Alumni support recent graduates mid-pandemic

President Donal O’Shea

From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 10-22-20:

When our students graduated from New College in May, in the middle of a global pandemic and an economic downturn, they were understandably nervous.

We were, too. What would typically be a time of great joy and promise –launching students into a limitless future – looked increasingly perilous. Our graduates were entering an uncertain job market that would be far from easy to navigate.

Kyle Dennison, a computer science major, was one such student. Despite the in-demand industry in which he was seeking work, Dennison was worried about securing a post-graduation position. Luckily for Dennison, New College alumni were looking for job candidates just like him.

Only 10 days after earning his bachelor’s degree, Dennison was hired on May 25 – by another New College alum. Chris Deam selected Dennison to be a remote software developer for his 2009-founded company, Prodigy Information Technologies, in Spring Hill – a leading provider of medical imaging solutions, health care software and business IT support. Deam also studied computer science at New College, graduated in 1999 and launched his first software company in 2005.

As an entrepreneur, New College instilled in me that your professors are there to teach and help you along, but it’s up to you to want to seek the knowledge and find your way,” Deam said.

With this in mind, it was a no-brainer for Deam to consider a fellow New College graduate as an employee. Dennison, he knew, would be a self-starter. But he ended up being so much more.

Dennison came to Prodigy proficient in Java, Python, C#, Unity, Android Studio, Scheme, Git, R, Apache Hadoop, MySQL, HTML5 and Linux. His Independent Study Projects (ISPs) at New College included Exploring Robotics with Python and Modeling an Electric Vehicle Using Java. His senior thesis examined 24 papers on aesthetic properties with a view to creating more visually professional and useful Java Integrated Development Environment (IDE) software. This expertise made Dennison a tremendous asset to Prodigy.

“I was feeling pretty disheartened as we were getting into early May because, when the virus started to spread, all of these job positions kind of disappeared. I didn’t think I had any hope of getting a job lined up,” Dennison said. “I was so relieved to get this job, and it feels like a huge boulder has been taken off my shoulders.”

Dwayne Peterson, the director of the Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) at New College, was Dennison’s mentor through the process – showing him how to network with alumni and make potential career connections. Dennison also credits the Computer Science program with equipping him with the talents – and the critical-thinking abilities – to thrive in his current field.

“I feel like the Computer Science program at New College doesn’t get enough credit. I’ve done research at UF and FIU, and it has shown me how different our program really is. A lot of big schools teach you languages, but they don’t show you how to learn them (they just give you the information),” Dennison said. “At New College, you really learned how to actually figure this stuff out, recognize the patterns and become an independent developer. We weren’t reliant on manuals. We were taught how to think for ourselves.”

Deam said he had a similar experience at New College.

“I’ve always felt that New College gave me an opportunity I probably wouldn’t have had at a larger, more structured university. Because there was no formal, standardized computer curriculum, they allowed me to use resources in a pretty unfettered way,” Deam said. “If I’d gone to a larger university, I would have been just another student. I am very thankful that New College had an environment that let me do my thing.”

Things have changed, of course, in the 20-plus years since Deam graduated. The Computer Science program now offers a full array of courses and is the fastest-growing major at New College. But those courses give today’s students even greater opportunities.

Because of the connection Deam and Dennison made, a young graduate was given his start at a deeply difficult moment in economic history.

And I find it deeply gratifying to see an instance where New College not only prepares students for lives of great achievement, but also gives them the tools to help others do the same. Great universities are time machines – places where the past meets the present to create new futures.

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