By LOIS KINDLE
It can be easily said that one of the best things ever to happen in South Shore was the opening of a Hillsborough Community College (HCC) campus in Ruskin 10 years ago.
Since then, the area around it has exploded with growth — new residents, new homes, new business and industry. It would be no exaggeration to credit the college’s presence and partnerships with the community as one of the area’s main draws.
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, Hillsborough Community College — SouthShore will jointly celebrate its 10th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of its parent organization, Hillsborough Community College. The free, festive event will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. at 551 24th St. NE, Ruskin.
“We’ve been working so hard putting this wonderful celebration together,” said Jennifer China, SouthShore Campus president. “We have involved our students, the community, our faculty and staff, and we want it to be like a big party.”
The festivities will include a showcase of student organizations, highlights of the history of Southern Hillsborough County and a silent auction of items like Disney World and Firehouse Cultural Center event tickets, a Club Renaissance golf package, a Harriett’s Flowers gift certificate and more.
From 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., the event will include a brief ceremony to be opened by China, followed by welcoming remarks from Ken Atwater, HCC president, and the honoring of five folks who have made significant contributions to the establishment and/or growth of the SouthShore Campus.
• The Dickman family will receive the SouthShore Trailblazer Award for its donation of the land on which the campus sits.
• Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman will get the SouthShore People’s Choice Award for her continual support of the campus since its inception.
• Georgia Vahue, of the Firehouse Cultural Center, will be given The SouthShore Community Award for establishing a strong educational alliance between the campus and the Firehouse.
• Elizabeth Gutierrez, of the Enterprising Latinas, will receive the SouthShore Partnership Award for helping establish HCC classes in Wimauma.
• And Allen Witt, who served as the campus’ president for many years before China, will be given the SouthShore Leadership Award.
The Mosaic Co. and Suncoast Credit Union also will be recognized for their support. Remarks by Isabella Charet, student government president, and a surprise performance will close the ceremony.
History Project tours, the silent auction and a time capsule ceremony will take place afterward.
Free hot dogs and hamburgers will be served in a carnival-like atmosphere behind the Science Building. It will include vendor tables, entertainment by Everything but the Mime, a DJ, free T-shirts, funnel cakes and more.
A student talent show is set for 3:30 p.m., and iHeart Radio will broadcast live throughout the day.
Growing, growing, growing
The HCC SouthShore Campus started with 368 students a decade ago and had an enrollment of more than 10,000 as of the fall semester 2018.
“It’s amazing to see how much it’s grown over the past 10 years,” said Sandy Council, president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation. “I remember trying to promote the fact that we needed a campus here in Ruskin and how HCC wasn’t comfortable it would get enough attendance.
“As the enrollment has shown, the demand has certainly been here. We are so fortunate to have the campus here in our area. It is truly a wonderful partner.”
Melanie Davis, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, has been a fan from the start.
“I think one of its biggest impacts is the number of high school students who have been able to enroll at HCC while they are still in high school. So many of them graduate with their two-year HCC associate’s degree weeks before their high school graduation. That’s incredible!
“These kids have a leg up on others their age,” Davis said. “A lot of them may not have had college in their future at all, if it weren’t for this partnership with Lennard High School. They are able to finish their educations sooner, and enter the workforce at an earlier age.”
Davis added having such a “beautiful and newer campus” also has brought “so many people” from Hillsborough and Manatee counties to the South Shore area. “People ‘want’ to go to this campus, and as they commute back and forth, they see what our area has to offer.”
Currently there are two buildings housing its administration, staff offices, student services, classrooms, library and science labs. The Multi-purpose Building, the campus’ first, was completed in 2008 and the Sciences Building in 2015. Eighteen portables serve as additional classrooms and space for student service functions.
With this explosive growth in enrollment, the campus is once again busting at its seams, and there is a need for more infrastructure. A new Workforce Transitions Center is on HCC’s legislative agenda, China said.
Its purpose is to increase the number of skilled workers and employment opportunities in Southern Hillsborough County and serve as a one-stop training center for careers in technology, building trades and healthcare.