Innovation Scholars program returns to help incoming students explore career paths

innovation scholars

The Innovation Scholars program offers students a sneak peak into day-to-day activities of the professional world.

(August 20, 2020) – For the second year in a row, a job-shadowing program will offer first-year students a head start in exploring their interests and career path. This year, the Innovation Scholars Career Exploration Program at USF’s St. Petersburg campus will pair more than 70 students with professionals in downtown St. Petersburg, giving them a sneak peak into day-to-day activities in the professional world.

“This program is a unique opportunity for students to gain early exposure to careers and career advice from local professionals,” said Kasey Kobs, coordinator for internships and career experiences, who is overseeing the program. “Students are able to broaden their network of connections while testing out potential occupations – both of which are invaluable for future career success.”

When the program was launched last year in collaboration with the St. Petersburg Innovation District, a cohort of around 30 incoming students were matched with mentors representing organizations and businesses just a short distance away from the university. Due to the positive experience of students, this fall semester nearly 100 incoming freshmen applied for the program and may secure mentorships at places like Duke Energy, Pinellas County Schools, Raymond James, NOAA Fisheries Service and the Florida Orchestra.

“So many students are seeking mentorship,” Kobs said. “This really demonstrates the need for this kind of professional exposure early in the college experience.”

Over the course of the semester, Innovation Scholars students meet with their mentors at least three times, shadowing their daily activities, attending business meetings and getting a glimpse of what it’s like to join the workforce. This semester’s meetings will be held virtually due to the coronavirus.

Opportunities for shadowing range from the arts to finance, and from health to marine science, covering a wide variety of industries in the city. The experience is intended to provide students with greater understanding of the organization they’re assigned to and a perspective on what it would be like to work there.

Opportunities for shadowing range from the arts to finance, and from health to marine science, covering a wide variety of industries in the city.

For health science major Melissa Sardogan, the opportunity to shadow Josh Moore, COO at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, helped solidify her interest in pursuing hospital management and administration. As COO, Moore’s responsibilities included making sure the hospital ran smoothly and efficiently. During her mentorship in 2019, Sardogan had the opportunity to meet the hospital’s executive officers and staff members, as well as tour the emergency room, intensive care unit, cardiac center and more.

”This program gave me reasons to be excited to complete my degree,” said Sardogan. “Knowing the possibilities I can pursue once I graduate gives me an idea of what I might do if I go straight into the workforce.”

Among Sardogan’s biggest takeaways was how the program gave a new perspective of things she could improve on in pursuit of her profession.

“Observing how Josh talked to his employees and colleagues, he was a true leader,” she said. “I picked up on good ways to treat people. Leadership skills are something I want to improve on and implement once I reach my career.”

The Innovation Scholars program allows students to explore their interests early on without committing the time and effort typically needed for an internship, according to business major Fabrizio Petrozzi.

“Having just begun college, I didn’t want to commit to something like an internship,” he said. “The Innovation Scholars program seemed like a great opportunity to begin networking and to learn about professional environments.”

“The experience has also allowed me to see what I like and dislike about a career in this field, changing my future goals slightly,” he added.

Both students and professionals stand to benefit from participation in the Innovation Scholars program. As mentors teach and train students, they assess potential for future internships and roles within their organizations. It also gives professionals the chance to give back to the community and pass on life lessons to the next generation.

Chuck Egerter, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Guardian Eagle, served as Petrozzi’s mentor during fall 2019. As an engineering student years ago, an internship at Lockheed Martin was ”instrumental in shaping my career and path forward,” Egerter said. “It wasn’t just the ‘on the job’ experience that was key, it was the one-on-one mentoring I received with a few senior folks who were genuinely interested in helping me.”

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 is returning to serve as a mentor in fall 2020. “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.”

When Phil Price, CFO at Smith & Associates Real Estate, looks back at his time in college, he recognizes that he was pretty indecisive about his career path. Participating as a mentor in the Innovation Scholars program is his way of helping students navigate their own career paths and make educated decisions on what they want out of college and their professional life.

“The biggest thing is getting an understanding of what actual work looks and feels like in a company setting, as well as breaking down that wall of a ‘career’ being this larger-than-life thing that you don’t know much about as a college freshman,” Price said. “I feel that the Innovation Scholars Program can provide students with a clearer picture of what different opportunities are out there and all the different paths professionals take to get where they are. As the student soaks that in, hopefully they are able to make more knowledgeable decisions on what they want – and go for it.”