Spotlights showcase the career journey of professionals across the Jacksonville region.  From people starting out on their career path to ones transitioning to a new profession, Earn Up wants to show how you can achieve your goals right here in Jacksonville.  Click on the pictures below to learn more and go to Career Pathways to start your own journey.

Life Sciences

Dr. Abba Zubair, MD, PhD

Clinical Pathologist at Mayo Clinic

Space Dreams & Stem Cells: Biomedical advances at Mayo Clinic

Dr. Abba Zubair, MD, PhD is a Clinical Pathologist specializing in Transfusion Medicine and stem cell research at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Zubair grew up in Nigeria, Africa fascinated by the dream of being an astronaut. A student advisor told him that he was smart and could do anything, but to pick something else. After all, Nigeria wasn’t sending rockets into the air.

Events in Dr. Zubair’s young life prompted a shift from becoming an astronaut into an interest in healthcare. He chose to be a doctor and began his studies in England. As a student, Dr. Zubair got a green card through the lottery system and pursued his education in the United States. At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, he studied tumor immunology, pathology and laboratory medicine, and transfusion medicine. He worked at Brigham & Women, Dana Farber Cancer Center and Boston Children’s Hospital while at Harvard before moving to Jacksonville.

Despite Dr. Zubair’s numerous research activities, publications, professional memberships and various lectureships and awards, interacting with high school and college students through programs and mentorship is extremely satisfying. “It’s exciting to talk to new generations and encourage them to open their eyes and see that the sky’s the limit.”

Recently, Dr. Zubair’s research has launched into space. Collaborating with the Florida Program Research in Space and the ISS National Laboratory Center for Advancement of Science in Space, he submitted a grant to test a basic research idea and translate it to patient care. The premise: studying cell behavior in space may lead to new therapies to treat stroke patients, specifically those with hemorrhagic stroke. From a research perspective, it takes months to grow cells. So, what is the effect of zero gravity on the growth of stem cells? Would cells grow faster and be safe to use for human application?

“Space research is totally different,” Dr. Zubair indicated. “Simple activities must be re-engineered and tested for effectiveness. One rocket carries everything, from food to military hardware and research materials—you are competing with others who want to be on the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center. It may take months to years to get your project up to the top of the queue. You use astronauts to conduct your research project, some of whom need training.”

In space, cells are grown, fed, and harvested. Photos of cells were taken and shared in real time to study behavior. Dr. Zubair’s team has an exact replica of the space study in the Mayo lab as a control. Staff go to the lab at night to feed the cells at the same time to mirror the feeding times of cells in space.

Many space samples have returned via a capsule that lands by balloon into the ocean. It’s retrieved out of the ocean and Fed Ex’ed to the Mayo lab. Dr. Zubair stated that the real action starts when sample comes back and is compared to lab grown cells.

Dr. Zubair’s team is organizing space data and synthesizing findings. Of the more than fifteen thousands genes analyzed, up to seven thousand were impacted by being in space. The evaluations showed short-term exposure to radiation in space did not cause significant cell damage or cause them to become cancerous. Out of the three types of cells studied, one
type showed enhanced immune suppressive property which suggests it can be used in preventing rejection of organs and controlling inflammation. Dr. Zubair said he and this team will need to re-test this study in space before drawing conclusions. This process will take time—years in fact—before patients can be treated with space-grown cells.

Dr. Zubair has lived in Jacksonville for 17 years. He emphasized that Florida is an ideal location to pursue a biomedical career involving space research, due to Mayo’s proximity to the Kennedy Center. Of pursuing the biomedical field, he stresses, “Never waste time. Get all of the credentials you need quickly. Education is like a marathon. There will be a struggle, so you can’t focus on the immediate. There is joy in the journey. Go where the opportunities are that excite you. It may look painful going to class and taking exams, but when you achieve your goal, you’ll appreciate it.”

Wanting a life that looked more like an action movie, with frequent plot twists and turns, Dr. Zubair has found joy in biomedicine. He proves that realizing your dreams may not take the shape you initially intended. Dr. Zubair hasn’t set foot in space, but his work has travelled there and back.

For more, watch the video at

Brad Nazworth

BSN, RN at Baptist Health

Driven to Nursing – How Life Experiences Shape a Career

Life experiences can shape a career pathway and guide decisions in your life. After working in the insurance industry and as an animal control officer, Brad Nazworth, BSN, RN, was inspired by his time caring for a loved one with a serious illness to explore a career path in nursing.

“As I was caring for my father-in-law, who was critically ill, I discovered I had an aptitude for helping him though that process,” Nazworth said. “Taking care of him motivated me to go back to school and pursue a career in nursing.”

Nazworth is a critical care nurse in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) at Baptist Health. The 20-bed unit is accountable for providing care to critical patients that require a higher acuity of care.

