Pasco-Hernando State College will host winter commencement on Tuesday, December 15, in the Physical Fitness Center at the West Campus in New Port Richey, 10230 Ridge Road. Two commencement ceremonies will honor graduates earning their Associate in Arts (AA), Associate in Science (AS), Applied Technology diploma, and certificates. The morning ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. and the afternoon commencement will begin at 4 p.m. Jamal Roberts, the first student to earn a PHSC baccalaureate degree, will participate in the afternoon ceremony. The events will stream live online at www.phsc.edu/news/webcast-live.
This year’s winter graduates include many ambitious students, and some who have encountered adversity in pursuit of a higher education.
Annie Hillin, 46, of Holiday, student speaker (morning) and a first-generation college graduate, will receive an AS degree in human services. Hillin is a member of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), Psi Beta and Tau Upsilon Alpha International Honor Society for Human Services and previous president of the Human Services Club. She was honored as Outstanding Club Member for Human Services Club 2014/2015 and voted an MVP at PHSC’s 2015 Student Leadership Retreat. Having lost her banking job of 15 years, Hillin turned to Career Central for employment assistance—in the process she registered for college and planned a career change to social work. She completed the Human Services Certificate program at PHSC in May 2014. She volunteers actively with Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, Veterans Stand Down, Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelter, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and more. “Volunteering has become a huge part of who I am and being able to continue my education will allow me to continue to help others.” Hillin will remain at PHSC to obtain a bachelor’s degree in supervision and management and plans to pursue her master’s in social work at the University of Central Florida.
Casey Fox, 20, of Zephyrhills, student speaker (afternoon), will receive her AA degree. Fox is a member of PTK and Student Government Association vice president for East Campus. While keeping up with the demands of college coursework and her responsibilities as a student leader, Fox was challenged to support her mother through a recent breast cancer diagnosis. She credits student activities coordinator and mentor, Ahmy Arca, for his support through her last year at PHSC. “Participating in student government was the highlight of my academic career,” said Fox. “The opportunity allowed me to meet so many people, build lifetime relationships and develop into someone I’m so proud to be.” She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management at the University of Central Florida and become a sign language interpreter.
Jamal Roberts, 21, of Zephyrhills, is the first student to graduate from PHSC with a Bachelor of Science in Supervision and Management. In 2012, Roberts received a scholarship to play football at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio where he studied business. Missing family and unhappy with cold Ohio winters, he returned home in 2014 to finish his bachelor’s degree. Roberts learned through his mother, a long-time PHSC employee, that the college launched its first two baccalaureate programs in fall 2014. Most of Roberts’ college credits transferred and applied to the new bachelor’s degree program, including several he received as a PHSC dual enrollment student.
Amy Kautz, 41, of Holiday, will receive her AA degree. Kautz is a member of PTK and Psi Beta and a member of the Student Advisory Council at Anclote Elementary. A single mother of two girls, full-time student and a student worker, her journey at PHSC has not been easy. During her years at PHSC, Kautz faced several emotional challenges, including the death of her mother, and a recent miscarriage. As a teenager, Kautz made the hardest decision of her life—giving her son up for adoption. Nearly two decades later, Kautz’s son reached out to her through Facebook. Kautz received his message nearly three weeks later, only to learn he died from an accidental drug overdose four days after he sent the message. “Although life has twists and turns, I am committed to finish school and be a positive role model for my daughters,” said Kautz. She will pursue a BA in business administration and finance at USF.
