Growing up in South Florida, Melissa Fulmore-Hardwick was inspired by her family and other mentors about the importance of education and pursuing experiences that can positively change your life.
It led Fulmore-Hardwick, CSI Companies’ Chief Information Officer, to numerous achievements and moved her to encourage and motivate others, especially youth, to find value in their talents and explore their interests. Fulmore-Hardwick is passionate about providing others with opportunities for success.
Fulmore-Hardwick, along with CSI CEO Chris Flakus, tapped that passion to develop the CSI Connect internship program, an initiative that exposes students in underserved Jacksonville communities to technology careers and invests in future technology leaders. The program is building a pipeline of technology students, positioning them for lucrative jobs in the technology industry.
CSI Connect originated in response to a global corporate competition amongst 10 co-ops internationally, where they were challenged with the task of introducing a new way of doing business that closes the economic divide and celebrates diversity and inclusion. The program is offered in partnership with four Jacksonville colleges and the Duval County Public Schools.
“CSI Connect has evolved way beyond a contest,” Fulmore-Hardwick said. “The program empowers students to pursue careers in the tech industry, and it has given our interns the opportunity to be someone they never thought they could be.”
The program launched in May 2022 with six students from Edward Waters College, University of North Florida, and Florida State College of Jacksonville. Each intern was provided a laptop and paired with a mentor in the IT department based on their college discipline. They worked in the CSI Companies’ Jacksonville office alongside the employees and participated in various professional and leadership training related to networking, public speaking, building a brand, financial literacy, and wellness.
“This internship is helping me learn and implement the skills I’m learning in school and deploy it in the real world within the computing field. The Tech Talks, Wisdom Wednesday talks, and the open-door policy CSI offers extended exposure to network with other people from all types of backgrounds. My favorite thing at CSI is the people. It feels like we are one big happy family,” said Riyam Yatooma, UNF Student and current CSI Connect Intern.
“We want to make sure these students gain knowledge and have an experience that’s going to be game-changing in their lives,” Fulmore-Hardwick said.
In January 2022, the CSI Connect program expanded to include high school students. CSI Companies opened the CSI Tech Lab in Andrew Jackson High School’s renovated media center with IT professionals providing education and mentoring to five students, called the Jackson 5, interested in IT at the school.
“CSI Companies is making an investment in the schools and the community,” Fulmore-Hardwick said. “We want to get both college and high school students engaged, and communicate the importance of technology and the technology careers available to them.”
The inaugural class of CSI Connect college interns graduated in July 2022. Interns who do well during the program are encouraged to apply for employment at CSI Companies or one of its clients after graduation. Two students have begun full-time careers as a software engineer and a systems analyst at CSI Companies.
“My experience as a tech intern at CSI was eye-opening. It was the kind of hands-on experience I needed to catapult my career in tech. I gained a range of valuable skills both related to my tech background and nuggets of wisdom I’ve gained along the way with the help of my mentors. The more effort I put into this program, the more I reaped the benefits. Everyone is willing to teach as long as I was willing to learn. CSI Connect was truly an amazingly unique experience!” said Brianna Moreland, former college intern turned CSI Business Analyst.
“We have changed the economic position of several students and introduced others to the tech industry,” Fulmore-Hardwick said. “The CSI Connect program promotes diversity in technology and encourages these students to remain in Northeast Florida after they graduate.”