Spotlight: Ava Parker, President of Palm Beach State College

Ava Parker Image“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”


This sign hangs in the office of Ava Parker, recently selected as the new president of Palm Beach State College. This appointment will make Parker the first female president of the college and one of a very small group of female presidents in Florida’s community/state college system. “I am hoping when women see women excel and have opportunities to serve, it will be a reminder that the sky is the limit,” says Parker. “Palm Beach State is leading by example—they are showing their students and their community that they appreciate gender diversity. Women, who are returning to school, will be encouraged by what they see and inspired to do more.”


Parker is no stranger to working in an industry where she is sometimes the only woman in the room. She was the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Florida Polytechnic University, is a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker and served on the Board of Governors of the State University System. “I have learned that you have to be prepared to encourage yourself,” says Parker. “It’s great when we can surround ourselves with people who will encourage us, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. See yourself as the person you want to become and you will begin to project that confidence to others. Be respectful of other people and their ideas, but be comfortable with who you are and your ideas as well.”


For women, that comfort level is often achieved when we are confident in what we bring to the leadership table. “Women are the glue that holds this country together,” adds Parker. “Whether it’s at home, on the job, in social settings—we have unique opportunities to be both feminine and strong, to add that extra touch and extend ourselves in ways that men are not always comfortable doing.”


As she prepares to begin her new position on July 1, Parker is focused on listening to and understanding the needs of the college’s diverse community. “As a state college you have a clear responsibility to your community,” says Parker. “I truly believe there is a role for the college throughout this county and I am excited to be a part of this next chapter.”


The next chapter is happening for students throughout the U.S. as both college and high school seniors prepare for graduation. What advice does Ms. Parker have for graduates?   “First, I want to address the parents of high school seniors headed off to college. It’s okay to be a helicopter parent,” says Parker. “Parents who hover are better at encouraging their kids to be successful. Although it might get tough, engagement is key. Don’t let your kids tell you that you can’t participate in their education—see their grades, ask about campus life. You have to continue to be there.”


For high school graduates:
“Go into college with the idea that you are going to take advantage of every resource they have to offer. From tutoring services to academic advisors, find out what tools are available to help you succeed. If you are having trouble in class, don’t tough it out—ask someone for help.”


For college graduates:
“Hopefully by now you have worked—a job, an internship. If you haven’t worked, please go and get your graduate degree or complete a certificate program. There is greater competition for jobs and those with work experience and higher levels of education will get jobs faster. And when you are offered a job? Don’t say no because it pays less money than you think you deserve. Never be afraid to take a lower paying job just to get your foot in the door.”