Vince Davenport, 48, of Brooksville, will receive his AA degree. Davenport is a member of PTK, a peer mentor and a leader of the Veterans Club at North Campus. He served in the U.S. Navy on the USS RANGER (CV-61) from 1985-89 as an aircraft handler flight deck, hanger deck where he was responsible for the launch and recovery of aircraft at sea. Davenport is married with three daughters and six grandchildren. He recognizes the need for qualified personnel to monitor our technology sector and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in information technology security at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Agnieszka Pisarczyk, 49, of Odessa, is a member of PTK and will receive an AS in business administration. The first in her family to receive a college degree, Pisarczyk came to the United States with her husband in 1987, from Warsaw, Poland. “The economic and political environment had become unstable and living conditions were deteriorating. We decided to move to the United States, a land of opportunity.” Once in the U.S., a longing for family and the language barrier were major obstacles. However, Pisarczyk and her husband, through diligence and hard work, developed professional job skills and built solid careers. Pisarczyk became a U.S. citizen in 1993. In 2012, her husband suffered a heart attack and shortly after, Pisarczyk lost her job of 12 years due to the recession. Finding a new job was daunting. “To replace my prior job/position, nowadays, a bachelor’s degree is required. In addition, most companies use an online job application process that, upon checking “no-box” for college degree automatically disqualifies you from a possible interview, regardless of knowledge or years of experience.” Pisarczyk plans to pursue a BA in finance at the University of Florida.
Erica Jones, 37, of Port Richey, offers one piece of advice, “Never give up on yourself.” Jones had a challenging family life and quit high school. Always with the intent to get back to school, she faced many road blocks along her journey making it difficult to continue her education. Finally, one day sitting amongst a room full of books she loved to read, she thought, “If I can read these books, I can go back to school.” One year later, she received her GED and immediately enrolled at PHSC. While a student, Jones worked for Meals on Wheels in Pasco County and volunteered through the PHSC Human Services Club. Jones will receive an AA and plans to pursue a BS in psychology at St. Leo University.
Mary ‘Susan’ Kessel, of Dade City, attended PHSC in 1977, and then again in 1980. Kessel was a single mother, supporting her daughter. “Even though I did not have a degree, I was fortunate to have an amazing career. In 1981, I went to work for a newly elected U.S. Congressman, Bill McCollum, and went on to work for U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles. Subsequently, I was hired by Southwest Florida Water Management District, where I served for 25 years,” said Kessel. A career highlight was her involvement with technology transfer programs (water resources technology and water law) between the U.S. and other countries. Kessel retired in 2011. “My daughter and husband place great importance on education and we have encouraged my two grandsons to strive to do their best. So, I thought I should, too,” said Kessel. She returned to PHSC in 2012 and will leave with an AA degree. Kessel’s future plans include remaining active in her community as chair the Southwest Florida Water Management District Alumni Association, member of the Dade City Garden Club, providing support to the Benedictine Monastic Community at Saint Leo Abbey and volunteering with Canine Companions for Independence.
Joe Saldivar, 26, of Land O’ Lakes, will receive his AA degree. Saldivar is a small business owner of mobile casinos for fundraising, a student worker, and a single father of a five-year-old daughter. “My participation in student activities has been life-changing. It has provided the opportunity to travel the state and compete,” says Saldivar. He is the president of the PHSC Men of Excellence club, a member of PTK and a PHSC ambassador (2013-2015). Although he has had several offers from Ivy League schools, Saldivar will stay in Land O’ Lakes with his daughter to pursue a BAS in supervision and management at PHSC.
Graduation speakers include: District Board of Trustees Chair Morris R. Porton; Charge to the Graduates Alumni Speakers, Senator John Legg, 1995 (morning) and Tim Moore, 2010 (afternoon); Faculty Speaker Regina Mirabella, professor, nursing (ADN) and faculty senate president; Reflections Speaker Bonnie Clark, Ed.D., vice president of instruction, provost, West Campus; and Student Speakers Annie Hillin (morning) and Casey Fox (afternoon). Approximately 368 degrees and certificates will be conferred at the ceremonies. An estimated 1277 of summer and winter graduates are eligible to participate.
Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) serves the educational needs and interests of its community by awarding certificates, diplomas, associate and baccalaureate degrees. As a comprehensive, multicampus learning-centered institution, PHSC utilizes various instructional modalities and support services. PHSC provides an accessible, diverse teaching and learning environment rich with opportunities for students to achieve academic success and cultural growth in a global society.