There are many ways to enter into a nursing career. Nazworth attended the University of North Florida (UNF) and graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) from the Brooks School of Nursing at UNF. The school offers a wide variety of nursing programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and provides students with clinical experiences prior to graduation.

“I highly recommend UNF’s School of Nursing,” Nazworth said. “The faculty is extremely supportive and has provided helpful connections in my career.”

Nazworth joined Baptist Health in 2014 as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and worked in several different departments within the hospital. He discovered his passion for patient care while working in the ICU.

“I am proud to be an ICU nurse and I would not want to work anywhere else,” Nazworth said.

After graduating with his registered nurse (RN) license, Nazworth was hired to work as a critical care nurse in the MSICU. Critical care nurses perform patient assessments, administer treatment and provide support during recovery. They interact with physicians and other departments within the hospital and they educate patients and their families about patients’ illness and plan of care.

“While the patient is the priority, their family also becomes an important part of your patient’s care,” Nazworth said.

The unit has been nationally recognized with awards including the Daisy Award, honoring the teamwork, collaboration and compassionate care nurses provide for their patients and families. Nazworth says working in the ICU is intensely challenging and extremely rewarding.

“Our unit’s physicians, nurses and other staff work together as a team to support each other and provide the highest level of care to our patients,” Nazworth said. “The ICU provides the opportunity for me to have an impact on a patient’s care every day, and that’s a big deal to me.”

Nazworth is passionate about advancing the nursing profession. He serves on Baptist Health’s clinical informatics committee, which is working to combine traditional bedside nursing skills with advanced healthcare information technology. Nazworth teaches continuing education classes on continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT), commonly used to provide renal support for critically ill patients with acute kidney injury. He also stays connected with UNF, offering guidance and support to students enrolled in the nursing school program.

“Anyone can learn but you have to have the drive, personality and desire if you want to achieve a career in nursing,” Nazworth said.

Stacey Prince

Senior Specialist for Release of Information at Mayo Clinic

Pivoting Toward Your Passion

Stacey Prince loves being part of the healthcare field. Her role as a Senior Specialist for Release of Information at Mayo Clinic allows her to work at the intersection of laws and technology as they apply to the medical field. She sees opportunities for continued growth in an evolving industry that offers her some patient interaction and a lot of opportunity to flex her critical thinking muscles.

Stacey graduated from St. Johns River State College nearly two years ago with her AS degree in Health Information Technology. After a career in the finance industry, she stepped away to care for her children. When considering re-entry into the workforce Stacey carefully evaluated her options. She monitored employment trends and looked at the political landscape. The Affordable Care Act helped prompt her to pursue additional post-secondary education. She states, “I saw (healthcare) as a growing industry with a lot of opportunity for me to foster a brand new career.”

In her role at Mayo, she used transferable skills from finance and applies them to the non-clinical side of healthcare. However, she cites the training received at SJR State as fundamental to her everyday work. Understanding and retaining legal vocabulary and standards learned there has been critical, as her work involves adherence to public health-related guidelines like HIPAA.

Job satisfaction is clear as Stacey describes what she likes about the industry. In under two years at Mayo, her current role has evolved. She has been part of two new system roll-outs. She likes the urgency of finding resolutions for uses that impact patients in a dynamic environment. She enjoys applying her knowledge to make decisions. She sees the potential for continued change as the ways in which information I shared changes. Stacey realizes that new jobs will emerge because of changing technology, and “we (the industry) will be able to shape that change.”

Stacey has been part of the pivotal and efficient mobilization of resources that has accompanied COVID-19. Her role has increased in depth, which will help her be even more valuable. When asked how she would encourage someone when considering a role on the business side of healthcare, Stacey said taking an entry-level class in Allied Health confirmed her passion. It reinforced her interest that she was headed in the right direction. She also believes that the business side of healthcare is “broader than you think. It’s bigger than medical coding. It allows you to land inside the scope of medical records but no two situations are the same.”

Now that she is an SJR State alum, Stacey also enjoys having great mentorships from professors and administrators she met at the college. They continue providing guidance and her direction and serve as a support system as her role grows and changes. She’s also involved in professional organizations, as she finds it helpful to surround herself with other professionals who are committed to the work.

Stacey is looking forward to a long and fulfilling career in health information management. “I picked an industry that I had not ever considered before. It turns out that this is the field that ignites my passion and imagination. It’s a reminder that your passion can find you in unexpected places, and I am grateful that mine has found me.”

The business side of health needs processionals with a passion like Stacey’s. If you seek a career pathway that will offer constant growth and change, consider Health Information Technology.

Sarah Elam

Cytoprep Lab Technician at Aurora Diagnostics/Bernhardt Laboratories

From Retail to Biomedicine

"This isn't a field for someone who wants instant gratification, " says Sarah Elam, a Cytoprep Lab Technician with Aurora Diagnostics/Bernhardt Laboratories.

