Kicking off the new year…virtually

By Polk State Newsroom

The start of the fall semester has a different look and feel this year, due to COVID-19. Incoming college freshmen may not be getting the college kick-off they had once anticipated, but a Florida college is making sure they still feel welcome.

Polk State College’s incoming freshmen received a virtual welcome to the college that did not lack the energy or information of traditional First Flight Freshmen Welcome events held as part of the First Year Experience (FYE) Program for first-time-in-college students.

A week-long program that culminated on August 7 with the official First Flight Freshmen Welcome was marked by virtual sessions for students to learn about the college’s eight Guided Pathways, connect with professors, staff and peers, and win scholarships.

“Getting started in college is difficult in the best of times, but faced with COVID-19, the incoming class has had to overcome tremendous obstacles,” said Cate Igo, director of academic success initiatives who heads the FYE Program.

“You all are going to be incredibly successful this year because, if nothing else, you have faced the coronavirus and you have accomplished online admission, online registration, and online pre-advising,” Igo shared with students. “You are survivors. I have no doubt that this is going to be an incredible class and you all are going to graduate and do amazing things out there in the world.”

FYE launched in fall 2015 to improve retention and completion of first-time-in-college (FTIC) students, and it has proven successful with a nearly 20 percent increase in fall-to-fall retention since the program’s inception. It is a comprehensive onboarding program that includes First Flight Freshmen Welcome, the First-Year Seminar, success coaching, peer mentoring and more that allow students to connect to key resources.

Like the college as a whole, the FYE Program has quickly adapted to challenges and changes to the learning environment caused by the pandemic to ensure students continue to receive an exceptional level of support.

Throughout First Flight Freshmen Welcome Week, students participated in virtual sessions about Polk State’s Guided Pathways and were provided with program maps that list the courses students need to take, from start to finish, to accomplish their academic and career goals.

“Countless students have shared with me how much they appreciated the opportunity to meet the faculty and get copies of their program maps,” Igo said. “The maps give them instant peace of mind that they are taking the correct classes and are on track for timely graduation.”

Students also heard from Student Government Association Engagement Specialist Blessen Jacob and alumnus Samuel Serrano, who received his Polk State associate degree, achieved a bachelor’s degree in hospitality from Florida International University and is working on a master’s degree while working in hospitality in Miami.

As the first generation in his family to attend college, Serrano lauded Polk State’s TRiO Student Support Services, which provides mentoring, tutoring, financial aid planning, and more to underrepresented students.

“My advice is to never give up, no matter how long the degree takes or what unexpected conditions may come up,” Serrano said. “There are so many great resources.”

Jacob shared similar advice with freshmen.

“It is awesome that you all chose to come to Polk State College to achieve your future goals. That decision is what fuels Polk State’s student leaders like me to stand behind you and support you every step of the way,” he said. “Remember, if you need help, all you have to do is ask.”

Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti welcomed freshmen to the college family and reminded students that despite the pandemic, the college remains fully functional with services available remotely.

“Your health, safety and success remain our top priorities, and the resources are in place to ensure you receive the quality education and support services you deserve. Today, we celebrate the start of your journey,” Falconetti shared. “Congratulations, you are officially Eagles! We are here for you and together, We Are Polk!

How is your college welcoming freshmen? Sound off at LinkedIn.

Polk State Newsroom

provides coverage of Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida.