All posts by Donna Smith

Fire Academy class installs smoke alarms for seniors

Many people don’t realize that if a fire starts in their home, they have a very small amount of time to escape – as little as two minutes in some cases. That is why smoke detectors are so important in a household. On March 18, 10 members of St. Petersburg College’s Firefighting Academy Class 49 assisted the Red Cross, Oldsmar Fire Rescue Department and the International Association of Fire Fighters 2980 in providing and installing life-saving smoke detectors in the Gull Aire Village senior community.

SPC’s Public Safety Training Program program director Jim Angle is the retired Palm Harbor fire chief. When he received an email from his union requesting students and off-duty firefighters to assist the Oldsmar Fire Department with a smoke detector installation project, he was happy to help.

“I knew this would be a worthwhile project for our Fire Academy students,” Angle said.
When I asked them to assist, they were happy to do so.”

In this program, the Red Cross partners with organizations like SPC and local fire stations to install free smoke alarms for those who cannot afford to purchase or are physically unable to install them. The Red Cross also installs a limited number of specialized bedside alarms for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The students joined teams of three or four people who visited over 120 homes in the senior community, installing a total of 341 smoke detectors. Some teams collected data and provided some fire safety education to the residents, while other team members installed the detectors.

Angle said it is recommended that each home should have smoke alarms on every level, as well as in all bedrooms and outside of sleeping areas, but making sure they work properly is most important.

“Battery replacement is key,” he said. “The new lithium battery smoke detectors are 10-year smoke detectors, which should be completely replaced at the end of their 10-year life. Test the smoke detector by pushing the test button once a month, and you can also dust the smoke detector once or twice a year, depending on dust levels in the area.”

Oldsmar Fire Chief Dean O’Nale thanked the Firefighting Academy, noting, “Service projects like this go a long way to help our newest firefighters understand the importance of community service outside of our traditional roles of fire and emergency medical service responses.”

Angle agreed that the students got a lot out of the experience.

“They experienced team work, community service, interaction with a very appreciative group of residents, and they also gained an understanding of how the fire department’s role in the community goes well beyond responding to emergencies,” he said.

Public Policy Leadership Speaker Series welcomes featured guest Dr. Bill Law

The Public Policy and Administration program held its tenth Public Policy Leadership Speaker Series luncheon on Wednesday, March 1. The featured guest for this luncheon was St. Petersburg College President Dr. Bill Law, who will retire this summer.

After attendees enjoyed a buffet luncheon, Dr. Law, who was received with a standing ovation, addressed the group of students, instructors and honored guests. His engaging talk ran the gamut of emotions, from funny to serious to emotional. Public Policy Program Instructor-in-Charge Jeff Kronschnabl said he asked Dr. Law to speak because of his history of support for the program.

“Dr. Law was one of the main founders and an instrumental supporter of our program,” Kronschnabl said. “We appreciate his enthusiasm and just wanted to say thank you for all he’s done for our program and our students.”

Law advised Public Policy students on working in the public sector, stressing the importance of transparency and accountability, especially in light of Florida’s Sunshine Laws. “I have never been disappointed by sharing information with the public,” he said. “I would rather people get real information.”

Leadership Speaker Series
Dr. Law addresses luncheon guests.

Law discussed challenges he faced when he first took the helm of the college. One was managing the rapid growth of the college with scant resources, which brought about his One College plan, which united the practices of all campuses under one umbrella.

“We were one college, so we needed one game plan,” he said. “If we all work together, the tide rises all boats.”

Law also discussed his implementation of the College Experience, which integrated individualized learning plans, enhanced orientation, expanded career advising and learning support along with an early alert system for students at risk of giving up.

After Dr. Law’s address, several graduates stood and thanked Dr. Law and SPC for the support they received as students. Program Graduate Velma Thompson said she had been a returning student, looking lost on campus one day when Dr. Law spotted her and asked if he could help.

“He gave me his card that day and told me to let him know if I needed anything,” she said. “And I texted him once with a question, and he answered.”

Leadership Speaker Series
Program graduate Velma Thompson thanks Dr. Law.

Public Safety, Public Policy and Legals Studies Dean Dr. Susan Demers then spoke, reinforcing Dr. Law’s comments at the Leadership Speaker Series.

“Details matter,” she said. “A plan matters; and community matters.”

Dr. Demers then thanked SPC Policy Consultant Tom Furlong and Dr. Law for implementing the Public Policy program and their belief in its potential for growth.

“It’s easy to implement a program with 100 students,” she said. “Not one with 12.”

Dr. Demers encouraged students to utilize all the networking resources available to them through the program, including internships and the people they meet at the Leadership Speaker Series luncheons, and challenged them to make their marks in the community.

“As a community college, your commitment to our community is where you’ll make us proud,” she said.

Leadership Speaker Series
Dr. Susan Demers encourages students to utilize available networking opportunities.

As the Leadership Speaker Series luncheon came to a close, Dr. Law was presented with a large bouquet of flowers and a binder of thank-you letters from past and present students.

Kronschnabl said he knew that attending current students were affected by Law’s talk.

