USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook says students benefit from real-world experiences with local business, governments and nonprofits that lead to the ultimate goal: a good job.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working at a research university is helping students discover the pathways to achieve personal and professional success by providing experiential co-curricular learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

Each fall, a diverse group of students enrolls at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee eager to engage in coursework that is required to complete degrees in a variety of academic fields. Many of them have a clearly defined academic roadmap and the confidence that they can achieve their dreams and aspirations. Others may be less certain about a career direction and a major, and perhaps a bit anxious about how to manage school and finances and, ultimately, how to land a quality job.

Through an array of academic programs delivered in the classroom and online, USFSM provides undergraduate and graduate degree options in business, education, hospitality and tourism, liberal arts and social sciences, and science and mathematics. Students can explore a multitude of subjects and potential career paths by taking courses in a variety of disciplines.

But, it is often the unique experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom where students discover their passions and possibilities that open the pathways to satisfying careers.

Academic and career advisors at USFSM encourage students to view their education holistically and take full advantage of opportunities that are available through internships, research with faculty, engagement with local businesses, government, and community organizations, and education abroad.

In May, USFSM was honored with the CareerSource Suncoast "Education Partner of the Year" award for our commitment to building a stronger community and workforce through our academic programs and hands-on learning experiences. As Toni Ripo, coordinator of USFSM’s Office of Career Services, has said, these programs are transformational and students who take part in them often step outside of their comfort zones. But it is through these experiences that they develop the skills employers seek and distinguish themselves in the job market.

USFSM’s internship program has been particularly successful. Under the leadership of Ben Heins, the program has tracked more than 400 students in internships each of the past two years. Yet, what is really impressive is the high scores USFSM students have received from their supervisors on post-internship career-readiness evaluations modeled after the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) skills survey assessment. USFSM student interns received an average score of 95 out of 100 in overall career readiness, which includes competencies such as critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communications, teamwork/collaboration, information technology application, leadership, professionalism/work ethic and career management.

The Career Services Office hosts many career fairs and career exploration events throughout the year, including career shadowing days with local executives through the Manatee and Sarasota chambers of commerce and Career Connections Days with Manatee and Sarasota government officials. One unique event, a “Turn the Tables” career fair, flipped the traditional format by giving students, as opposed to employers, the opportunity to set up displays and deliver presentations to promote their skills and experience to recruiters who circulated throughout the room to meet potential candidates. Turn the Tables was an unqualified success, with 18 of the 22 student presenters surveyed receiving an offer of either an internship or a full-time job. The event, which was showcased as an industry best practice by NACE on its website, will expand in 2020 to include schools in the Cross College Alliance (USFSM, New College of Florida, the Ringling College of Art and Design and State College of Florida).

CareerSource also recognized USFSM for its partnerships with FCCI Insurance in developing and expanding the Risk Management and Insurance program, and with David Kotok and Cumberland Advisors for creating a 12-terminal Bloomberg Lab that has enabled more than 200 students to earn Bloomberg Markets Concepts Certification and expand their qualifications for high-wage jobs. More than 300 College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership students have deepened their knowledge and skills through the operations and administrative divisions of the Resort at Longboat Key, an official “teaching hotel.”

There are countless stories of USFSM students who have completed local internships and were offered full-time positions upon graduation. There are other anecdotes about students who engaged in research projects with faculty members and developed a passion for lab or fieldwork and/or careers in academia. Others who engaged in such activities early on in their academic journeys learned that a particular profession is not what they expected and changed their career trajectory.

New academic programs are continually being added to meet the needs of the local community, including a new cybersecurity major this fall and an accelerated second degree in nursing program that will begin in January 2020. With the consolidation of the three USF system campuses into “One USF” occurring in July 2020, students at USFSM will have access to more than 180 undergraduate and 150 graduate academic programs currently offered at the other USF campuses.

The combination of challenging coursework and quality instruction—blended with strategic experiential learning opportunities—empowers USFSM students to gain knowledge and practical skills that position them for success in the job market.

Karen Holbrook is regional chancellor of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.