In her 14 years at the Holt School, recent graduate Patty Webb ’09 never took a class called Starting Over, but it’s a subject the 57-year-old mother and grandmother has clearly passed with distinction more than once in her life. A bachelor’s degree in psychology was always Webb’s dream, and toward that goal, she earned her A.A. right after high school. Then life threw her off course by a few decades.
She spent six months in bed to have her only child, then deferred her education to focus on her family, working full time while her daughter grew into a teenager and her husband pursued his own education.
Webb’s life path veered even more the day a tornado took her home and her husband. “I knew without looking that he had not survived,” she said, recalling the first moments after her world collapsed. “I stood up and knew I had to survive. My daughter and I had to rebuild our lives from there.” They started over with nothing except Webb’s determination. “I didn’t even have a purse,” she said.
When Webb finally returned to school, her daughter was a college senior and her biggest supporter, telling her, “Go for it. You can do it. What’s the worst that can happen—you drop a class?” The Hamilton Holt School was Webb’s school of choice. “It had flexible classes, and it was geared toward working people.” A Holt scholarship helped her pay her tuition.
Although Webb usually took one class at a time, she found returning to the classroom a challenge. “I learned you can no longer cram for tests because you can’t find the information in your short-term memory,” she said. Technology had also changed. To adjust, Webb took computer courses and studied early for exams. She ignored dusty floors and shaggy grass to make schoolwork her priority. Webb credits her professors for her academic success. “The professors work very hard to accommodate their students. They are very flexible. Everyone at Rollins wants you to succeed, and wants to help you succeed.” she said. “If you try hard and work hard, you’ll succeed.”
Succeed she did. On May 9, she accomplished her dream, walking across the stage for her diploma as her parents, daughter, and 8-month-old grandson looked on. The ceremony was beyond her dreams. “It was right out of the movies,” she recalled. “When we left that chapel and were led out by the bagpipers, and the church bells were pealing as we walked down that brick street, I thought, ‘This is a movie.’ It gave me goosebumps.”
Having her 86-year-old, wheelchair-bound stepfather, Dick Forbes, a 1943 Rollins alumnus, in the audience with the rest of her family was especially poignant. “It was amazing to see them there.”
Webb isn’t finished with new beginnings. Her next goal is earning a master’s degree in counseling at the Holt School and opening a nonprofit counseling center. “You should go for your dream regardless of your age,” she believes. “I want to be a counselor and work till I’m about 85.”
In an age when many people spend their workdays at a computer—a Blackberry in one hand and a calculator in the other—the real-world relevance of a bachelor’s degree in environmental and growth management studies might not seem immediately evident. But three alumni of Holt’s EGMS program, all employed by Volusia County Land Acquisition and Management, illustrate the program’s very significant—and timely—after-the-classroom application.
Bonnie Cary received her EGMS degree from the Holt School in 1999. After teaching at St. Barnabas School in Deland and working as a horticultural research assistant for Coca Cola Foods, she became the Volusia County Land Acquisition and Management outreach education coordinator.
Environmental awareness and improvement of the environment are the heart of Cary’s professional life, and she credits her Rollins professors for providing “priceless career counseling” that prepared her for her career. “Bill Grey’s field botany and environmental analysis classes and Jim Hulbert’s aquatic biology class allowed me to learn about subjects and techniques that I use in field studies and class activities with students,” she said. “And Dr. Phelan’s environmental literature class opened a new perspective of looking at the natural world to me, and I try to incorporate it into my lesson plans and events every day.”
After graduating from the Holt School in 2003, Danielle Ivey utilized her EGMS knowledge on the Lake Apopka Restoration project, at the Department of Environmental Protection, and at the Orange County Environmental Protection Division before obtaining her current Volusia County position as an environmental specialist, whose duties include controlling prescribed fires, spraying invasive plants, operating bulldozers, using the geographic information system, taking wildlife surveys, and mending fences. “I know my job makes a difference every time I watch someone see their first scrub jay, their first bear track, or their first field of wildflowers,” she said. “People want natural space and want to enjoy it. Helping acquire and maintain natural areas and showing people how special those areas are make getting up and going to work every day worth it.”
