PSC celebrates 75 years as place for 1st meetings, 2nd chances and lifetime success

PSC celebrates 75 years as place for 1st meetings, 2nd chances and lifetime success Pensacola State College's motto is "Go Here, Get There."

For 75 years, PSC has been doing just that. But where exactly is "there"?

"There" is in the halls of government, where PSC alumni have served as mayors and state senators and state representatives. "There" is in our restaurant kitchens and food trucks, where culinary graduates cook up feasts, and on the roads and highways where truck drivers trained at the College keep the economy chugging and products on shelves.

"There" is in our hospitals and clinics where PSC-trained nurses and healthcare professionals watch over us at our most vulnerable - the same way PSC veterinary technicians watch over our dogs, cats and other pets. "There" is across the regional workforce, where welders, carpenters and HVAC technicians craft and build.

"There" is even "up there" – one PSC graduate, the late Navy Capt. Alan Poindexter, spent 27 days in orbit during two space shuttle missions and carried the college's medallion with him on one of the missions.

"Pensacola State College means a lot of things to a lot of people,'' said alumnus and former Pensacola Mayor Jerry Maygarden. "It's an economic driver, an economic engine in our community. It's a workforce developer – a place where tradesmen can hone their skills. It's a place where people can take their general studies courses and parlay that into the next level and go on and pursue a professional career and be of great value to our community."

Pensacola State College began as Pensacola Junior College, opening at the Aiken Boarding House in downtown Pensacola on Sept. 13, 1948 with 136 students. Now, 75 years later, more than 120,000 people have earned an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or workforce certificate from the college, which offers courses at six campuses and centers throughout Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The largest campus is located on Ninth Avenue. There are also campuses in Milton and Warrington and centers in south Santa Rosa County, downtown Pensacola and Century.

Former Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said PSC's impact across Northwest Florida is immense.

"PSC has touched the lives of generations of people from the two-county area over the last 75 years,'' said Robinson, who in August was named the college's associate vice president of government and community relations, and whose family established the Robinson Honors Program at PSC in 2000. "So many families and family members have earned degrees here and then went on to universities or directly into the workforce. And others come here and earn workforce certifications and learn valuable trades and that is vital to our community."

Robinson was but one of many area dignitaries that attended a 75th anniversary celebration on Wednesday at WSRE-TV studio on the Pensacola campus where PSC President Ed Meadows – the college's sixth president – and others toasted the college's successes and future endeavors. (WSRE-TV is the area's PBS affiliate and is a service of PSC. It hit the airwaves in 1967).

“Pensacola State College has come a very long way from its humble roots when we began with just over 100 students in a downtown boarding house,” Meadows said. “Many of our graduates traverse the halls of hospitals, teach school, own businesses and so much more. We have much to be proud of as an institution of higher learning, but we realize that we must continue to evolve to meet the needs of our students today and tomorrow.”

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Here are but a few key moments in PSC's history:

  • 1948: Pensacola Junior College opens at the Aiken Boarding House in Pensacola on Sept. 13 with 136 students. James L. McCord is college director. It was the first college or university in Pensacola.
  • 1954: Henry L. Ashmore is named PJC's first president.
  • 1957: 9th Avenue campus opens.
  • 1958: College begins its nursing program in partnership with Baptist Hospital.
  • 1962: PJC becomes one of three Florida colleges to offer a dental hygiene program.
  • 1962: T. Felton Harrison becomes PJC's second president.
  • 1965: PSC Planetarium opens. It still offers educational opportunities to the community and is a popular field trip destination.
  • 1965: PJC merges with Booker T. Washington Junior College, a college that served the area's African-American population.
  • 1967: WSRE-TV goes on air. It would begin broadcasting in color in 1971.
  • 1971: Milton campus opens.
  • 1977: Warrington campus opens.
  • 1980: Ed Hartsell becomes third PJC president.
  • 1989: PSC Downtown Center opens.
  • 1998: Charles A. Atwell becomes PJC's fourth president.
  • 1998: PJC Foundation launches college's first capital campaign. A donation of $1 million from the Switzer and Reilly families establishes the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts, which would open in 2002. The campaign raised more than $5 million.
  • 2002: Charles A. Atwell Health Sciences Complex dedicated at Warrington campus.
  • 2002: G. Thomas Delaino becomes PJC's fifth president.
  • 2005: President George W. Bush holds a town hall meeting at the college.
  • 2008: Ed Meadows becomes college's sixth president.
  • 2010: Pensacola Junior College becomes Pensacola State College, when it began offering four-year degrees.
  • 2012: PSC opens two new facilities - the South Santa Rosa Center and the renovated Century Center.
  • 2016: PSC begins offering a Bachelor of Applied Science in cybersecurity, one of the four-year programs the college began offering after becoming Pensacola State College.
  • 2018: Gulf Power Foundation pledges $150,000 to establish the PSC Nonprofit Center for Excellence and Philanthropy. Gulf Power is now Florida Power & Light.
  • 2019: PSC begins offering a Commercial Vehicle Driver Career Certificate program. A new $7.8 million truck driving training facility would open in September 2022 at the Santa Rosa Industrial Park East in Milton.
  • 2021: $15 million Baars Technology Building opens offering cybersecurity, mathematics, computer science and other STEM programs.
  • 2022: Pensacola State College Charter Academy opens on Warrington campus to 11th and 12th grade high school students. Beginning in 2024, the academy will also accept sophomores. The academy allows students to earn college credits while working toward their high school diploma. In May 2023, 17 students graduated from the PSC Charter Academy, five of whom simultaneously earned associate degrees.
  • 2022: Ground broken on another STEM facility - the Bear, Jones, Moore, and Reeves Center for Math and Advanced Technology. The ribbon cutting is Oct. 19, just weeks away. Classes in the new facility will begin in January.

