Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Resource Development’s grant funding success helps students change their lives

Dr. Theodore Sofianos
For Daytona State College freshman Kelsie Patrick, a scholarship she received through a National Science Foundation STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Community Scholars grant has opened the door to a trove of knowledge and understanding that will provide long-term benefits as she pursues a career in environmental engineering.
“If it wasn’t for the STEM program, I wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of guidance I’ve received,” Patrick said. “I got a lot of valuable information about the field I hope to go into from the mentors I met through the program.”
The associate of arts major will ultimately transfer to Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, to pursue an advanced degree and hopes to one day launch her own business in the field of environmental engineering.
Patrick is just one of a large number of Daytona State students who are benefitting from nearly $7 million in federal, state and local grants secured by the college last year through its Office of Resource Development. Those grants range from over $1 million to just a few thousand and provide assistance to a diverse range of the college’s student population – from men and women who need help making a new start in life,  to adults with disabilities, international students and those enrolled in advanced academic, workforce training and entrepreneurial programs.
The grant tally does not include nearly $70,000 from two additional awards that are still pending, according to Dr. Theodore Sofianos, who assumed the helm of Daytona State’s Resource Development Department midway through last year, after Dr. Nancy Morgan was slated to lead the college’s reaccreditation initiative.
“We are very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this year,” Sofianos said. “It is especially significant during a time when funding is becoming increasingly competitive because of shrinking budgets. But much of the credit for our success should go to the faculty and staff who collaborated with us with so much enthusiasm.”
The latest complete funding year, which ended June 30, 2011, brought the total grant dollars secured by the college to more than $28 million over the past four years.
Resource Development’s success rate – the number of grants funded vs. the number of applications submitted - was 66 percent for 2010-2011, 24 percent higher than the state average. The college has averaged a 64 percent success rate over the last 11 years, Sofianos said.
Many of those dollars directly support teaching and learning, removing barriers and opening doors to higher education, workforce training and new opportunities for literally thousands of students.
Noemi Vazquez is one of them. A mother of three whose husband is disabled, the 52-year-old Deltona resident began taking classes in Accounting Technology full-time after being laid off as a bookkeeper during the peak of the recession. She received assistance with tuition and textbook costs through the Women’s Center New Directions program, made possible in part through a Carl D. Perkins Applied Technology Education Act grant, as well as the college’s Student Support Services TRIO program, also funded through grant dollars. She earned her associate degree last May with a 3.87 grade point average. Today, she is enrolled in the college’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management program.
Toni Diamond
Daytona State’s Fresh Start program, funded through a grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and other private donations, helped Toni Diamond shed a difficult past and prepare for a new beginning.  Designed for women 35 and older who are in transition due to divorce, separation, death of a spouse or caring for a disabled spouse, the program provides a supportive environment that helps students overcome obstacles to going back to work or starting college. “Fresh Start gave me new focus,” Diamond said. “It helped me to discover my purpose in life.”
That purpose is to help other women who face circumstances similar to her own. Today, she is pursuing her Associate of Science in Human Services degree and is a volunteer with the Domestic Abuse Council. Although she no longer receives scholarship assistance through Fresh Start, she qualifies for Workforce Development funds as well as a Pell grant to pay her educational expenses. 
Kevin Para
Like Vazquez and Diamond, Kevin Para, 50, is a non-traditional student who is reaping the benefits the college’s grants effort. By chance, the AA student picked up a flier about the STEM Community Scholars program at the college’s New Smyrna Beach-Edgewater Campus and inquired. “It’s been love ever since,” he said. The former New Smyrna Beach utility commissioner said the academic and professional relationships he has developed since becoming a STEM scholar have proven to be valuable. “STEM is very specific in that it helps us all find direction as students,” he said. “There is a culture within the STEM community that allows us to build all kinds of different relationships within the college with other students and faculty.”
Through the program, Para discovered his true passion is in design. He intends to transfer to the University of Florida to pursue a degree in Architecture upon graduating from Daytona State.
Vitor Nunes
Brazilian-born Vitor Nunes is among 84 students representing 16 countries who have benefited from a $2 million, five-year US Department of State Community College Initiative grant that largely funds Daytona State’s Office of Global Education and Affairs initiatives. The 27-year-old information technology major will earn 33 credits and certification in JAVA programming during his year at Daytona State, not to mention perfecting his English language skills.
“This opportunity came to me at the perfect moment, but I had no idea how great an experience it would be,” he said. “It’s so much more than studying. I’ve developed so many friendships, international friendships, and you start to understand the world better. You realize that we all have cultural differences, but in our hearts we are all the same.”
Nunes, who carries a 4.0 GPA, said he is most impressed with how his professors are preparing him to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation. “Our classes are much more hands-on here than at my university in Brazil,” he said. “I am very impressed with my professors and with how well equipped the facilities are.”
Sofianos said there is a vast range of grants available for the education community, and added the Resource Development Department strongly encourages faculty and staff to investigate new opportunities.
“Grants are a major source of funding for new programs and program enhancements at Daytona State College, and most have a direct, positive impact on students,” he said. “We are successful only because of the collaboration and enthusiasm that is shared by all who are involved in the grant development process. We are here to serve all faculty and staff in promoting, investigating, facilitating and managing all grant initiatives and opportunities.”

For more information, please call or email Sofianos at (386) 506-3103, sofiant@DaytonaState.edu.