Share Your Story

The life of a higher education professional is unique. Everyone has a story to tell. Every day, people  from all backgrounds in rural and urban communities across the state find ways to teach, motivate, inspire, and uplift students.  Our colleges provide access to higher education, remediation, personal and professional development, and the opportunity to gain training for a new career. We create opportunity and transform lives and communities.  No matter your job title - faculty, custodian, advisor, police officer, or librarian -  you make a difference daily. Every college employee is important to a student’s journey. We want to collect and share your stories.
Are you a former FCS student who now is an employee for an FCS institution?
Tell us about your journey.

Read AFC Members' Stories Below!

Raquel Gary, Seminole State College of Florida
I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated college, I can tell you this, I didn't think I would be working in education, but clearly God had another plan. I started working at Seminole State College of Florida immediately after I graduated from the University of Central Florida, and that alone was a huge honor since I am a first generation college graduate. At first I thought it was only cool working at Seminole State because I could relate to my students due to us practically being the same age at the time, but my colleagues and supervisor saw something more in me. Being around my colleagues at SSC made me want to be greater, and pushing my students made me want to push myself. I found myself applying for and obtaining my Masters in Organizational Leadership, I would have never gone for my Masters if it had not been for the encouraging words I received at Seminole State College, now I may even keep going and go for my Doctorate! I may not be a graduate of the Florida State College system, but I am the educational scholar I am today because of the Florida State College System.
Lori Cannon, Gulf Coast State College
I am a first generation college student. My mother graduated high school, my father did not. Throughout my childhood, education was never
thought of as a vehicle for success but more as a box to check for getting a job to contribute as our financial circumstances were less than desirable. I was fortunate enough to find my spouse early in life. After marrying at 19 and working a couple of years, at 22 I became a stay-at-home mom. I loved this job. It was the most important job I will ever have had. However, once my children (3) started school themselves, I found myself bored and looking for something for myself.

My husband was stationed at Tyndall AFB so I visited Gulf Coast State College. After conquering all my doubts and fears of being out of school for more than 15 years, I found a place that was welcoming and encouraging. While finishing my associates degree I also found a job on campus in the Student Activities department. It was through this incredible opportunity I found the drive and purpose to continue on at FSU-PC and receive my bachelors degree 3 years later. My institution was so supportive in not only my educational goals but also in what I could give back to the institution that I pushed on and 3 years later received my Masters in Political Science, all of this with 3 children and a military spouse.

I can confidently say that Gulf Coast State College helped me not only achieve my educational goals, that I am proud to say serve as an example to my children, but provided the environment that has allowed me to grow as a student, professional and future leader within the Florida College System. I can not imagine being anywhere else.

Amy English, Florida SouthWestern State College
When I graduated high school, I already had a one year old baby to take care of. This left me little options for continuing my education. I had to get a job and help provide for my family. I was a waitress for several years and a secretary at various locations for a few more years, but basically I was going job to job instead of focusing on a career. I realized that the only way I was going to get out of that cycle was to earn my degree.

I started Edison State College (now Florida SouthWestern State College) in 2007 when I was almost 30 years old. I decided that I would pursue a degree in elementary education. I'm not sure why I chose this as I am not particularly patient and small children often drive me crazy. That was my goal though. I found out rather quickly that this was not the path for me and decided to pursue a degree in History instead with a minor in Psychology. Once I completed my AA in 2009, I transferred to FGCU and earned my bachelors degree in 2012.

Just three short months after earning my AA from Edison State College, I landed a job there as an instructional assistant. I have now been working for, now Florida SouthWestern State College for almost 8 years. I have since earned a masters degree in higher education and am currently pursuing a masters degree in history with the hopes of becoming faculty one day.

As a first year, first generation, non-traditional student, the odds were stacked against me for sure! Regardless, I set my mind to it and succeeded in earning my degrees. This is the basis that has caused me to be so passionate about helping students to succeed in their own degree programs.
Francine Fuentes, St. Petersburg College
A struggling student with a severe lack of confidence is where MY story begins. As a young child, I was consistently told I could do nothing and go nowhere. This actually followed by many years after high school. We often become what we are told! Sometimes positive but in my case negative. I was told that I could not do anything worthwhile. Teachers described me as very sweet, but slow. I was the bullied child through my K - 12 years and struggled academically, my life seemed rather hopeless. 

I became a dancer and loved those years, however, there was a gnawing voice inside of me that said "I want more". No longer would I listen to the naysayers or the school advisor that told my parents that their daughter could only work at a McDonalds restaurant. 

I earned a certificate of Business Entrepreneurship in 2015 and this is where I moved fast forward!

YOU can fill in the blanks but one of my life changers was when I stepped out of the box and presented to a group of employees at a Florida college through AFC. I have learned that I am capable of more than I could possibly have imagined. I am writing a book about growing up with my brother who is afflicted with Paranoid Schizophrenia and how it affects an entire family. Do I have regrets in my life? Only that I waited this long to live it. My message to all students and college employees is to look for the AFC in their life.

