— Indiana University
Former Honors Student and Wells Scholar Receives 2012 Outstanding Young Alumni Award
Kathleen Plinske, B.A. '01, received the 2012 Outstanding Young Alumni Award from IU at a banquet in early October.
Plinske serves as the president of the Osceola and Lake Nona campuses at Valencia Community College. Recently named as the best community college in the nation, Valencia serves nearly 60,000 students each year in the greater Orlando, Florida area. Before joining Valencia in 2010, Plinske served as vice president and interim president at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Actively involved in her community, Plinske is the president-elect of the Rotary Club of Lake Nona and serves on many local boards, including the Education Foundation and Junior Achievement of Osceola County, the Osceola Center for the Arts and the Lake Nona Education Council.
Plinske attended IU Bloomington as an Honors College student and Herman B Wells Scholar, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and physics with highest distinction and honors. She completed a Master of Arts in Spanish from Roosevelt University and a Doctorate in Educational Technology with honors from Pepperdine University. She was recently recognized as one of 24 emerging leaders in the world by Phi Delta Kappa International.
After an injury to her ACL cast doubt that Plinske would earn a softball scholarship to attend college, she was thrilled to be awarded the prestigious Wells scholarship. "I really feel like if I hadn't gotten the Wells, I might not have been able to go to college," Plinske said.
Currently, Plinske is well on her way to completing a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida during December 2012. "I'll be happy to have a weekend without a homework assignment," Plinske said. Still, she's enjoying her studies and said they help her better analyze the news and financial crises."
When she first came to IU, Plinske thought she would be a physicist and really appreciated her honors physics courses. "There were only about 15 of us, so we could dive into the subject matter and be challenged," she said. "I love that. You got to do things you don't typically - we created a hologram from scratch."
She decided to add a Spanish degree after taking a Spanish course at a community college in her hometown after her sophomore year. A six-week summer program in Mexico helped cement her second major. "I'd never even been west of the Mississippi River, and it expanded my horizons," Plinske said. .
During her study abroad, the program organized a trip to Teotihuacan, the site of two monumental ancient pyramids. "It was special, because I had seen a video about the pyramids in my Spanish course at community college," Plinske said. "I thought they were amazing, but I didn't know I'd be able to visit them. It brought my study of Spanish alive." She still loves learning about Mexican and Mayan culture, and has since traveled to Peru to visit Machu Picchu and to the pyramids in Oaxaca.
Plinske, who taught Spanish for the past 10 years, now keeps up with the language by teaching a course a year at Valencia. She finds the language especially useful because 45 percent of Valencia students are Hispanic, so she addresses them in both English and Spanish. As part of her work with the Lake Nona Education Council and the Education Foundation, Plinske works with programs that provide supplies and resources for pre-college students. "Students need to be successful before college to believe they can make it," she says.
"Wells Scholar student groups helped prepare me for my career," Plinske says. "I'm so thankful to have participated in Wells. It was so much fun. With a group of talented students, you had to be on your toes and have fast responses and be prepared to have your points challenged. That helped me to help others to understand my perspective."
She hopes current IU students realize they have the amazing opportunity to study anything they're interested in. Her one regret, she says, was that she focused too much on maintaining a high grade point average and avoided certain courses. She tells students to not worry so much about their GPAs, but to take any courses of interest to them.
"I hope to help make it possible for people in my community to realize the joys of higher education," she says.
Celia Grundman '14