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  1. Education

HCC readies for 50th anniversary with 'Presidential Showcase'

It began as Hillsborough Junior College with just 1,625 students and five academic programs in temporary quarters at Hillsborough High School.

Today, Hillsborough Community College boasts an enrollment of more than 40,000 and 160 academic programs spread over five campuses and three centers.

And on Thursday, the college will throw a party at Armature Works to kickoff a year-long celebration of its achievements over the last 50 years.

The gathering — the annual Presidential Showcase — also is the jumpstart of the HCC Foundation's fundraising campaign to support scholarships, said college president Ken Atwater.

That campaign, dubbed HCC Rising: Together We Lift Our Community, will be the largest in the college's history. Just how large will be revealed at the showcase, Atwater said.

The night also will highlight the college's various programs.

"Guests at this year's Presidential Showcase will get to see and experience our past, present and future, all in one night," said HCC Foundation director of development Lee Lowry. "We are bringing some of our most exciting current programs to life at Armature Works.

"Attendees will get to try our new welding simulator, meet a pet who was helped by our Vet Tech students, and help lab tech students "eat" a virus, just to mention a few."

Additionally, each campus will host an event marking the college's golden anniversary through March. The festivities end in April with a Community Celebration in Water Works park.

Atwater, who took over the helm at HCC in 2010, said the showcase and subsequent events are a chance to thank the community for its support and recognize outstanding alums and business partners who have played a hand in the college's success. Those partners include the University of South Florida. At a recent event touting a minority scholarship program with the Helios Foundation, USF president Judy Genshaft singled out Atwater for his collaborative efforts.

HCC's success is reflected in its graduation rate, which has increased 50 percent in the last eight years, Atwater said.

That jump can be attributed to an increased focus on expanding workforce training and building partnerships with the business community while the economy was in the throes of one of the worst recessions in history, Atwater said.

"We looked at ourselves and put our money where it would make the most impact," he said.

That meant zeroing in on creating more collaborations, expanding technology, and boosting student success.

The college's collective eye is now on positioning HCC for the next 50 years. A comprehensive plan is being developed that will address every part of the college's infrastructure, but the college's focus will remain putting degrees in the hands of students.

That's what we do, that's what we're here for," Atwater said.

Contact Kenya Woodward at