“Our students were able to see his vision of helping students find a career path and better their families, and they saw that they are actually living out that vision,” he

 

 

 

International student hopes to better his community

international student

Growing up in Timbuktu

When St. Petersburg College International Student Sane Haidara was an 11-year-old boy growing up in Timbuktu, Mali, he liked to hang out around the hotels in what was then a tourist destination. He enjoyed practicing his English and talking to the visitors from faraway places. In 2001, he met Floridians Tony and Patricia Leisner, and spent a few days with the couple.

“Little Sane, unlike the other kids, wasn’t trying to sell jewelry or t-shirts or just asking for money,” Patti Leisner said. “He just wanted to talk to us.”

Before the Leisners left, Haidara presented Tony with a business card he’d made for himself, which included an email address from his school account, and asked if they could be pen pals. And so was born a relationship that ultimately brought him to the states and to a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from St. Petersburg College.
The youngest of seven children, Haidara was raised by parents who put a huge value on education.

“As a teacher, my father tried to encourage the community to send their kids to school,” Haidara said. “He went house to house to invite children in the neighborhood to come home and study with us. He wanted to make sure all children were educated, including the girls, who were often denied an education.”

Tony and Patti kept up with his grades throughout his schooling, and they supplemented his studies with American English lesson cassettes and books.

“He got extraordinary grades,” Tony said. “He won awards and distinguished himself with a commitment to education.”

Becoming an international student

When high school was done, all the time spent honing his languages among the tourists paid off. Haidara is fluent in French, English and three African languages, and he speaks limited German and Arabic. His abilities landed him a job as a translator, and he earned enough to pay for college. He was unhappy with what was available to him in Mali, so he asked the Leisners to sponsor him as a student. They happily agreed, and helped him through the visa process. Tony, who teaches Public Policy and Administration at Walden University, was also on the board for Worknet Pinellas, so he was aware of the programs available to International students at St. Petersburg College and recommended that he enroll there.

“I knew this was going to be a little bit of a culture shock for him,” he said, “and SPC had great remediation. I knew that once they got him over the humps, he would do well.”
Center for International Programs Director Ramona Kirsch said that from the moment Sane entered SPC, he proved to be an exceptional international student.

“Sane quickly became involved in student activities, encouraged SPC international students to become civically engaged, and served as a role model for students around the state of Florida by being chosen as a peer leader for the annual Florida International Leadership Conference,” Kirsch said. “We look forward to seeing great things from him.”

Haidara enrolled in the Public Policy and Administration program, landed a job as a Student Assistant in the Fine Arts Department, and set about joining several campus organizations, including International Club, in which he became President, American and Arabic Cultural Association, Phi Theta Kappa and the City/County Management Association, where he is finishing his term as Vice President. He also volunteered as a French tutor, a summer camp counselor for disadvantaged children and offered himself as a speaker to several organizations. He was also part of SPC’s Model United Nations team, which won the designation of “Outstanding Delegation” at the Collegiate Model UN conference in D.C. last fall. Haidara attributes his success to becoming so involved.

“I was welcomed as a community member,” Haidara said. “The International Program at SPC helped me through and gave me a lot of guidance and advice, but getting involved helped me overcome a lot of challenges, make friends and build leadership skills. Any student who wants to be successful should be involved in order to do well and overcome challenges.”

A commitment to his community

Haidara not only graduated with a 3.32 grade point average, but also, his Capstone Project outlined a program that would offer three meals a day to schoolchildren in Timbuktu.
“Growing up, I saw friends and community children who were not be able to attend school because of poverty. They were needed to work. I hope this would encourage them to go to school and encourage parents to send them.”

Haidara is currently applying to master’s programs, where he hopes to refine his project, then take it back to Mali to see if he can get it off the ground and make it sustainable. He hopes to work with Mali’s government and other international organizations to see how he can implement this program. He feels that he was equipped to do so by the Public Policy Program.

“Professor Kronschnabl gave me the support I need to learn to be a good leader,” Haidara said. “He provided a lot of knowledge to help Mali. You talk to experts in the community, and you learn to do presentations in the community. You gain work experience – it’s not just class work.”

Kronschnabl described Haidara as an outstanding individual with real character. His character and efforts were acknowledged with multiple foundation scholarships. He was also named Clearwater’s Dr. Theodore Mazzu Student Scholar of the Year award, Most Engaged International Student and was asked to speak at SPC’s Summer 2016 graduation ceremony.

In addition to the Leisners, his mother traveled from Timbuktu, and his sister and brother-in-law came with their children from Washington, D.C. to see him shine.In his speech, he urged listeners to become active their own communities, saying,

“In Africa, we have many sayings. We believe that if we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us, and we believe that tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it. More importantly, we believe that a single bracelet does not jingle.”

The Leisners are pleased with the man that the young boy they met in 2001 has become.

“We were so proud,” Patti said. “Not just for Sane, but also for us and his family. It was particularly great for his mother.”

“We were absolutely stunned at the quality and the content of his speech, and his delivery and poise. I attribute that to the terrific support he’s had at SPC,” Tony said.
Haidara credits his father, who passed away in 2006, with his drive to make a difference in the world.

