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SPC names education college for Bilirakises

St. Petersburg College dedicated its education school, the Bilirakis College of Education, on Thursday.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2003

TARPON SPRINGS -- It took some serious political clout to grow St. Petersburg College from its junior college status into a four-year institution offering bachelor's degrees.

From where did the clout come?

A combination of places, with a major chunk thrown in by the Bilirakis family of Tarpon Springs. So much so that the school's college of education was named for the family at a Thursday ceremony.

Surrounded by a crowd of 700, the first family of North Pinellas humbly accepted the honor with Gov. Jeb Bush standing by their side.

"Some people do things and have earned an honor like this and then some people like me feel like I've got to work a lot harder in the future to earn the honor," said U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor.

Bush deemed the tribute an appropriate one and gave individual praise to four members of the family.

"It is fitting that the name of the Bilirakis family will forever be linked to this great institution in recognition to the contributions they have made over many years," Bush said.

Bush's signature in June 2001 sealed the four-year status of the college into state law.

State Rep. Gus Bilirakis (the son of the congressman), along with state Sen. Don Sullivan, sponsored the bill. U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis supported the college's four-year ambition and helped the college acquire federal funds for its online course component.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis' wife, Evelyn, lobbied state legislators for the bill's approval, and she now sits on the college's Board of Trustees. ("A force to be reckoned with," Bush said.) Another son, Palm Harbor doctor Emmanuel Bilirakis, supports the college through scholarship and art museum gifts.

"We're naming the building after the family rather than pick one of them," said Thomas Furlong, senior vice president of baccalaureate programs and university partnerships. "It was primarily because of their leadership and support."

The school offers three bachelor's degrees, in education, nursing and technology management. The school is looking to add a dental hygiene bachelor's degree to that list and recently announced a $1-million training program for school principals and other administrators.

By next year, 1,200 students will be enrolled as juniors and seniors at SPC. The first graduates will cross the stage perhaps as early as this summer, Furlong said.

SPC fills an education gap that should help Florida alleviate a nursing and teaching shortage, Bush said. SPC is a model for others, he added.

"SPC is on the vanguard of showing how it can be done in a cost-effective way," Bush said, adding that the college helps the state train and retain higher-skilled workers.

The honor hits close to home for Evelyn Bilirakis.

"I was the first person out of my family to go to college," she said.

Since then, a host of Bilirakis cousins, siblings and other extended family attended college. Some 80 of that clan were present for the dedication.

Said Evelyn Bilirakis: "We've always supported education."

-- Adrienne P. Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or .

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