Described by many as the Energizer Bunny, a tour de force, a guiding light and a transformational leader, Dr. Eileen Holden has made an indelible mark on the Polk County community. Compare Polk State College today to 10 years ago (or Polk Community College as it was) and you will see the impact Dr. Holden's leadership has had on not just the school but on the community.
Going well beyond a rebrand, Polk State College has been a leader in the state college system through developing workforce programming to meet the needs of the changing and emerging industries in Florida. Under Holden’s direction, the physical footprint and accessibility to higher education grew when Polk State also opened the Polk State Airside Center in South Lakeland, Polk State JD Alexander Center in Lake Wales, Polk State Lake Wales Arts Center, Polk State Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center in Bartow, and the Polk State Center for Public Safety in Winter Haven.
In addition to being a tireless cheerleader for the Chamber and the Winter Haven business community, Dr. Holden has lent her time and expertise to numerous other non-profits. Read more below.
“It has been a privilege to work with visionary trustees, outstanding faculty, dedicated staff, and engaged community leaders to serve the education and workforce needs of Polk County.”
Holden was appointed Polk State’s fourth president in 2005, having previously worked as vice president for academic affairs at Broward College and dean for academic affairs at Palm Beach State College.
During her presidency, Holden has led Polk State through a period of unprecedented growth both in terms of its degree offerings and physical footprint.
In 2010, the College launched its first bachelor’s degree, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management. Since then, with Holden’s leadership, it has added five additional baccalaureate programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Sciences, Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education, and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education.
Each baccalaureate program was developed in close collaboration with Polk State’s industry partners to address workforce needs specific to Polk County.
With the baccalaureate degrees came a new name for the institution; Polk Community College became Polk State College in 2009. In 2011, the College rebranded, adopting the Eagle as its mascot and red, black, and white as its colors.
During Holden’s presidency, enrollment has increased 55% and Foundation assets have nearly doubled, from $16 million to more than $30 million. Also, in 2008, the Foundation received a $12 million gift to build the Polk State Clear Springs Advanced Technology Center, the largest gift in the history of the Florida College System. After receiving an additional $2.5 million that was donated by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, and raising $250,000 from companies and individuals, Polk State was able to build its Advanced Technology Center entirely from philanthropic donations.
Holden, however, is quick to eschew credit for any of these accomplishments.
“I couldn’t have done anything without an outstanding Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, and community,” Holden said. “We shared a vision for Polk State, and together, we’ve taken this great institution to the next level.”
Holden explained that she timed her announcement carefully. The District Board of Trustees will have a full semester to conduct the search. Additionally, because the search process will take place in the spring, the Trustees will have the full benefit of faculty input, which would have been more difficult to ensure had the search been stretched through the summer term.
“This timeline will also give the new president the advantage of starting at the beginning of the fall semester, rather than coming in after the academic year is already underway,” Holden said.
Polk State’s DBOT is expected to call a special meeting in December to begin discussing the search process.
“Selfishly, I hate to see her go, but as a friend, I am happy to see her move on to the next chapter of her life. It’s hard to imagine a Polk State College without Eileen Holden, but all good things must eventually come to an end.”