Connections Fall 2020

USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus + Community Engagement + Business Partnerships

Shaping our Workforce

At the University of South Florida, we believe that inviting our community partners to join us in the educational process benefits both our students and our region. Whether launching programs tailored to meet local needs or connecting students with unique experiential learning opportunities, the Sarasota-Manatee campus is always looking for innovative ways to meet workforce needs, build partnerships and positively impact the communities we serve.

Meeting the Area's Need for Nursing 

The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and the USF Health College of Nursing offers an affordable, fast-tracked option for college graduates looking to switch careers and earn a high-quality bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Designed for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree, the Accelerated Second Degree (ASD) major offers a pathway for students to earn a nursing degree within four semesters, including one summer term, and complete all coursework together with clinical training at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and hospitals and healthcare facilities in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The program launched in January with a community celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Nursing Skills Lab at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

“There is a critical need for well-trained, highly-skilled nurses, and through this new program students can obtain an education that prepares them to enter the workforce quickly with the necessary skills to help meet the need,” USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor Karen A. Holbrook said during the ceremony.

Holbrook worked closely with the leadership of the USF Health College of Nursing; Paul Kirchman, campus dean of the USF Sarasota-Manatee College of Arts and Sciences; and many others to create the lab.

Students who began the program in spring 2020 will graduate with a BSN degree in May 2021 and be fully prepared to meet the documented needs of the region’s healthcare industry.

Risk Management and Insurance

Since arriving at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus in Summer 2019, Steve Miller has been working to shape the future of the Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) program.

Miller, an associate professor of finance appointed to lead the RMI program’s growth, created an industry advisory board that will help provide the sort of indispensable experiences available to students only through strong collaboration between academic programs and workforce partners.

The board’s work has included implementing a mentorship program that matches students with professionals in a field with tremendous job opportunities thanks to sector growth, retirements and a need for young talent to meet the challenges and opportunities created by disruptive new technologies. Industry experts believe that growth will lead to as many as 400,000 job opportunities over the next several years.

Photo of Steve Miller, PhD
Photo of Steve Miller, PhD

“To attract the students the industry needs, we must consistently communicate the quality and variety of career opportunities available within RMI,” said Miller, who spent the first part of his career as a risk management consultant before entering academia. “That means collaborating with industry partners who support students throughout the educational process. We’re working together to offer mentoring as well as internship experiences that are designed to expose students to the wide variety of RMI career paths, helping students find a role that fits with their interests and skill sets.”

Participants in this past spring’s mentorship program said they benefited from invaluable experiences and interactions with industry professionals.

“This mentorship was life-changing. [It] allowed me to make an informed decision regarding the career path I was considering.”

“This mentorship was life-changing for me,” one student wrote in a post-program survey. “The mentorship allowed me to make an informed decision regarding the career path I was considering and fill in the blanks with information that can only come from talking to an individual working in actuarial science.”

The campus’ RMI program has begun sending graduates into the workforce. In the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 35 RMI majors currently enrolled, and approximately 150 students took the RMI introductory course. At least some of them, Miller hopes, will decide to pursue it as a major or a minor.

“Not many students enter a university aware of the exciting career paths available in risk management and insurance,” Miller said. “RMI is an evolving and growing field. It also serves as a great complement to other majors that creates a competitive advantage for students looking to start a rewarding career.  The risk management and insurance industry needs accountants, marketing and sales specialists, customer service, data analysts, people with technical skills,” Miller said. “So really, no matter what your interests are, RMI offers exciting opportunities that are a good fit for you.”

Internships and Career Services

Preparing for that first job is as important for a student as choosing the right university and major.

The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Career Services team connects students to internship and career opportunities, provides résumé help and offers career-readiness training to successfully transition students to the workplace. And when it comes to preparing students for careers, the campus has been recognized for its success.

In a series of post-internship evaluations, interns from the Sarasota-Manatee campus achieved an average score of 95 out of 100 based on competencies identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, including critical thinking, work ethic and teamwork.

