The Porter Family’s Land Donation Celebrates A Decade Of Adding Skilled Workers To The Local Economy! 

Many of the people in this picture have been with the Porter Campus of Pasco Hernando State College since PHSC first opened back in January of 2014. Current Provost Dr. Davina Jones (second from left) hosted an outstanding 10th Anniversary Celebration for the Porter Campus on April 6. Holding the sign, front and center in this picture, is Sonia Rodriguez Thorn, who was the first Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Porter Campus under the campus’ first Provost Dr. Stanley Giannet. (Photos by Charmaine George) 

When Sonia Rodriguez Thorn first arrived in 2013 at the not-yet-open Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch of what was then called Pasco Hernando Community College (PHCC), her name was only Sonia Rodriguez, as she was not yet married. 

Sonia’s last name was still Rodriguez when the school’s Porter Campus opened in January 2014 as the fifth campus of the freshly renamed Pasco Hernando State College (PHSC) and she served as the first Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Porter Campus, and the right hand to the Porter Campus’ first Provost, Dr. Stanley Giannet. Sonia did get married in December of that year, so both she and the school had new names to start the Porter Campus’ second year. 

“It’s an honor to come back here, after 30 years of service and especially, opening this campus,” Sonia said when she was introduced by the current Provost of the Porter Campus Dr. Davina Jones, “when my first hire Mildred (Santiago Diaz) and I couldn’t even get into the building yet. Mildred (who is one of several employees introduced by Dr. Jones as having been at the Porter Campus for all ten years of its existence) and I and all of our new hires were housed in one room, with six tables and chairs, at the West Campus in New Port Richey until this building (at seven total stories, the tallest in Pasco County) opened.” 

She added, “I’ve been involved with this institution in one form or another since 1991 and it’s been a blessing and a privilege for me to serve not only the community and our stakeholders but also the institution that helped develop me both personally and professionally and I’m very honored by that. So, to come here today is really special for me, to see all that the Porter Campus has done for the Wesley Chapel community and Pasco County. Thank you so much!” 

“Sonia gave us her best,” said Dr. Jones, who introduced her to those in attendance on Apr. 6, prior to the festivities celebrating the Porter Campus’ tenth anniversary as a PHSC campus. 

“So, of course, we invited her back to be here for this event today.” 

Next, Dr. Jones mentioned that the three previous Porter Campus Provosts — Dr. Stanley Giannet, Dr. Bonnie Clark and Dr. Kevin O’Farrell — also were immortalized in the new PHSC “Hall of Fame” with a commemorative photo framed and displayed in the Provost’s conference room. 

“We are also going to send each of them a photo of this tribute,” Dr. Jones said. ‘We just think it’s important that the Porter Campus never forget the excellence and the greatness that led this place.” 

She also related a story she had heard about Dr. Giannet: “I heard that when he pulled up to this campus, he had a car full of beautiful art he brought with him and placed it all around the “A” Building and donated it. That is the mark of excellence that he brought to this campus…So, we want to continue to celebrate and honor all of our Provosts.” 

She also gave gifts to each member of the campus’ inaugural staff and, before concluding the introduction to the day, Dr. Jones received a surprise herself. She handed off the microphone to Ann Coppola, the associate director of the library at the Porter Campus, who mentioned that Dr. Jones also was an original member of the campus’ faculty, as a public speech communication professor. 

Current PHSC Porter Campus Provost Dr. Davina Jones (left) and Somia Rodriguez Thorn pose with the special shadow box presented to Dr. Jones by her staff. Dr. Jones was named by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in 2022 as someone who inspired the replacement of a statue of a Confederate general in the U.S. Capitol statuary hall with one of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. 

“Since then, your talent for diplomacy, your love of education and students and your strong work ethic has placed you as our campus leader and we could not be more fortunate to have you as Provost. You strive for excellence unapologetically, you advise personal accountability, you advocate for staff, faculty and students with pure intentions and most importantly, you do all of this with civility and kindness…Your core team has learned so much from you… and your leadership sets the tone for this campus.” 

To that end, Ann mentioned that, at the dedication ceremony of the statue honoring Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol in July 2022, a statue that replaced one of a Confederate general that stood at the Capitol since the Jim Crowe era, Dr. Jones’ contribution to making that statue a reality was mentioned by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. 

“Dr. Jones served as a front-line partner, as Florida and our nation prepared to receive and embrace this historic statue in the Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Dr. Jones advocated for the statue of Dr. Bethune as a far superior representative of the values and diversity of the Sunshine State.” 

Ann added, “We curated this shadow box (photos above and right) to honor the work you did and still do for education. Thank you.” Dr. Jones was clearly moved by the impressive gift. 

After that, she posed for a group photo with all of the original, former and current faculty members on hand and told everyone in attendance about the Business Expo and free food out on the school’s promenade, the tours (including virtual simulations) of the campus’ renowned nursing department and “Bomba” Afro- Latin dance lesson (see photos on next page). 

Meanwhile, Wiregrass Ranch developer JD Porter, whose family trust donated the 65 acres upon which the Porter Campus sits, said that he was sad he wasn’t able to attend the festivities. 

“My family couldn’t be more proud of the Porter Campus and its students, faculty and staff,” Porter said afterwards. “I believe it is the most successful of the five PHSC campuses — and for good reason. It’s a great resource, and not just for the hospitals and medical offices throughout Wiregrass Ranch, but also the local business community. If you need to update your technical training for pretty much any type of business, we have this amazing local resource right here. PHSC has room to expand the Porter Campus and I am confident that will happen sooner than later.” 

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