A place for second chances and brighter futures

Still, PSC has adventurous plans for its future and on Wednesday Meadows touched on some of those upcoming endeavors, which include an aviation training academy to train students in the aviation maintenance industry and offering new programs such as dental assistant and respiratory therapy programs.

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"We're obviously here to celebrate 75 years, but how Pensacola State College affects me most every day right now is really the future,'' said Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves at Wednesday's celebration. "I know the future of the city of Pensacola, our community and our region is all impacted by the amazing work already happening here and what will be happening here."

There are also other factors that make PSC attractive to potential students, administrators said. A major draw is PSC's consistent ranking by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the most affordable colleges in the country in its annual College Affordability and Transparency report. According to U.S. News & World Report, PSC students who graduated in 2019 did so with less student debt than graduates from any other college or university in the nation.

PSC has been ranked as a "Military Friendly School" for 14 consecutive years by Viqtory Media, which list schools as either bronze, silver or gold military friendly school honors. PSC has earned gold status the last two years.

Professor Al Huffman, a PSC counselor and instructor, has been with the college for 33 years.

"Most of us are homegrown and are dedicated to our students and helping this community,'' Huffman said. "We all know about PSC but I think the college is one of Florida's best kept secrets and the most affordable in the state as well."

But there are also the intangibles that are being celebrated - friendships forged and love stories written.

Former Pensacola Parks & Recreation Director Jody Skelton attended then-PJC for two years in the mid-1960s and played on the Pirates' basketball team before transferring to the University of West Florida, where he received the university's first basketball scholarship. In the early 1970s he returned to PJC as an assistant basketball coach. It was then when a young female sorority pledge, Lori Orr, came over to the gym to get some game tickets for other sorority members.

"I tried to make an impression, but she told me real quick that she had to go back to her dorm and wait for a call from her boyfriend,'' he said. Truth or was she just trying to turn him down politely?

"It was the truth,'' said Lori Skelton, who was a dental hygiene student at the time. Soon after, they would connect after a chance meeting at Jerry's Drive-In on Cervantes Street and marry in 1972.

Every time they go to the gym, she said, "we always say this is where we met."

She would spend 25 years as an area dental hygienist, and she and her husband know the depth of PSC's reach into countless families in the community. The Skeltons said they have numerous family members who have attended PSC.

"It affects so many lives,'' Lori Skelton said. "And in a positive way."

Meadows agreed.

“I always hear stories about the college from PJC and PSC alum when I am out in the community,” he said. “It means so much to me when I meet our graduates and see how the college has helped them reach their career and personal goals.”

PSC is also known for its embrace of older students who might not have attended college right out of high school. Or who might have come back to the college again after not being so successful the first time.

Maygarden, who served as Pensacola mayor from 1991 to 1994 and who would later serve as a Florida House Representative, started at PJC in the late 1960s, but it didn't go too well.

"I really wasn't ready for this place,'' he said. "And my grades showed it."

Instead, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was soon fighting deep in Vietnam's Mekong Delta where he would stay for about a year. Nine months in, Maygarden wrote PJC saying he might have made a mistake leaving school and requested the opportunity to return at some point.

A few weeks later he heard back from an administrator who wrote that Maygarden's story "was all too familiar."

Maygarden detailed elements of the letter he received at the anniversary celebration.

"'I've looked at your record. You have a lot of work to do but when you get back here' - he didn't say 'if you get back,' he said, 'when you get back here, I have reserved a place for you in the freshman class,''' Maygarden recalled. "And the rest is history."

He received his Associate of Arts degree from PJC in 1972 then transferred to UWF where he would earn a bachelor's degree in 1974 and a master's degree in 1975, both in communication arts.

PSC is, for many, a "place for second chances,'' Maygarden said. "It's a place where you get a mulligan and get back on the path to what you need to do to be a productive contributor to society. Pensacola State College did that for me and I know it's done that for others."