Robert Flores, 2017 AFC President, South Florida State College
My story begins a long time ago in the far away place. I am extremely honored to be the 2017 Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) President. I never envisioned that twenty years after joining AFC, I would be the president of the association. AFC empowered me with opportunities to develop my leadership skills. The development and empowering of its members has been the calling of AFC.  
View his story here........ShareYourStoryRobertFlores.mp4

Dominique Phillips-Alvarez, Pasco-Hernando State College

I was born in New Port Richey Florida; however, I did not grow up in Florida.  My father worked out of the union so we traveled all over the country for work.  I believe I attended eleven schools before I graduated.  College was not a big concern in my family; in fact, I was the first person on my mother’s side to complete high school.  After marrying my husband, we purchased a home in Hernando County, where I soon discovered Pasco-Hernando “Community” College, at the time.  In my mid-twenties, I made that decision to walk in and sign up for classes.  That was the best decision I have ever made.  The faculty and staff treated me as if they had known me for years and made that first college experience incredible.  Within my year and a half, I had become a student ambassador as well as a chapter officer for Phi Theta Kappa.  I graduated as a first generation graduate and soon after became a part-time employee in Student Activities.  I have since moved into Athletics and have now been with the college for five years.  I really enjoy giving back to the students and making their college experience the best possible.  I recently made the decision to go back to school to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in Business at PHSC.  I have to say that being with a community college really changed me to become a better person and leader.  I have learned so much and I would recommend this experience to anyone!

Matthew Holliday, Florida SouthWestern State College

When I graduated from high school in 1991 after growing up in Cape Coral, I attempted to start college at Edison Community College, but I found I just wasn’t mentally prepared at that time and dropped out. After working various jobs for a couple of years going nowhere fast, I needed a major change.  A friend and I decided to enlist in the military. He went into the Coast Guard, and I enlisted in the Air Force in 1993.  Following basic training and helicopter maintenance school, I was assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  While stationed there, I participated in numerous missions in support of special operations training and also Operation Joint Endeavor in the Balkans as part of the Special Operations Implementation Force (SOCIFOR). 

At the end of my first four years, I had to decide if I wanted to return to school or transfer overseas. With a little more maturity and life behind me, I returned home and reenrolled at Edison Community College and then transferred to The Florida State University (FSU) where I majored in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.  While at FSU, I did an internship for a lobbyist and developed an interest in politics.  Through my time at FSU, I was able to then secure a position at the Florida House of Representatives as a district secretary and then later the lead legislative aide for a member from Jacksonville where I served for six years. 

In 2008, I was hired to be the first director of governmental relations at Edison State College, my Alma matter, where I have now been for nine years.  The name has since changed to Florida SouthWestern State College, but I am still dedicated to advocating for the college and the students who benefit from the educational opportunities our institution and the Florida College System provides. 

Had it not been for the preparation I received in the Florida College System while at Edison (now Florida SouthWestern State College), I would not have been as successful at FSU and in my career. That is why I am so passionate in my advocacy for our students and our system.

Carol Smith, College of Central Florida

My family is from the Ocala area.  I attended Florida State University in the early 80’s but wasn’t able to finish.  While there in Tallahassee, I worked for an architectural and engineering firm, which included doing work for Tallahassee Community College.  When my husband and I moved back to the Ocala area, I got a job at the College of Central Florida.  My colleagues encouraged me to apply for my AA.  I then earned my AS at the College of Central Florida as well as earning a degree in medical terminology.  I remember AFC when it the Florida Association of Community Colleges.  I became involved first with the Career and Professional Development (CPEC) commission.  I remember attending the CPEC commission meeting at the headquarters office in Tallahassee.  Attending that meeting prompted me to become more involved with my local college AFC chapter.  I served in all roles from secretary to president.  I am encouraging our newer AFC members to attend the annual conference as they need to have the opportunity to learn and grow.  Because of AFC and the college system, I have been able to network with so many others in my field not only from my own college but from across the state.  It has also helped me “climb the ladder” from a division secretary to now Executive Assistant to a Vice President.

 Jessie Clayton, Tallahassee Community College

I was born in Tallahassee, Florida and raised by my father’s parents, who raised fifteen children and were sharecroppers on a farm.  My grandparents understood the values of working hard and family unity.  My grandparents focus was not on higher education.  Therefore, I enlisted in the Army after high school.  

At the end of my military service, I worked various jobs but did not excel professionally in my career.  My older brother Darrell often mentioned that I should enroll in college to better my career opportunities. I was older and more mature; therefore, I decided to enroll at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama where I majored in Information Systems. I did an internship for the Veterans Medical Center in Montgomery, Alabama in their IT department.         

In 2003, I was hired at Tallahassee Community College (TCC) to be a Technology Specialist where I have been for fifteen years. Immediately, I joined the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC).

Through AFC, I learned about the different Commissions and joined the Technology Commission.  I learned about networking with the Great 28 Community Colleges throughout the State of Florida. I served as TCC's Chapter website web master for many years and assisted with our membership drive. I was the Treasure for the Technology Commission for several years.  I assist with the AFC Annual Conference and serve my local Chapter as the photographer to capture candid shots.

Without my experiences with AFC, I would not be as successful in my career or be able to reach out to potential and struggling students that want to achieve a college degree. These are the reasons why I have such strong beliefs and am so emotional about AFC.