However, getting students career-ready is only half the equation. Also important are partnerships with local businesses, governments and nonprofits. Thanks to one such partnership with wealth manager Northwestern Mutual, students are learning skills useful on and off the job, including time management, goal setting and leadership.

The campus also reaches out to the community through annual job fairs, including one that offers a twist on the traditional formula: The Reverse Career Fair. Instead of employers setting up tables to recruit students, it was the students who created displays to promote their skills and abilities.

The concept surpassed expectations when unveiled in November 2018. A post-event survey showed at least two thirds of students were offered a job and/or internship. A second, virtual Reverse Career Fair was held in spring 2020 on a larger scale in partnership with the Cross College Alliance.

Visit to learn more about the campus’ Career Services department.


Student Consulting Course

Students at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus are gaining workplace experience while helping local businesses through a new program created by Vice President for Innovation and Business Development Greg Smogard.

The Student Consulting course, launched in the spring, matched local companies and nonprofit organizations with senior-level students who offered analysis and assistance with special projects. Employers are already praising the initiative.

“Overall, the program far exceeded what I was expecting,” said Pete Petersen, chief executive officer of Dealers United, an automotive-industry digital marketing company that was among the four businesses matched with students.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to have a university spend time on your business, especially with students and faculty directly involved, and it doesn’t cost you anything and you have a chance to assess top talent, for me it’s a no brainer,” Petersen said.

Seven students participated in the course, whose business partners also included Bank of America, Sarasota-based Omeza and the nonprofit Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee County.

“At the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to partner with the community to offer our students high-impact, experiential opportunities,” Smogard said. “The idea was to present students with a unique opportunity to work closely with a company and to present the participating companies with the opportunity to work alongside our students for a semester.”

Similar to a senior-level capstone class, the students were matched with projects assigned by the employers. Interacting face-to-face at the program’s outset, the students shifted to online communication later to comply with safety recommendations connected to COVID-19.

Students said the experience sharpened their analytical and presentation skills while providing valuable learning and networking experiences.

“This course is not just professors teaching and grading you. It’s more than that,” said spring 2020 graduate and marketing major Lauren Blackwell. “You’re dealing with professionals in the workplace, and you’re focused on their perceptions of your work and your performance outside of the classroom. This was the most collaborative and successful project I’ve ever been involved in.”

Contact Smogard at to learn more about the course, including how your company can be matched with students.

Photo of Lauren Blackwell
Lauren Blackwell

“This was the most collaborative and successful project I’ve ever been involved in.”


Making Valuable Connections

Ensuring students are workplace-ready involves more than classroom instruction. At the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, students connect with businesses, local governments and nonprofits to ensure they’re making the right career choices before they graduate.

Thanks to the Sarasota-Manatee campus’ external affairs office, students can engage in “shadowing days” with local executives or enter into yearlong mentoring relationships to show whether students are choosing the right career paths.

Launched in partnership with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, “Shadow an Executive” days allow students to glimpse into the lives of local executives one-on-one while learning about their businesses. The teams meet for lunch afterward at chamber offices to discuss their morning.

In some cases, students have reported that these positive experiences opened the door to internships and new careers. The program was expanded to include the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

For a deeper experience, students can join the Pilot Mentor Program, a yearlong exercise that matches students with executives who work in the students’ majors.

This lightly-structured program enables students and executives to set their own ground rules: Some teams choose to meet weekly or monthly over coffee for informal chats and advice. Others prefer “intern relationships” where students and mentors work together.

The program offers students unparalleled insight into career fields that can make all the difference when choosing careers. Contact Jay Riley at for more information.

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To learn more, please contact the following:


Greg Smogard, PhD
Vice President, Innovation and Business Development
941-359-4632 |


Casey W. Welch
Vice President, External Affairs and Governmental Relations
941-359-4694 |


Lee Williams, CFRE
Regional Vice Chancellor for Advancement
941-359-4582 |