Partner News

Summer Spotlight Series: St. Johns River State College

Summer Spotlight Series: St. Johns River State College

Welcome to week seven of the Summer Spotlight Series! This week, our college partner in the spotlight is: St. Johns River State College. 



St. Johns River State College (SJR State) was established in 1958 as St. Johns River Junior College. The College was granted approval to offer its first baccalaureate degrees in 2010, moving the College from a Level I to a Level II accredited institution. 

Shortly after, Florida Statutes authorized colleges accredited to award four-year degrees to change their names to better reflect their progression, and the institution's name was changed to St. Johns River State College. SJR State currently has three campuses in Orange Park, Palatka, and St. Augustine, and offers Associate in Arts (transfer) degrees and as well as more than 30 Associate in Science degrees and certificates. 


Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Anna Lebesch, the Vice President for Workforce Development and Executive Director of SJR State's Orange Park Campus. 


 Q: What is your hometown?

A: Freeburg, Missouri is my hometown!  It is a very rural area, in what I would call the foothills of the Ozarks and the population was only about 370 people.


Q: What brought you to Northeast Florida?

A: My husband was in the Navy and we came to Northeast Florida when he transferred from San Diego to Jacksonville. At that time, my husband was first stationed at Cecil Field, but they were in the process of closing Cecil Field down and so he then was stationed at NAS Jacksonville.


Q: What is your alma mater and what was your experience as a student?

A: Well, I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Missouri in Columbia and then I got my doctorate from University of Florida in Gainesville. Having come from such a small town, the university environment was, quite frankly, pretty overwhelming for me. I was also a first generation [in college] student. I was fortunate that I had someone that mentored me in the career and counseling services center—someone who saw the potential in this small town girl and really gave me the confidence to stay in higher education.  I think that’s also probably what drove me into working in higher education; it’s really an opportunity for people to change their lives. 


Q: What drew you to Earn Up?

A: I was a member of the original steering committee that facilitated the pursuit of the Lumina funding.  Additionally, as a representative for one of the regional institutions of higher learning, I have worked with JAXUSA for many years to help further postsecondary achievement in the region and bolster economic development.  The Earn Up initiative was a natural next step in the foundational work that had been done in the region.


Q: Why is college attainment important to you?

A: Any postsecondary achievement has a positive impact on individual lives and the communities we serve.  It is important that we strive to improve educational attainment so individuals, families and communities can prosper.


Q: What are some of SJR State’s current initiatives and big focus points right now?

A: SJR State is focused on improving the student experience.  There are several major initiatives underway, which include the redesign of our on-boarding and orientation processes, a pro-active advising initiative, Scheduling for Student Success and One Stop Student Services.

Right now our orientation process is a completely on-campus process. We are working on moving portions and dividing up the design of orientation and advising. For orientation—which sometimes becomes a stumbling block for some students—we will now have a fully-online option for students. So, those who are technology-savvy will be able to do the entire orientation online themselves and built in to that online system will be checkpoints (little quizzes and questions along the way) to make sure the students understand the information. For the students and parents who want the traditional experience of an on-campus orientation, we will continue to have that available as well. The online orientation really caters to those students who are self-motivated and want to get through those processes more quickly.

Following orientation, we will be focusing on a more pro-active advising program that starts with a group advising session. From there, students will be assigned their own personal advisor who will be their guide/mentor through their higher education process. So we are ultimately redesigning our processes so that we can seamlessly flow our students through everything without having to make it too big of a hassle for them. It’s definitely a work in progress!


Q: What sets SJR State apart from other colleges and universities in Northeast Florida?

A: SJR State is focused on the student and providing them the experience of being in an institution that cares about them as an individual, which means we are very focused on providing small classes and personalized support. Higher education has become such a business and I think that we are an institution that really prides itself on being more than that. Yes, at the end of the day, higher education is a business, but each student is an individual person and our goal is to take that student and help them achieve whatever their individual goal is and help them become a lifelong learner. Because that’s what our world needs more of—people who will continue that learning process, no matter where their lives or their careers take them.


If you are interested in learning more about St. Johns River State College and the programs offered, click here.