Portrait by Dan Austin
Additional photos courtesy of Polk State College
Women in the education industry have been shaping the lives of individuals for centuries. Polk State College has proudly called Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti its president since 2017. Her dedication to our community sets a tone of excellence for students and professionals alike to embody.
Who would we be without the women who raised us, shaped us, and educated us?
When we look back at our time at school, we may likely identify a few key figures who encouraged our growth. The best teachers, coaches, professors, and school counselors inspire us to think bigger and aim higher. They remind us we are capable. They develop us for success.
“Education opens doors.” This is the enduring truth that guides Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti as she undertakes her role as the president of Polk State College. Since assuming office in 2017, Dr. Falconetti has secured $4.9 million in recurring funding for Polk State from the legislature in collaboration with the local delegation and the community. She fought to preserve the school’s campus in Lake Wales, implemented internship programs, and developed a dual enrollment program in education for high school students. These are just a few of her accomplishments over the past three years.
A daughter of Cuban exiles, Dr. Falconetti grew up in Jacksonville and relied on the Hispanic culture there. First and foremost, she credits her upbringing as an inspiration that propels her forward in her career and endeavors. While talking with her, she reflects on her parents and how they left behind their livelihood to pursue a better life for her. “When I was very young, I saw firsthand how the power and influence of education really changed the lives of my family,” says Dr. Falconetti. She seeks to honor them by giving back to the public education that opened the door to her opportunity. This is a goal she does not take lightly.
STRONG WOMEN RAISE STRONG WOMEN.
Dr. Falconetti speaks highly of the resilient women who came before her, specifically, her mother and grandmothers on both sides. She quotes her grandmother, who always told her, “Prepare yourself for life.” Witnessing the tenacity and resolve of her family members inspired Dr. Falconetti to set the specific goal of obtaining a college presidency. Once she set the goal, she pursued it relentlessly.
It is evident that her grandmother’s advice shaped Dr. Falconetti’s choices in pursuing extensive higher education to “prepare herself for life.” After completing her bachelor’s degree, she went on to receive both her master’s degree and doctorate at the University of North Florida. Even beyond her doctoral experience, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Falconetti is young for a college president. Only 41 when named president of Polk State, she was the youngest in the room at a council meeting shortly before her induction in 2017. “I guess you could call me a child prodigy,” she jokes. And somewhat of a prodigy she is. Dr. Falconetti already holds over 20 years of career experience in higher education. Before taking the position at Polk State, she held leadership roles in three other states (and Washington, DC). Her diverse career path has shaped her into a seasoned professional: she researched in Texas, worked in national policy with the U.S. Department of Education in DC, fundraised events and implemented institutional practice in Daytona, and oversaw institutional advancement and economic development in Virginia. Her experience reflects a holistic individual, one well-prepared to excel in a college presidency.
“This job is not easy,” she says. “If you read research about presidents in the community college world, about why they’re successful and how they persist, it’s really because they’re driven by something very intrinsic. For me, it’s my upbringing.”
Dr. Falconetti witnessed firsthand the transformational power of good state schools. When asked what her deepest passion has become at Polk State, her answer is simple and profound: “Polk State accepts everybody. It’s a ‘come one, come all’ mentality, and that open door, to me, is the embodiment of the American dream.” Dr. Falconetti believes that accessible state education improves life for all nearby, because it has the ability to raise the socioeconomic base for an entire community.
Polk State not only serves its surrounding community by producing academic graduates, but it gives back in other ways, too. The college has partnered with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County to distribute vaccines to individuals in need. Each year it hosts diverse opportunities for locals to learn and grow through community-wide events and programs.
Dr. Falconetti’s impact on her students and community is immeasurable. She recognizes this mission humbly and with determination. “This professional portion of my life is my service on Earth. I am going to do everything in my power to help students as best I can.” Education opens doors; Dr. Falconetti’s bold leadership inspires students to walk through them.