New College President Patricia Okker
New College President Patricia Okker

From SRQ on 9-11-21:

By Patricia Okker

It’s no secret that New College alumni are powerhouses in the professional world—from top financial experts to tech trailblazers to environmental leaders.

Many of them are also entrepreneurs, building thriving companies in Florida and bolstering the statewide economy (sometimes even before they graduate).

So what makes New College the ideal environment for cultivating an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset? Well, if you sit down and have a heart-to-heart with our grads and current students—which is something I thoroughly enjoy doing—you’ll notice a common thread forming.

They will tell you that New College taught them “how to adapt,” “how to strategize” and “how to solve complex problems.” Can you imagine anything more valuable than these practical skills in today’s job market, especially during times of economic flux?

Here at New College, we often say that we “prepare intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement.” But how do we do this?

It starts with a holistic, experiential approach to learning that is combined with robust career preparation. Our students expand their knowledge outside of the classroom—from excavating archaeological sites in Manatee County to studying human rights in Nepal and Jordan.

Through professional internships, study abroad opportunities and community engagement, they experience firsthand what it’s like to take what they’ve learned and apply it to the real world—all before they leave New College.

Every single one of our students is assigned an individual career coach to help them fill out applications for internships and fellowships, teach them how to market themselves at career fairs, and connect them with professional mentors. All of our undergraduates are required to complete a senior thesis/capstone project—an undertaking akin to an entrepreneur thinking up a product, securing the resources to develop it, and proving its worth to investors. Because of this, we cultivate self-reliant self-starters.

For example, one of our alumni, Norm Worthington (founder and CEO of Star2Star) sold his Sarasota tech firm for $437 million earlier this year. Maxeme Tuchman, the Miami-based co-founder and CEO of Caribu (an interactive video-calling platform), was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “Top 100 Female Founders.”

One of our current thesis students, Aleah Colón-Alfonso, has already built two companies, including the global Stay Safely Away brand (wearable merchandise, like T-shirts and masks, that allows customers with immune issues to “stay distantly social” during the COVID-19 pandemic). Her products have gone global, and she runs her business from her dorm room.

These amazing individuals and their companies make a significant impact on the state. Beyond that, about 70 percent of our alumni still live in Florida. If we want to keep diversifying and growing emerging sectors like fintech and environmental science throughout the state, we need to produce the talent those fields need. New College does that.

We foster critical-thinking skills, ensuring that our graduates are perfectly positioned for the workforce. We are introducing new majors in in-demand fields, such as data science—and combining those with applied, active learning experiences in partnership with employers.

And, because our campus is located right on Sarasota Bay, our students don’t have to travel at all to conduct cutting-edge marine research. Together with their professors, they are monitoring the health of sharks, dolphins and manatees; and working to improve the sustainability of mangroves and other native plants in our region. They are compiling reports on red tide and rising seas, and sharing that data with scientists globally.

Alumnus Justin Bloom, J.D., for instance, has used the in-depth environmental knowledge he learned at New College to found Suncoast Waterkeeper—an organization that monitors the quality of local waterways and holds polluters accountable. As an environmental attorney, he fights for regional water quality in the arena of the law, and our planet is safer and cleaner because of him.

That’s the thing about New College—it is a place that produces these types of bold changemakers. It is a place where ground is broken, and where thinkers and leaders are devising new solutions to the world’s oldest problems.

This entrepreneurial energy motivates and inspires me every day I come to campus. I can’t wait to witness the incredible breakthroughs our students and alumni will make next.

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

 


Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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