Philip Poekert : Lastinger Professor, Outstanding Alumni

Philip Poekert (PhD ’08)
Ph.D., curriculum and instruction, 2008, University of Florida College of Education

Poekert, a 2008 doctoral graduate of UF’s College of Education, is a clinical assistant professor in the college’s school of teaching and learning and a UF Lastinger for Learning professor-in-residence in Miami. He began his teaching career in the South Bronx as a Teach for America instructor, but today he is a leader in two UF programs in south Florida that are on the cutting edge of education reform.

Poekert, 31, directs Ready Schools Miami, which partners UF’s Lastinger Center with Miami-Dade County schools and local community groups to ensure at-risk children enter school healthy and ready to learn. He also coordinates the center’s Florida Master Teacher Initiative, an on-the-job professional development and advanced degree program in education for teachers in Miami‐Dade and across the state. Poekert recently co-authored a successful $6 million federal grant to expand the Master Teacher initiative, offering a new degree track in early childhood education. His group was one of 49 winning applicants, beating out more than 1,600 others nationwide for a share of the stimulus funds.

“This is the area where we can generate the highest return,” Poekert said. “We can literally change the trajectory of children’s lives,” said Poekert, who previously taught in public schools in Oakland, Los Angeles and West Palm Beach before pursuing his UF doctoral degree.

The National School Reform Faculty organization recognizes Poekert as a national facilitator. His research includes evaluation studies of the impact of collaborative professional development on the instructional practice at the early childhood and elementary level. He has published in several national and international journals, including Teacher Education Quarterly and Professional Development in Education.

Wattenbarger : Father of the Community College System

When James Wattenbarger started school at Palm Beach Junior College in the 1930s, community and junior colleges were rare institutions, groping for a role in the academic world.

By the time Wattenbarger retired, two-year colleges were within driving distance of everyone in Florida, training thousands of Floridians for jobs and launching countless college careers – and Wattenbarger himself was the architect of that change.

Wattenbarger, UF alumnus and former COE professor, died Aug. 10 in Atlanta. He was 84.

“He created a community college system that has become a model for the rest of the country,” said Linda Serra-Hagedorn, chair of COE’s department of educational administration and policy. “Florida has one of the most successful systems in the U.S., and this is largely due to his influence.”

A Tennessee native, Wattenbarger grew up in West Palm Beach, and graduated from Palm Beach Junior College in 1941, completing his bachelor’s degree in education at UF in 1943. He served as a navigator in the Air Force — earning an Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross – before returning to graduate school at UF.

While in graduate school, Wattenbarger was tapped to provide research for a report for the legislature on the state of Florida’s junior colleges – a handful of schools that were either privately-owned or affiliated closely with a public high school. Motivated by his own positive experiences in Palm Beach, Wattenbarger took to the task eagerly.

His work on junior colleges grew into a dissertation, in which he outlined his vision for a modernized community college system, in which higher education was open to everyone, regardless of age, social class, or location. Wattenbarger proposed the establishment of community colleges within commuting distance of every Floridian, with open enrollment and flexible schedules.

The idea appealed to leaders in state education, so much so that in the early 1950s Florida began to rebuild its community college system around Wattenbarger’s vision. In 1955, Wattenbarger – then serving as a professor at the COE – was called on to head a new council dedicated to restructuring community colleges. Two years later, he became head of the new Division of Community Colleges, a title he held until 1966.

By the time Wattenbarger returned to UF, the community college system had built 16 news schools, and was in the process of merging the historically black and historically white schools that had been built during the segregation era. It was well on its way to becoming the school system we know today – which educates nearly 1 million students in degree and non-degree programs.

He remained a major presence in the community college movement after his return to UF. He chaired UF’s Department of Educational Administration and Policy and directed the Institute of Higher Education, teaching the next generation of community college leaders.

As other states began to look to Florida as a model, Wattenbarger helped them set up their own community college systems. In all, he served as a consultant or otherwise played a role in the development of community college systems in 34 states.

Wattenbarger remained in Gainesville after his retirement from UF in 1992. In 1996, Santa Fe Community College paid tribute to him by naming its student services building in his honor.

“One can only speculate about how many hundreds of thousands of students there are at UF, in other Florida institutions, and around the nation who owe their start in higher education to Wattenbager’s dream of making college truly a populist, democratic possibility,” wrote Richard Scher, a UF professor of political science, in a remembrance of Wattenbarger in the Aug. 18 Gainesville Sun.

In lieu of flowers, his family is asking people to send donations to the James L. Wattenbarger Fellowship Fund, which is for graduate students in higher education administration. Contributions can be made online or by check to: University of Florida Foundation, PO Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604. On the memo line, write “Wattenbarger Endowed Fellowship (Fund #11967).”

A Gator Wedding!

UF alumni, Lauren O’Hara and Andrew May, met in the Gator Club of Jacksonville and were married in Jacksonville in May.

Lauren is a UF College of Education alumna earning her BA in 2008 and MEd in 2009.  She is currently the Young Alumni Coordinator for the Gator Club of Jacksonville and serves as a Kindergarten teacher.

Andrew earned his BS in 2005 and M.M.E.E. from UF in 2007.  He is a professional electrical engineer and VP of Communications for the Gator Club of Jacksonville.



Businesswoman’s $1 million gift creates professorship in early childhood studies

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Entrepreneur Anita Zucker, a 1972 education graduate of the University of Florida, last year challenged fellow alumni who had never contributed to make an annual donation to the College of Education. Zucker, a 2010 recipient of UF’s Distinguished Alumni Award, sweetened the deal by matching such gifts dollar-for-dollar.