Sarah grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. At 19, she obtained a position as a medical receptionist for a clinic specializing in cardiology that housed seven cardiologists including two electrophysiologists. This change from working in her family's retail store allowed her to help people in a new way and sparked her interest in clinical medicine.

Sarah obtained EKG and Phlebotomy certifications while continuing to work in Medical Scribing, which helped solidify her ultimate goal of being a physician. By transcribing everything a doctor says and does, she applied what she learned about medical terminology from her receptionist role.

When looking at additional educational pursuits, Sarah was drawn to Keiser University's Jacksonville campus for the Biomedical Science program. The program outline worked with her schedule. Its accelerated approach provided rigorous but manageable coursework allowing students to focus on one subject at a time in a small classroom environment. Sarah notes, "Biomedicine is an emerging field. Taking courses such as Biology of Cancer and Genetics were interesting and necessary. This degree can lead to pre-med or allow a person to branch off into so many aspects, like research, physician's assistant, and anesthesiology."

After graduating from Keiser University with a BS in Biomedical Science in 2019, Sarah chose to continue her education at the University of Florida to obtain her Master of Science in Microbiology and Biochemistry. Ultimately, Sarah hopes this degree will give her an edge when applying for and succeeding in medical school. Her ideal choice for medical school is Jacksonville's Mayo Clinic. Regarding the discipline involved in pursuing one's education, Sarah states, "Do not procrastinate. Find a good support group that you can rely on to keep you accountable whether it be a professor, a family member, or friends."

While pursuing her studies, Sarah works a night shift at Aurora Diagnostics/Bernhardt laboratories. Her lab technician role involves preparing and staining slides containing women's health samples for microscopic evaluation. These results allow physicians to diagnose patients. Sarah also maintains quality control of the stains, reagents, and instruments used while processing specimens.

Successful lab technicians are self-starters who can prioritize and think critically about steps or processes to follow, according to Sarah. She indicates that a tech needs to be able to think about an entire workflow plan to complete processing of samples, which range from 200-800 daily.

Sarah's career course has evolved over time, as well as her reasons for being so passionate about the field. She says, "Initially, I wanted to learn and help people. That's still true, but it goes deeper than that. Pursuing healthcare has enabled me to experience a vast amount of personal growth that I could not fathom in any other field. I do not see this as a job, but as a lifestyle."

Opthalmic Technician Program

Having Vision—Seeing an Amazing Career Path

According to the FSCJ website, the role of the Ophthalmic Technician is to “manage ocular diseases and optical measurements.” Technicians help doctors treat eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, as well as fit patients for contact lenses and glasses.

Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) offers an Ophthalmic Technician Associate of Science degree, one of only 12 such programs in the nation. This program is accredited by the International Council of Accreditation for Allied Ophthalmic Education Programs (ICA). Recent high school graduates, career changers, and trailing spouses of military veterans have all taken advantage of this educational opportunity.

Eye care is a part of the healthcare industry and is very diversified. For example, 80 ophthalmologists practice in greater Jacksonville. They work in large group practices, institutional practices such as UF and Mayo, and in individual private practices that vary in size. Some practices specialize in a specific subspecialty-- such as retina or pediatrics or glaucoma--and some are comprehensive or multi-specialty practices. Ophthalmic Techs can choose to specialize as well, in accordance with their interest and talent.

Currently, a shortage of Ophthalmic Technicians exists in Jacksonville. Cathy Titus, FSCJ Professor and Interim Program Director of Ophthalmic Technology, said, “Our program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate. Physicians frequently reach out to us, asking when the next group of graduates will be ready to work. “

As many ophthalmic skills are manual and require practice to master, the program offers work-based learning opportunities that are integrated into curriculum via clinicals. Students will spend 840 hours in an externship over the course of study. Clinical hours spent outside of the classroom increase as the student moves through the program. For example, clinical hours range from 120, 240, 480 hours as students complete corresponding semesters.

In 2019, the program had a certification exam pass rate of 75 percent with a 100 percent completion and 100 percent employment rate. If students do not pass the test, they are still hired, learn more skills on the job, and pass their test the next time they sit for the exam. The program can accommodate even more students who are looking for immediate job offers after program completion.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Levenson, the program’s Medical Director and owner of Levenson Eye Associates since 1988, “Everyone who graduates gets a job and has the opportunity to make it not just a job but a career.” Among the companies who have hired recent graduates are Florida Eye Specialists, Mayo Clinic and Levenson Eye Associates. Many techs advance to become office managers and clinical researchers, using their training and experience as a springboard.

