Lake-Sumter State College – Leesburg, Florida

June 27, 2024

Lake-Sumter State College

Academic Road to Success


Inspiring Educational Excellence and Community Growth

Lake-Sumter State College, established in 1962, is a vibrant public institution in Leesburg, Florida. Serving a diverse student body of over 4,000, the college offers a variety of associate and bachelor’s degree programs tailored to meet the needs of Central Florida’s growing workforce. Lake-Sumter State College campuses, strategically located in Leesburg, Clermont, and Sumterville, provide modern educational facilities amidst the scenic beauty of Florida’s lakes and rural areas.

Kevin Yurasek, Executive Director of Strategic Communications, reflects on the college’s historical backdrop and its profound influence on the institution’s evolution and regional impact. “Last year, we celebrated our 60th anniversary, and while it has transitioned in name to State College with the addition of bachelor’s degrees, our community college spirit remains pivotal to our identity. It’s about being a crucial part of the community—not just through educational offerings but also by linking closely with local workforce needs,” Yurasek explains.

Highlighting the strategic expansion of the Lake-Sumter State College, Yurasek elaborates on the geographical and demographic shifts that have guided the college’s growth. “The initial campus in Leesburg, Florida, expanded in the late ’90s to include a site in Sumter County, adapting to its agricultural environment and proximity to The Villages, a large retirement community. Noting the younger demographic in Lake County, the college opened a fourth campus in the rapidly growing Four Corners area to serve an expanding population, including a significant Hispanic community and newcomers from Puerto Rico,” he says. This expansion addresses the educational needs in a region anticipating the addition of 20,000 households over the next three years.

Growth and Challenges

As Lake-Sumter State College continues to expand, it faces significant challenges that shape its strategic direction. Rapid population growth within its service areas demands agility and innovation from the institution, affecting everything from program development to campus expansions. Dr. Heather Bigard, the institution’s president, discusses the strategic shifts undertaken during her tenure to navigate these challenges effectively.

“When I assumed the presidency two years ago, one of our significant hurdles was envisioning our growth strategically to add new programs and locations effectively,” Dr. Bigard states. She explains that this required reevaluating and revising the college’s vision and mission statements to align more closely with proactive community engagement and workforce development.

“We have transitioned from being a responsive institution to one that actively shapes its educational offerings in dialogue with local business, industry, and educational partners. This is not just about expanding our footprint; it’s about reinforcing our role as a pivotal educational partner in workforce development for Lake and Sumter counties,” Dr. Bigard asserts. This transformation reflects a broader shift in mindset at the leadership level, emphasizing strategic engagement over passive participation in the region’s educational and economic development.


Strategic Partnerships in Healthcare Education

In the rapidly evolving healthcare sector, educational institutions must keep pace and anticipate future demands to prepare their students effectively. Lake-Sumter State College has recognized this imperative and forged strategic partnerships with leading healthcare providers.

Dr. Bigard highlights the importance of these collaborations. “We are proud of our partnerships with Orlando Health Southlake Hospital, AdventHealth Waterman, and UF Health in Leesburg. These key relationships have not only allowed us to innovate our curriculum but have expanded practical learning opportunities for our students,” she explains. The college’s proactive approach ensures that its education aligns closely with the real-world needs of the healthcare industry, a sector known for its stringent demands and rapid change.

Dr. Bigard further elaborates on a unique aspect of these partnerships: the Dedicated Educational Units (DEUs). “Our DEUs are a transformative approach to clinical education. Unlike traditional clinical rotations, where students may shadow different nurses and move from one department to another, our DEUs allow students to immerse themselves in a specific hospital unit for an extended period. This immersion fosters a deeper understanding of the unit’s culture, policies, and procedures,” she describes. This method integrates students into the hospital environment and builds strong professional relationships and operational familiarity, making them highly effective potential employees.

“These partnerships are structured so that students are not just learning but are also seen as potential hires. Many are offered positions even before they graduate, which is a testament to the efficacy of this model,” Dr. Bigard asserts. This strategic engagement with healthcare providers bolsters the college’s educational framework. It enhances its relevance and contribution to the local healthcare ecosystem, reinforcing its role as a critical player in the regional healthcare sector.

Developments at Lake-Sumter State College

Lake-Sumter State College’s commitment to growth and adaptability is evident in its sweeping investments in facilities and programs designed to meet the burgeoning needs of its community. Dr. Bigard outlines the extensive developments across the college’s campuses.

“At our Leesburg campus, we’ve initiated the construction of a new workforce development center, thanks to a substantial $17.5 million funding support. This center will become a nexus for our business and industry partners, facilitating vital advisory council sessions and expanding our capacity to deliver cutting-edge programs,” she details.

