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USF program gives first-year students real-world job experience

Jaymi Butler

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USF St. Pete
Due to lower enrollment, USF's St. Petersburg campus has lost out on nearly $3 million in tuition revenue this fiscal year.

Like their counterparts across the country, first-year college students at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus have a lot to learn when they arrive on campus. When’s a good time to do laundry? How do I get to my history class? Which dining hall serves the best pizza? 

With all the new experiences coming at them, they might not be thinking about what life will be like after they graduate. That’s where USF’s Innovation Scholars Career Exploration Program program comes in. The job-shadowing program, which is entering its second year, pairs students with professionals in downtown St. Petersburg so they can begin to explore possible career paths.

“This program is the first of its kind. No one else is doing this,” Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock told the St. Petersburg City Council at a recent meeting. “It’s a great way to introduce students to their interests and help them find out what their passion is.”

During the first year of the program, 32 students were matched with mentors in fields ranging from local government to professional sports, all located close to campus. This year, 94 students will participate.

“I wanted to double the number of participants,” Tadlock said. “We tripled it without even trying.”

Kasey Kobs, coordinator for internships and career experiences, is overseeing the program, which she calls a “unique opportunity” for students to gain early exposure to careers and career advice from local professionals.

“Students are able to broaden their network of connections while testing out potential occupations – both of which are invaluable for future career success,” she said in a statement. 

This fall, mentorship opportunities are even broader, with arts organizations, healthcare providers, local schools and nonprofits signing on to participate.

Throughout the semester, students will meet virtually with their mentors at least three times to sit in on business meetings, shadow daily activities and get a general sense of what it’s like to join the workforce. In turn, mentors will be able to give back to their community by sharing their experiences while possibly identifying future internship and career opportunities for their mentees. 

Business major Fabrizio Petrozzi, who participated last year, said the program gave him a chance to explore his interests without committing the time and effort typically needed for an internship, something that would be challenging for most first-year students.

“The experience has allowed me to see what I like and dislike,” he said.

Chuck Egerter, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Guardian Eagle, served as Petrozzi’s mentor. As an engineering student years ago, an internship at Lockheed Martin was “instrumental in shaping my career and path forward,” Egerter said. 

Through the program, Egerter hopes to provide similar support for students.

“Giving students a deeper look into careers while they are still in their freshman year gives them a chance to make sure they are on the academic path they want to be on,” added Egerter, who will return to serve as a mentor this fall. “Finding out that a career in a specific field isn’t what you really want to do is just as useful as finding out that you love it. The sooner students can evaluate things like this, the better.”

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