During the Fall 2019 semester, 30 first year students paired with mentors from St. Petersburg organizations and businesses as part of a new Innovation Scholars Career Exploration Program at USF St. Petersburg.
Students with a variety of majors from biology to business and education to psychology paired with CEOs, doctors and teachers throughout the city to get a head start in exploring their interests and finding the right career path. They attended meetings, went to public events and spent at least six hours shadowing the life of a professional mentor over the course of the semester.
One of these students was Johnette Williams, a political science major who entered USF St. Petersburg last semester from Seminole, FL. For students with varied interest, the career shadowing program may help them hone their interests, but Williams already knew her interests lay in public service and holding public office. That was clear from her application, and the coordinators of the Innovation Scholars program immediately saw a fit with St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Gina Driscoll.
“Councilwoman Driscoll was so enthusiastic about working with USF St. Petersburg students from the moment we approached her about mentoring,” said program organizer Caryn Nesmith, who oversees special projects at USF St. Petersburg. “We are so grateful to the mentors. Really, I think all of them realize that this is an opportunity to change the course of a student’s life.”
“This is a terrific program, and Johnette has been so engaged and enthusiastic,” Councilwoman Driscoll said.
Innovation Scholars mentors commit to a minimum of three visits with a student. Mentors are encouraged at their first meeting to talk about student’s interests and tailor future meetings accordingly. Williams said that she and Driscoll went way above this, meeting almost every week last semester.
“I have been able to meet some other city staff along with going out and working in the community too,” Williams said. “The program has been a great learning experience. It has made me realize that I want to continue on my political journey.”
One of the first things she and Driscoll did together was a program called Park, Walk and Talk, accompanying police officers as they walk through different areas of the city talking with citizens. Williams also volunteered with Driscoll at Feeding Tampa Bay and got to see the Councilwoman meet with her constituents and address their concerns and issues.
“The program has helped me realize that this is the path I can take in life. My goal is to be President of the United States one day, but I want to start as a councilwoman at the local level and be able to create a good foundation of supporters,” Williams said. “I want to start making small differences where I can.”
More than two-thirds of students who participated in the fall semester requested to continue in the program for the spring 2020 semester. Regional Chancellor Martin Tadlock plans to build on the program’s success so more students can get a head start in exploring career interests.
“We want to double the number of participants in the program’s second year,” he said.
One of those returning students will be Williams, who will next shadow St. Petersburg’s Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. When asked if she would recommend the program to other students, Williams said she would tell students to go for it.
“Even if you are unsure about what you want to do, just try something,” she said. “There’s a big difference between thinking you like something and actually experiencing it. This program could help you figure it out.”