The conversation turns towards the college’s South Lake campus, where Dr. Bigard shares insights into future planning. “We’re currently engaged in a master planning process to predict and prepare for future needs. With Lake and Sumter counties being among the fastest growing in the state, we aim to anticipate the infrastructural demands this growth will impose on us,” she explains. This proactive strategy is crucial for keeping pace with demographic changes and ensuring that the college can continue to serve its community effectively.

  1. Bigard also highlights innovative projects aimed at sustainability and technology. “At our Sumter Center, we’re exploring initiatives like a net zero energy emission campus with Cisco, leveraging solar technology to power the entire campus. Additionally, we’ve received $2 million to start planning a technology and innovation center that will focus on modernizing our technical curriculum around business entrepreneurship and digital design,” she adds.

Finally, Dr. Bigard touches on an exciting development in sports leadership education. “Supported by a $900,000 grant from the Live Well Foundation, we are launching a Bachelor of Science in Sport Leadership. This program will be closely integrated with the National Training Center, offering students unparalleled access to Olympic-level training facilities and internships,” she avers, illustrating how these strategic investments broaden the college’s educational offerings and tie directly into local and regional economic ecosystems.

Community Engagement: Beyond the Classroom

At Lake-Sumter State College, the connection to the community extends far beyond academic achievements. Dr. Bigard explains how the institution embeds itself in the local fabric through various initiatives that involve service, leadership, and active participation in regional development.

“We just coordinated a community service day involving 31 sites across Lake and Sumter Counties. This event saw over 250 of our employees—and many students, including around 130 student-athletes—actively participating in various service activities. It’s an integral part of our ethos to extend our impact beyond our campuses into the wider community,” she highlights the scale and breadth of this initiative.

She explains the operational logistics that make such a widespread community impact possible. “We operate a community service committee that identifies opportunities for involvement. For our service day, we coordinate with numerous non-profits in the area to create meaningful projects for our teams. Participants sign up via our website and kick off the day with a large breakfast on campus before dispersing across the county to engage in their chosen activities,” Dr. Bigard explains. “These activities are not only about providing service but also about immersing our faculty, staff, and students in the community, learning its needs firsthand and contributing in tangible ways,” she adds.

Success Stories from Lake-Sumter State College

Lake-Sumter State College thrives through its educational programs and community services and shines brightly through the success stories of its alums, faculty, and various academic programs. Dr. Bigard expresses pride in the college’s achievements, particularly its nursing program.

“Our Associate of Science in Nursing has been our cornerstone, acting as our flagship workforce program. Before the pandemic, we had less than 100 students, but we’ve now quadrupled our capacity, expecting over 400 students enrolled by next fall,” she shares. This expansion, she notes, isn’t just a numerical increase but a strategic enhancement made possible through partnerships with local hospitals and state funding initiatives.

Turning to education, Dr. Bigard speaks about the upcoming Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. “This program is a direct response to local demand. Our superintendents expressed a need for more teachers due to rapid community growth. Their support helped us craft a curriculum poised to address this critical shortage,” she explains. This program stands out as a prime example of how the college responds to and serves the specific needs of its community.

Another program that Dr. Bigard highlights is the Lineworker program, which addresses a critical state-wide need. “Given Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes and severe storms, there’s a high demand for skilled line workers. Our utility partners approached us with this need, and we’ve been able to expand this program significantly. It’s gratifying to see our graduates serve across Florida and assist in other states like Georgia and North Carolina during crises,” she notes.

A Focus on Quality and Community Partnerships

As Lake-Sumter State College continues to grow and adapt to the needs of its community, the focus remains steadfast on delivering quality education and forging robust partnerships. Yurasek highlights a vital indicator of the institution’s success: the NCLEX pass rate for nursing students.

“We are particularly proud of our NCLEX pass rate, which currently stands at 98 to 99%, significantly higher than the state and national averages. This achievement reflects our commitment to expanding our capacity and ensuring that our graduates are thoroughly prepared to enter the nursing profession,” he explains.

Yurasek also emphasizes the importance of community and industry partnerships in the college’s strategy. “Our goal is all about collaboration and mutual enhancement. We actively engage with partners like hospital systems and energy companies, which has proven extremely beneficial for us and the community at large. These partnerships help us meet the evolving needs of employers and provide our students with real-world experience,” he states, detailing how these collaborations are fundamental to the college’s operational philosophy.

Dr. Bigard concludes the discussion with a note about new businesses and their integration into the community. “New businesses must engage with us at the state college level as early as possible. Establishing these connections early helps set up the necessary programs and curricula to support their workforce needs, which can be instrumental in their success,” she advises. This proactive approach helps streamline processes and ensures educational institutions and businesses can thrive through cooperation and shared goals.

Through these efforts, Lake-Sumter State College upholds its commitment to educational excellence and reinforces its role as a pivotal community partner poised to meet the region’s current and future needs.


Lake-Sumter State College

What: A public college known for its comprehensive educational programs and strong community ties.

Where: Leesburg, Florida



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