Keeli Carlton graduated just last year from Holt’s EGMS program and quickly obtained an intern position at Volusia County Land Acquisition and Management, where her responsibilities range from working with exotic plant species, assisting with prescribed fires, and monitoring—counting anything from deer to quail to vegetation.
Carlton also acknowledges the value of her EGMS training. “Dr. Grey’s field botany and environmental analysis classes and a restoration independent study I did with Dr. Bruce Stephenson at the Genius Preserve helped me most of all. These classes were all hands-on fieldwork that helped me know the difference between the native and exotic vegetation of our region and about wetland delineation, topography, soils, and ground truthing.”
Bonnie Cary explains the broader scope of her foundation of knowledge. “This is the beauty of a liberal arts education—I was inspired by both the science and the art, and I learned that they are beautifully intertwined in the natural world. This aspect of my Holt School experience was a lifelong learning gift to me that helps me develop creative and diverse ways to enable folks to experience and explore the natural world.”
When organizational communication major Rhonda Vinci graduates in May, she will have the distinction of being the first student to complete the capstone project of the Leadership Distinction program. Designed for students aspiring to develop their leadership skills beyond degree requirements, the program confers a transcript designation of “Distinction in Leadership.” By making the premier capstone presentation on December 8, Vinci leads the way for her scholastic peers.
To an audience comprising Vinci’s faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Physical Education Gordon Howell; her community mentor, Nancy Lowe; and Holt School administrators and staff, she began her presentation by addressing one quality of leadership. “Leaders have to be courageous in order to accomplish things in their lives and their community,” she said. “Confidence is the courage to try even if I’m not sure of the outcome.” Before choosing her capstone project—the development of a sustainable service—Vinci came to a core realization: “I have been asking what I want to be when I should have been asking what I have to offer to help others achieve, what is my purpose, how can I make a difference.” For her project, she decided to become a certified Jazzercise instructor.
It was an endeavor that clearly applied the quality of courage. Jazzercize certification requires CPR training, 48 hours of dance routine practice, exams in anatomy and physiology, and an audition. Incorporating “the seven key elements vital to social change” developed by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA in her plan, Vinci credits the leadership program’s Foundations of Leadership and Leadership and Citizenship in Action courses with helping her understand the variety of leadership styles and their utilization for effective philanthropy. On her journey to becoming an exercise instructor, her “biggest lesson was learning how to handle conflict resolution.”
Vinci notes the sustainability of her accomplishment. “My project will help the community by improving the health and understanding of healthy lifestyles to enhance quality of life and longevity for all age groups.” That sustainability pertains to her own life as well. “Jazzercise may not be my career,” she told her audience, “but it will always be part of my life.”
As the first capstone project presenter, Vinci was able to make a recommendation to her fellow Leadership Distinction students: “Think about whether or not the capstone will benefit the community,” she said, “and research the goal of the capstone prior to creating the proposal.” She summarized the ultimate purpose of the capstone project this way: “The Leadership Distinction program facilitates a means to a better community by teaching the growing leaders of Rollins College how one person can make a difference.”
Kassondra Corbett likes to call herself a “nontraditional” nontraditional student. Entering college at 27, she wasn’t as old as the average returning student and wasn’t as young as students coming right out of high school. But age isn’t the only thing that makes this organizational behavior major a standout member of Rollins’ evening degree program.
After her first attempt at college in California and jobs ranging from security guard to Universal Studios Hollywood souvenir photographer, Corbett moved to New York. She saw the potential of the Internet, selling domain names before becoming a website developer for clients such as M&Ms, Beck’s Beer, Maybelline, De Beers Diamonds, and The History Channel. In her “next life” as an entertainment tour manager, she traveled throughout Europe, helping produce 42 shows in 44 days. Seeking a bit more stability, she then became a Kinko’s assistant manager. After that, she took a supervisory position with Circuit City, working 70-hour weeks training and developing a team of 40 employees. A vacation finally led Corbett to Florida, where she came to a crucial conclusion: “I realized the only way I was going to be able to get the kind of job I wanted was to complete my B.A.” She decided to return to school.
