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Agile Education: This St. Pete software company is bridging the skills gap

Megan Holmes



Reuben Pressman is founder and CEO of Presence. (Photo courtesy of City of St. Pete Flickr)

Part 5 in a series.

The skills gap is real. Whether in tech, sales or customer service industries, many employers feel that today’s workforce is not equipped with the skills they’re seeking. While some corporations, government institutions and universities are playing the blame game, other entities are actively working to solve the problem.

Institutions like the University of South Florida are changing the way they teach their students in order to better prepare them for the real world. We examined this trend in Part 3 of our Agile Education series.

Better in-classroom training is promising, but what if the classroom isn’t the only place that these institutions can foster learning? Increasingly, students look for learning opportunities outside of core curriculum, including internships, volunteer work and activities such as sports or clubs to set them apart from their competition. These non-traditional learning opportunities help students hone “soft skills” in areas like leadership, communication and problem-solving.

An added bonus – research from NASPA says that students who engage in these activities are more successful and have better retention and graduation rates that those who don’t.

Part 5 of our Agile Education series shares how one innovative local company is working with colleges to bridge the skills gap and drive the economy. It’s creating powerful solutions to shape learning outcomes, using real-world experiences to augment classroom learning and helping students demonstrate that learning to future employers.

St. Pete native Reuben Pressman founded Presence, a higher education data and software company, in 2014. Originally called Check I’m Here, the company began with the mission of driving better outcomes for students at traditional four-year institutions. That meant better retention and graduation rates for students, and better measurement and data for student affairs staff.

“As someone who was incredibly involved in my college’s student government, I saw that 90 percent of other students were missing out on the learning opportunities that I had,” Pressman says. “They would then graduate only to realize that they didn’t have the skills they needed to get a job.”

With a team comprised of employees with passion and experience on both sides of student affairs, Presence understands the problems that students and staff face. The team took on uncharted territory with its first solution, aiming to solve the problems that lie at the crux of retention research – participation and inclusion – by providing tools to measure student participation on campus. Fast forward to 2018, and the team has taken its work even further.

In late May, Presence launched its newest feature: the Co-Curricular Opportunities Platform. This platform moves beyond simple measurement of attendance or organization membership and into the nuts and bolts of non-traditional learning outcomes – the soft skills, or what Pressman calls “essential skills” necessary for job placement and success following graduation.

Presence’s Co-Curricular Opportunities platform also allows student affairs staff to create detailed frameworks for learning outcomes. And Presence’s Happiness Team is using these national precedents and best practices to help their clients build customized frameworks for their own institutions.

This powerful platform encompasses all experiential opportunities that a campus has to offer. This includes: “Study abroad, service learning and volunteer hours, internships, on-campus jobs, certifications, awards, leadership programs, mentorships, research opportunities, apprenticeships and more.

It also includes a “SmartTranscript” – more than just a bulleted list of activities, this living document follows students and automatically updates when they’ve met the requirements of certain learning outcomes. It also provides a tangible list of learning outcomes to potential employers looking for talent experienced in specific areas.

The new platform is quickly integrating into the 100+ institutions that make up Presence’s client list, and it’s offering the new features to existing clients with no up charge. “Our philosophy is that this aligns with the goals of why our customers already bought into our platform,” says Pressman. “And if they’re really trying to solve the problems they come to us for, this is a natural addition to our solutions for them.”

According to Pressman, the Presence team studied up on best practices and connected with industry experts as they worked to expand Presence’s offerings. “We worked with about 50 institutions around the country, both customers and non-customers,” he explains.  “We also researched many other institutions’ practices, along with a few other standards for learning outcomes like CAS, DQP, Leap, and NACE.”

The response so far: “For lack of a better term, minds are being blown. It’s extremely gratifying to know we nailed it so far,” Pressman says.

Staying Agile: Presence describes this release as “the first in a series of product releases” aligned with its core values. Look out for future problem-solving by Presence and learn more about its latest platform here. 

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