St. Petersburg College’s Public Policy and Administration Department held their bi-annual Public Policy Leadership Speaker Series Oct. 17. The event pairs Public Policy and Administration students with local dignitaries and guests to hear an invited speaker. Over a catered lunch at the Seminole Campus Conference Center, the group welcomed SPC President Dr. Tonjua Williams as the keynote speaker.
A great opportunity for students
Program Director Jeff Kronschnabl said he modeled the speaker series after programs he experienced while attending the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He said that not only does it allow Public Policy students to dress up and attend a business luncheon where they bring their business cards for networking, but also for the program to form lasting partnerships with invited speakers.
“We have been blessed with leaders from international, national, state and local levels,” Kronschnabl said, noting that none of the speakers are paid for their attendance. “They come to engage our students and make a difference. Many of our speakers come back to the next luncheon to continue their relationships with our students and SPC. There were three previous speakers there yesterday.”
Williams emphasizes partnerships
In her talk, Williams focused on the importance of SPC’s partnerships, including those with the local workforce community, the Pinellas County community, and the College’s internal community. She emphasized that SPC is a place where lives are made better.
“I’ve never heard one of our students say, ‘I want to be poor,’” she said. “They want to change their lives; improve their lives. That’s why they’re here.”
Williams outlined the ways that SPC has worked over the past year to refocus its efforts by outlining them in the College’s three pillars: Academic Excellence, Economic Mobility and Community Engagement. First, she emphasized academic excellence, noting that it can only happen with a strong faculty, student support and the educational ecosystem that SPC is forming with Pinellas County Schools and the University of South Florida.
“We have to make sure that there are no gaps between k-12 schools, SPC and USF,” she said. “That’s a lot of work.”
As for economic mobility, Williams said she wants to be sure that our students not only graduate, but also get jobs.
“We want to make sure our graduate, who has a diploma on the wall that says St. Petersburg College, is able to make a good living,” she said.
According to Williams, community engagement factors in at the regional level as well as right at home on all of the campuses at the college. It involves helping our students as much as it does helping the community.
“Did you know we have students who are homeless?” Williams asked the rapt crowd. “Did you know we have students who are hungry? Internal community is just as important as external.”
Williams noted that SPC must form partnerships in the community, as well, including commitments with the local workforce, which drive SPC’s curriculum and partnerships with community resources that help students with much-needed resources.
“There are plenty of undereducated people in this county,” Williams said. “Our county will not move forward if we don’t address that. So we have to come together and partner.”
A warm reception
Williams’ speech was met with a standing ovation, and she followed up with a question and answer session. Several students took the opportunity to speak and ask questions about student involvement on campuses, support for struggling demographics and reflections on her accomplishments so far as SPC President. Kronschnabl said he received a lot of positive feedback regarding Dr. Williams’ presentation.
“Dr. Williams was fantastic,” he said. “Students were engaged in conversations with her before, during and after her presentation, and the fact that she stayed until the very last student had an opportunity to speak with her was a clear testament of the collaborative leadership she spoke about during her presentation.”
Following Williams talk, a representative from USF, accompanied by Public Policy and Administration Grad Sane Haidara, invited the students in attendance to consider USF’s MBA program after completing their studies at SPC.
“The value that this luncheon brings to all who attend is nothing short of outstanding,” Kronschnabl said. “Students can come face to face with world class leaders and engage them in conversation. Government is the art of negotiation, and collaborative partnerships are integral to achieving and preserving our quality of life and sense of place. Our Public Policy Leadership Speaker Series luncheon does all of that and more.”