Today, Zucker is leading by example by pledging $1 million to create an endowed professorship in early childhood studies at the college. Her contribution will generate an additional $120,000 in funds from the Faculty Now incentive program established by UF President Bernie Machen to generate more faculty endowments. Zucker’s is the first gift made to the College of Education through the program.

Anita Zucker
Anita Zucker

The post’s formal name will be the Anita Zucker Endowed Professorship in Early Childhood Studies. College officials say they will fill the professorship with a top scholar in that academic specialty. Yearly interest earned on the gift will fund groundbreaking research, teaching and clinical programs conducted by the appointed scholar.

Zucker’s gift follows the creation of a new interdisciplinary Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies in December. The campuswide center is a model training, demonstration and research site where UF scholars—in fields as diverse as education, medicine, law, public health and the life sciences—work with local, state and national partners to advance the science and practice of early childhood development and early learning.

The Zucker professorship becomes the second endowed position in the College of Education’s early childhood studies program. World-class scholar Patricia Snyder occupies the David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies, created in 2007.

“Establishing this new interdisciplinary professorship, alongside the existing Lawrence chair, ensures that early childhood studies will remain a strong focus at the University of Florida, and a resource for the state and nation, for years to come,” said Snyder, who was instrumental in mobilizing the university’s top specialists in childhood education, health and well-being to create the new center for excellence.

Zucker is a former teacher, a lifetime education advocate, a history-making businesswoman, and one of Charleston, South Carolina’s leading citizens. She and her late husband, Jerry, received bachelor’s degrees from UF in 1972 — Anita in education and Jerry with a triple major in math, chemistry and physics. Anita taught elementary school for 10 years and also has a master’s in educational administration and supervision.

When Jerry Zucker died in 2008, Anita succeeded him as chief executive officer of the Hudson Bay Company, North America’s oldest company. She is the company’s first woman CEO. She also heads the family’s InterTech Group company, the North Charleston-based global conglomerate.

“The early childhood years are the most critical time for learning in a young person. That’s when they build their foundation and learn their vocabulary needs for life,” Zucker said. “Creating this professorship ensures the University of Florida will always have a top scholar who can prepare our future educators to teach our youngest children so they can succeed in school and life.”

She raised almost $100,000 last year in her Anita Zucker Alumni Challenge, including her dollar-for-dollar match of nearly $50,000. She says she hopes her latest gift inspires other large contributions to the College of Education.

“Education unlocks all doors for the future and we need to provide it to our young people to increase their chances for success,” Zucker said.

Alum Appointed Dean of College at Oakton Community College

Adam Hayashi (PhD 2010, Higher Ed Admin) has been appointed dean of the Division of Science and Health Careers at Oakton Community College (in Des Plaines, Ill.), effective July 1.

He currently is dean of the College of Central Florida’s Citrus campus in Lecanto. Hayashi grew up in Oakton’s district.

Follow this link for the full story:

Gov. Perdue’s visit to campus

On April 30, N.C. governor and UF College of Education graduate, Beverly Perdue, was given UF’s Distinguished Alumnus Award during commencement.

Beverly Eaves Perdue is a “double EduGator” with two education degrees from UF. She earned a master’s degree in community college administration in 1974 and a doctorate in educational administration two years later. She also has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky.

“Bev Perdue’s achievements as a long-time public servant, a champion of education and now as governor of North Carolina certainly make her one of our most illustrious and accomplished graduates,” said Catherine Emihovich, dean of UF’s College of Education.

UF Alumni and community leaders meet for UF Education Leadership Session

This past Saturday UF alumni and education leaders in the Miami area met together for the UF College of Education’s first annual UF Education Leadership Session.  The event was held to showcase the impact the UF College of Education and its Lastinger Center for Learning are making in Miami-Dade schools.

Guests were able to hear and see – firsthand – the positive happenings occurring in the community’s schools and network with friends and neighbors who are making a difference in education.

Scroll down to see photos from the event!

Guests include UF alumni and community leaders

Don Pemberton, director of the Lastinger Center for Learning

David Lawrence Jr., president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation

Deborah Wilson, principal of Comstock Elementary

Our guests engaged in the conversation

Ximena Sperling, UF COE alumna and teacher at Redondo Elementary

Attention COE Alumni: How are you using your UF education degree?

Send us a photo, video, or story and let us know how you’ve been using your degree from the UF College of Education!

We love to hear what EduGators are doing with their education, and how their degree has impacted their life and career paths.  We are currently posting these updates to the College’s website and we would like to add your update to the page!  Please send us photos, stories and links to videos that let us know how you are using your UF College of Education degree.

Send your photos, video links, and stories to


Showing Edugator Pride in the Classroom

Pictured above is COE alumnus, Lauren O’Hara. Lauren graduated with her BAE in 2008 with a major in Special Education, and received her MED in 2009 with a major in Early Childhood Education. Lauren sent in this photo featuring her kindergarten class and states, ” Friday is College Day at our school, and I made my students some Gator t-shirts.”

Zucker Alumni Challenge

Here are the latest submissions to our Zucker Alumni Challenge. Take a look and see why these EduGators have decided to give back to the college. With the Zucker Alumni Challenge, every dollar you donate is matched by fellow EduGator and alumnus, Anita Zucker.