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- by  Patricia Okker, Ph.D.
From day one, we are preparing our students at New College of Florida to enter the competitive workforce—with everything from personalized career coaching to networking opportunities and leadership training.

One of our most exciting initiatives is our Certificate in Leadership: Liberal Arts Work in the Real World program, which was launched early last year by our Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO).

Since its inception, the certificate program has invited multiple professionals to New College for “campus conversations,” giving our students a firsthand glimpse of what leadership looks like. For example, Target CEO Brian Cornell visited New College in mid-March to share leadership lessons with our students during an in-depth, in-person discussion.

“Our leadership certificate offers students the ability to connect with varying levels of leadership on an intimate basis,” says Patricia Courtois, one of New College’s Professionals in Residence, and the head instructor and coordinator of the certificate program. “The lessons learned through those dialogues can be applied not only during their time at New College but also as they begin to explore potential career paths and engage in the community after they graduate.”

Courtois knew Cornell would be an ideal speaker for the program, having worked with him in the mid-1990s at Tropicana. Cornell talked quite a bit at New College about overcoming business challenges brought on by the pandemic, giving our students excellent insights about strategy and resilience.

Some of the other workshops and talks in the certificate program have included “Collaboration Through Teamwork” with Art Lambert, the co-founder of S-One Holdings Corporation; “Creativity Works Everywhere” with David Bonner, the chief creative officer at On Ideas; “Leadership Exists at Any Level” with Jeff Lundy, Ph.D., a New College alumnus and the senior director of public policy development, data and analytics for PepsiCo; and “Effecting Change in the Workplace” with Felice Schulaner, a New College alumna, coach and retired human resources executive.

Courtois’ ability to teach our students about leadership—and to bring in outside experts in numerous industries—gives our students at New College a major competitive edge.

Students who aim to earn the Certificate in Leadership participate in four, 90-minute workshops in a given semester (led by Courtois and chosen guest facilitators), and participate in a practical experience such as an internship or research project. During this process, students from all areas of concentration gain the skills and insights needed to make a meaningful impact in the world.

“We discuss everything from creativity to collaboration to effecting change, all through a lens of our participating students and their own passions and career goals,” Courtois says. “I enjoy providing my take on how I’ve learned to fail forward. Also, the unique culture of New College and its students inspires me.”  

Courtois has spent more than 40 years leading communications and corporate philanthropy efforts for companies and brands such as Beatrice Foods Company, Sara Lee Corporation, Tropicana, Sweet’n Low, Butter Buds, Sugar in the Raw and ClosetMaid. She has also been mentoring students for decades.

“It’s been a long and rewarding journey, helping students navigate the world outside the lecture hall,” Courtois says. “The best reward for me is when I see students I’ve mentored move on for new and more challenging experiences/jobs. I still get ‘thank you’ notes from people who remind me that I had some role in their success.”

Dwayne Peterson, the executive director for career education at New College, says that all of the College’s students have the capacity to become leaders; they just need the optimal tools. The Certificate in Leadership is a prime example of one.

“We could argue that all New College students are leaders. But part of this certificate program is about trying to bring out and practice the leadership ability that lives in each New College student,” Peterson says. “Our students are collecting leadership approaches through these experiences, and really figuring out how to develop their own approaches that will serve them in their careers.”

We look forward to inviting many more high-powered leaders to our campus, as they encourage our students to develop—and pursue—their ambitious career goals.

Patricia Okker, Ph.D. is the president of New College of Florida.

(Story from SRQ on 4-2-22)