“My father did tireless work to encourage the education of boys and girls in the community. He believed a community could address its own problems if it was educated. That really encouraged me to try and fulfill his wish and hope to see all children educated.”
Though he plans to eventually return to Timbuktu and work to better his community, Haidara said he will always have a connection to St. Petersburg College.

“SPC gave me training and confidence and made me realize I can achieve anything,” he said. “I want to thank SPC faculty and staff. They really work hard to make student success come first. When I first started, I didn’t know if I’d do well, but if you want to study, SPC will always help you.”

Dream Catcher: SPC Public Policy grad lands dream job #SPCInspires

Public Policy grad Mecca Bellmore Serfustini wrapped up the first year of SPC’s partnership with the City of Seminole by scoring her dream job.

When Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds was getting ready to retire last year, Public Policy and Administration’s Professor in Charge Jeff Kronschnabl wanted to know how St. Petersburg College could honor him for his many years of service and dedication to the college. Edmunds said he would love to set up a one-year, full-time position with benefits for a graduate or recent graduate of the Public Policy program. So for 10 years, the recipient of the Frank Edmunds Public Service Associate in Training program will rotate through four departments in the City of Seminole: administration, public safety, community development and public works.

“This is not an internship – it’s a real job,” Kronschnabl said. “The students are put through the entire application process with the city, with no recommendations from our department.”

A Strong Candidate

Mecca Bellmore Serfustini was one of nine Public Policy graduates to interview for the position in July 2015, and she was thrilled to be selected.

“It has been Capturea wonderful, meaningful experience,” she said. “Good work is recognized from the top down, and this experience really built up my confidence.”

After growing up in St. Pete Beach, Serfustini waitressed full time until she decided it was time to get back in school. “My parents had always encouraged education, but I was having fun and making good money, so I never considered it until I had my daughter,” she said.

Serfustini checked out the programs at St. Petersburg College and enrolled in the Honors Program. After earning her Associate in Arts degree with honors, she was accepted to Florida State University, where she planned to pursue a degree in Political Science. But her plans completely changed while on a trip to Tallahassee to tour the state’s capital building with a group from SPC.

“I’d never heard of the Public Policy degree,” she said, “but one of the staff members on the trip with us told me about it. I looked into it and changed my plans to move to Tallahassee and enrolled in SPC’s program.” Serfustini enrolled full time – including summers – and though it was never easy being a parent and a full-time student, she said she had a lot of support from her professors. “All of my professors were very nurturing and patient, not only in Public Policy, but in the general education classes, too. I could call them for help any time, night or day.”

Once in the Public Policy and Administration program, Bellmore was taken under the wing of Jeff Kronschnabl, affectionately known at SPC as “Professor K.” “He was the best mentor,” she said. “He was always there for me, and he was like a proud parent at graduation.” Kronschnabl said city officials told him they hoped the next student would be as good as Serfustini. “She was an overachiever. She is one of those people who gets the job done,” he said.

Making Impressions

While in her position with the city, Serfustini completed several projects, including a big initiative for Seminole Fire Rescue, where she organized all of the documents needed to complete their evaluation from the Insurance Services Office. Her work improved the city’s score to one of the best in the nation. “I organized all the information in a binder based on my experience at SPC, where my Capstone project was to create a binder based on a public policy,” she said. Fire Chief Heather Burford said she greatly appreciated the impact Serfustini made on her department during her time with the City of Seminole. “She is a self-starter who requires very little supervision or guidance and her ability to follow through is commendable,” Burford said.

“I organized all the information in a binder based on my experience at SPC, where my Capstone project was to create a binder based on a public policy,” she said. Fire Chief Heather Burford said she greatly appreciated the impact Serfustini made on her department during her time with the City of Seminole. “She is a self-starter who requires very little supervision or guidance and her ability to follow through is commendable,” Burford said.

Serfustini also earned her first Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certificate at SPC, and went on to earn several more. She put that knowledge to use writing FEMA plans for the city’s Recreation Division and the library. “I was completely prepared by SPC to do this job. I rarely had to ask questions because we had studied city government so thoroughly. This program was so well rounded that I could choose from any department I wanted to work in,” she said.

“I was completely prepared by SPC to do this job. I rarely had to ask questions because we had studied city government so thoroughly. This program was so well rounded that I could choose from any department I wanted to work in,” she said.

Goal: Achieved

Serfustini did so well at the City of Seminole that she landed a dream job with her hometown, the City of St. Pete Beach. She started April 1 as their new Administrative Assistant for Public Services, which includes the oversight of beach maintenance, streets and beautification.144A8237-X3

“There’s a lot of redevelopment in St. Pete Beach right now,” she said. “It’s a great time to start and be at the front end of those projects.”

Though this opportunity is a good one, Serfustini sees it as a continuation of her education because she is on what she calls her “30-year plan.”

“I’d like to be a City Manager, then a County Administrator, then Governor and Congressperson,” she said. “I want to gain as much experience as I can on the way so I can be knowledgeable about all aspects of government.” Serfustini attributes her success to her experiences at St. Petersburg College and what she learned while working at the City of Seminole.

“This is such a great program,” she said. “I’m still amazed myself that everything came together like it did.”