New College President Patricia Okker, Ph.D.
New College President Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on 10-3-21:

By Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

Prioritizing career preparation for college students has never been more important than it is today.

And our team at New College of Florida—the state’s designated honors college—is taking a comprehensive, nationally recognized approach to this mission.

So what do we do differently here, and why does it work?

First, we understand that quality career coaching requires individualized attention. Generic workshops on writing resumes and cover letters have never served students well, and this old model is even less effective in this rapidly evolving economy.

Here at New College, we integrate career education into everything we do. Before every one of our students even arrives on campus, they are paired with their own professionally trained career coach. Career exploration is woven into all aspects of the student experience—from coursework to senior projects to industry-specific skill-building certificates. This is why New College is consistently named a “College of Distinction” in the area of career development.

With this expert guidance, our students learn how to find and complete internships in their desired fields. They also connect with career mentors and industry leaders from the community and the New College alumni network.

Our goal is to have 100 percent of our students pursue at least one internship for academic credit before they graduate. Our approach to internships is community-based, and we’re proud of the partnerships we’ve developed that ensure that our student interns are doing meaningful, challenging work. One such program is the Sarasota-Manatee Arts & Humanities Internship Program (funded by the Mellon Foundation), which provides local, paid internships in fields like web development, theatre, the arts and youth outreach.

The majors we offer here at New College serve our students and the state of Florida. Some of our most popular programs—marine biology, environmental science, applied data science and computer science—directly address the state’s most pressing needs.

For example, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), environmental scientists (including those in the marine industry) are among the fastest-growing occupations in the state (projected to increase by 8.6 percent by 2028). Biologists and conservation scientists are likely to grow in numbers by an average of 5.1 percent. This anticipated expansion speaks to Florida’s need to proactively respond to emerging environmental challenges.

Information technology is also a top industry in Florida, and computer and mathematical occupations are expected to grow by 14.1 percent by 2028, the DEO states. Data analysts are growing by 25.8 percent, and their skills are in demand in virtually all industries—as data drives the kind of decision making that addresses the world’s biggest problems (from transportation to cancer research).

The economic demand for these professionals is abundantly clear, and New College is producing them. But, no matter what majors our students choose, we always make career pathways evident to them—with the understanding that their skills will be transferable to a multitude of industries.

Employers are taking notice, too. Last academic year alone, 177 employers and graduate schools recruited students on the New College campus through virtual services and fairs, and thousands more recruited through job postings in Handshake designed specifically for our students. We also have active relationships with more than 7,000 professional organizations.

Our mission as a public institution—as a proud member of Florida’s State University System (the top-ranked university system in the nation)—also contributes to the overall career environment at New College.

New College is affordable, and almost 60 percent of our students graduate with zero debt (well above the national average of 42 percent). When students graduate debt-free, they are able to pursue their career aspirations without the weight of financial baggage. In addition, after 10 or more years in the workforce, New College graduates earn a median salary of $106,300—the second-highest median salary among state universities in Florida.

Our continued commitment to career preparation is just one of the many reasons I’m proud to lead New College. There’s so much more to come.

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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