students arriving for class on the SFSC Highlands Campus.

SFSC officially launched the 2016-17 academic year on Friday, with the start of classes for students enrolled in occupational courses. Monday saw the return of a much larger contingent of the student body: students enrolled in college credit courses.

On hand to greet the students at the SFSC Highlands Campus were faculty and employees handing students bottled water to help them beat the heat and humidity.

Also helping students stay cool was a snow cone station staffed by students, college employees, and, by the most unlikely of all, a deputy sheriff.

Deputy Zachary Lehman with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office will now patrol the SFSC Highlands Campus to complement the college’s security staff.

Students found planners and maps awaiting them. Most important, they found an SFSC employee greeting them with a hearty “welcome back.”

The new academic year marks the start of SFSC’s 51st year serving students in DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

As new students made their way around campus, the college faculty starts the academic year under the direction of entirely new set of deans. Erik Christensen, formerly professor of physics, begins his first fall term as dean of Applied Sciences and Technology. Lynn MacNeill takes the helm of the Division of Arts and Sciences as interim dean while the college mounts a search for a permanent dean.

SFSC is actively searching for a new dean to head up the Division of Health Sciences after Rebecca Sroda retired during the summer.

Students taking classes in the Art Department will meet two new instructors. Karla Respress, formerly with Avon Park High School, will pick up the course load of Cathy Futral, who retired in May. Megan Stepe, who doubles as the curator for the Museum of Florida Art and Culture, will teach art appreciation.

Still, much of what was in place in the previous academic year carries forward into the 2016-17. The college continues offering a slate of associate degree programs, including a beefed up Network Systems Technology program.

Students in occupational programs have more options. From Medical Coding to Digital Forensics to forklift driving, SFSC has added short-term programs to keep pace with the demands of employers in its service district.

This fall, SFSC has enrolled its second class of Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) students, a new class of Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE), and added another cohort of Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management (BAS-SM) students.

This fall, SFSC will launch a faculty enhancement and research program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dr. Charlotte Pressler is the lead investigator of a three-year scholarly endeavor to infuse Florida’s history into not just standard history classes, but literature, psychology, sociology, and philosophy courses.

The start of the new academic year also kicks off a new season of Panther athletic competition. First out of the box this year are the Lady Panther volleyball players. They go up against Florida College at home on Aug. 25, 6 p.m., in the Panther Gym. The Lady Panther Cross Country team will hold time trials on the Highlands Campus on Friday, Aug. 26, 6:30 p.m. The season schedules and Panther team rosters are at this link: SFSC Athletics