Many high school students see college as time to set out on their own, to say goodbye to Mom and Dad and experience independence for the first time. But not Makala Quinn. For her, college has become a family affair. Makala is a freshman at Florida Polytechnic University studying Health Informatics and Cyber Security – side-by-side with her father, a graduate student in the same concentrations.
Makala, 18, and her dad Kenny, 52, are both part of Florida Polytechnic University’s Inaugural Class.
“It was a total coincidence that we both ended up at Florida Poly. Or perhaps you could call it fate,” says Kenny. “Either way, I’m sure glad it happened, it’s been a lot of fun.”
So how did these two simultaneously arrive at Florida’s newest state university?
Kenny has worked with technology his entire career. He retired as a master sergeant in the United States Air Force, where he served as a network distribution systems superintendent for more than two decades. Most recently, he’s worked as a training specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, focusing on education and support for the hospital’s electronic medical records system. He’s passionate about his work and teaching others, but has had a long-time desire to return to school and earn a graduate degree.
Makala, a star student and athlete, knew higher education was in her future after graduating from Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns, Florida, and had even been offered opportunities to play softball at the collegiate level. She just wasn’t quite sure where she would go.
During one of many road trips with her mother to visit prospective universities, Makala noticed Florida Poly’s ultra-modern Innovation, Science and Technology Building, its grandeur visible from the interstate passing through Lakeland.
“We saw the building and had heard a little about Florida Poly and its focus on STEM, so we decided to pull off I-4 and visit,” says Makala. “We wanted to gather a bit of information for my dad; we knew he was considering going back to school to earn his master’s degree in a technology-related field.”
Little did Makala know, the spontaneous trip on her father’s behalf would morph into the beginning of her own journey at Florida Poly.
“I was immediately drawn to the campus and its unique design. After talking with advisors about all of the incredible opportunities I’d have has a student studying STEM, I was sold,” says Makala.
Not long after the trip, both Makala and her father applied and were accepted to Florida Polytechnic. The family has relocated to Lakeland, Makala living in an apartment just a few miles from her parents’ home.
“I have the best of both worlds,” says Makala. “I’m getting the college experience – living in an apartment and doing my own thing, but since my family is so close by, we can still go to church together and have dinner once a week.”
As it turns out, the move is a bit of a homecoming for Kenny, who grew up in Polk County.
“I’m a homegrown boy from Lakeland, so I’m thrilled to be a part of all the growth in the community and at the University,” says Kenny. “I believe that Florida has had a need for a STEM-based university like Poly for a long-time. So it’s exciting to help drive the vision for Poly and the high-tech future of our state.”
With the first semester drawing to a close, the father-daughter duo seems to have settled into a nice routine. They enjoy seeing each other in the halls, chatting about campus happenings and helping one another with studies and assignments. There’s even a fun, healthy rivalry between the two about who got the best grade or had the most innovative project.
The only downside to having your dad on campus: “Well, he might be more popular than I am,” Makala says with a chuckle.
Graduation still a ways away, Makala is undecided on her final career path, though she knows she’d like to do something that combines her interests in the technology and healthcare fields. Kenny, on the other hand, believes he’d like to pursue a career as a professor, perhaps even teach at Florida Poly. Currently a graduate assistant and still a part-time trainer with the Mayo Clinic, he really enjoys helping others learn new things.
“I’m grateful to have this opportunity with my daughter,” says Kenny. “I’m grateful to be part of the Inaugural Class, a part of developing the cultures and traditions that will touch future classes for years to come. And I think I speak for both of us when I say we’re grateful for the opportunity to pursue what we’re passionate about.”