Clearly a starter, doer, and leader, Corbett fit the Rollins College mission of educating students for global citizenship and responsible leadership. A lecturer at a conference Corbett attended as president of Seminole Community College Student Government Association recommended she apply to Rollins, saying, “They’ll love you there.”
She took his advice, entering the Holt School in 2007, and soon discovered that the Rollins chapter of Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) had been inactive for years. Seeking assistance from the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership (OSIL), she reactivated the chapter and started recruiting. Her efforts brought instant success.
Corbett accepts little credit. “Of course, we have the best students in all of Florida, and then some,” she said. “So as soon as we got started, we really took off. Our chapter has a life of its own; I just started the ball rolling.”
In that chapter revival year, Corbett won the Future Business Teacher event at the FBLA state and national conferences. Believing the motivated FBLA students of Rollins, the supportive OSIL members and Holt staff, and the organizational structure of FBLA-PBL were a winning combo, she suggested that Rollins host the fall 2007 conference.
“Not only did Rollins College receive exposure to several community colleges in Central Florida, but the entire district was strengthened by having the opportunity to bond early in the school year,” she said. “As a result, both Rollins College and the Central Florida district have received an amazing amount of recognition for the work we’ve accomplished this year in our community service initiatives as well as district growth.”
Amazing amount of recognition, indeed. At the next conference, held in spring 2008 and featuring competitive events, the Rollins chapter won 33 awards, 12 of them for first place, four of them presented to Corbett.
As her graduation approaches, Corbett is reflective about what she has achieved at the Holt School even as she makes plans to pursue a doctorate in organizational psychology:
“A degree is extremely important. But what also matters are the experiences that enable individual growth. Rollins’ evening program is a community so conducive to success and personal growth it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving without having a life-changing experience.”
English major and Winter With the Writers intern Deyon Williams endured a difficult journey on his way to becoming this year’s recipient of the Laura van den Berg Scholarship. Born in Rochester, New York, and fatherless at the age of eight, he lived in a series of towns and foster homes during his youth. As Williams poetically puts it, “Buried deep in my heart is my childhood.”
Lacking domestic stability, he sometimes went off course. “I made many mistakes that could have cost me my life or years of prison,” Williams admits. “I came to Florida still making them.” What changed his direction and sent him on a straight path was the birth of his son. “I made the decision, no matter how hard life comes at me, to never do anything that could jeopardize the life of my son.”
After a failed attempt at college and a two-year hiatus from post-secondary education, Williams made his way to the Holt School, where he discovered his personal gift and his ultimate destination: poetry. “I just fell into it,” he says. “It started with being a fast and smooth talker to becoming the tool in which I plan to change my community and all communities.” Books were the source of his inspiration and the home of his heroes. “I never read any books growing up,” he says, “so when I stumbled across Shakespeare, Donne, Marvel, Milton, Keats, Browning … you name ’em, I was in love. These writer’s poems took me places I never could imagine.”
As a tribute to the poets he admires, he emulates their styles and adheres to their form. “Someone may read a piece of my work and may never have rolled dice on a corner or run from the cops, but they can relate to the form and then share the adventure.”
At the Winter With the Writers master class on February 4, Nobel Laureate in Literature Derek Walcott clearly related to one of Williams’ poems. After listening to Williams read “Street Dreams,” a Spenserian sonnet about the lethal dangers and futile hopes of life on the streets, Walcott challenged the young poet to read his work with more anger and passion. “Read it like a rap poem,” he said, encouraging him to bring the audience into the journey.” Williams accepted the challenge with dramatic results that yielded audience applause.
There was more applause for Williams’s journey the following evening, when Dean Sharon Carrier and Egerton van den Berg presented him the Laura van den Berg Scholarship award, given yearly to an outstanding Hamilton Holt School intern in the Winter With the Writers program. In his message to the appreciative audience and those who might aspire to be like him, Williams again exhibited his poet’s perspective: “Triumph is only measured by failure, and I have failed many times over. But every day I wake up, no matter how much I failed the day before, I have a chance at victory.”