One aspect of the program that allows students to demonstrate learning and directly impact the community is the partnership with Vision is Priceless, a Jacksonville charitable organization. According to their website, they help “assess, sustain, and improve the visual health of children and adults in Northeast Florida,” providing nearly 40,000 free vision screenings and nearly 1,400 eye exams to the underserved of our community. A clinic is set up onsite at FSCJ; students provide care to those who would otherwise be unable to receive it, supervised by volunteer doctors. According to Titus, “Students find great satisfaction in putting their learning to work in service to others.” In doing so, students use their skills to add value to their community in a distinctly helpful way.

Students find that graduating from the program meets and exceeds their expectations. Darian Jakubec from the Class of 2019 said, "After becoming a Certified Ophthalmic Technician my career really lifted off. I have the FSCJ Ophthalmic Technician Program to thank for providing me exactly what I was looking for, a firm foundation in a long-term career and passion for rewarding responsibilities that offer endless learning opportunities and experiences. Even after graduating, the program still provides me with guidance and chances to volunteer."

To learn more about the Ophthalmic Technician program, check out:

Kat Hasanovic

MSN, RN-BC at Baptist Health

Finding Growth and Opportunity in Health Care IT

Healthcare offers abundant employment opportunities. Kateita (Kat) Hasanovic, MSN, RN-BC, discovered growth, opportunity, and leadership at Baptist Health by being open to new possibilities in her career pathway.

Hasanovic is the Inpatient Implementation Director on the Epic Project Team at Baptist Health. Under the leadership of Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer Stacey Johnson, MD, Baptist Health is transitioning to the Epic system to improve health data exchange and access across the hospital.

"The Epic platform will facilitate communication between providers throughout Baptist Health," Hasanovic said. "It improves the quality of patient care by enhancing care coordination and clinical decision-making."

Technology has changed healthcare since Hasanovic arrived at Baptist Health more than 20 years ago after graduating from West Nassau High School. Her first job involved transporting patients around the main hospital.

"At the time, I had no intention of being a nurse," Hasanovic said. "While working in transportation, I could see there were many opportunities at the hospital. I have always been a person who strives to accomplish more."

Hasanovic continued to work at Baptist Health after enrolling in Florida State College of Jacksonville, moving within the hospital to work as a department secretary. Initially, Hasanovic thought she would like to pursue pharmacy as a career pathway. Physician James Joyner, MD., encouraged her to consider nursing.

"Dr. Joyner said I had the personality that should be directly involved with patients," Hasanovic said. "It was a pivotal moment in my life."

Hasanovic earned her associates degree in nursing at FSCJ and began working as a registered nurse at Baptist Health after passing the state board examination. She worked in labor and delivery for more than 12 years, including as assistant nurse manager. During this time, she was selected for Baptist Health's Emerging Leaders program.

"This leadership development program opened my eyes and changed my mindset," Hasanovic said. "If your goal is to move up in an organization, you have to continue your education so that you have the knowledge to contribute to the conversation."

With support from Baptist Health's tuition reimbursement program, Hasanovic attended Jacksonville University and earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree focused on Nursing Administration. Doors opened to more opportunities. A colleague approached Hasanovic to consider a new position in Clinical Informatics, helping to drive the organization's application of techniques. Hasanovic spent nearly 10 years in clinical informatics at Baptist Health, first as a specialist before a promotion to manager and then system director.

"It's important to have a healthcare professional directing and leading IT clinical initiatives," Hasanovic said. "Clinical informatics specialists serve as a liaison between information technology and the healthcare team, with the goal of improving the care provided to patients by making sure clinicians have the tools they need."

Hasanovic is passionate about her career, and she encourages others to consider the tremendous opportunities in healthcare.

"Healthcare is more than doctors and nurses," Hasanovic said. "The hospital is a city of opportunity with a need for a wide range of professionals and workers."

Kensley Hoover

Occupational Therapist at Brooks Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital

Occupational Therapy Leads to a New Path

Kensley Hoover is a clinician in the field of Occupational Therapy working for Brooks Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital. She is a native of Waycross, Georgia, but now calls Jacksonville home. While in high school and college, Kensley didn’t have a plan or a set career pathway in mind. Her parents told her she needed to “go to college no matter what,” but she wasn’t certain that she would do with her degree.

Once Kensley earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Southern University, she got involved with the Miracle League and Special Olympics, which provides abled children and adolescents with physical and intellectual disabilities the option to engage in sports where she worked with children specifically with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. This experience prompted interest in occupational therapy (OT).

When Kensley began exploring this option, she was told she would need to wait a full year to apply for OT schooling. She wanted to act sooner, so she explored the Associate of Science in Occupational Therapy program at Keiser University in Jacksonville. Within one week, she was accepted and enrolled. Kensley commuted daily for 16 months from Waycross to Jacksonville to attend classes at Keiser. “I look at back at that and wonder how I did it,” she said.

While at Keiser, Kensley took advantage of the work study program. She was paid to work in the college’s Nursing Department, where she scanned, uploaded, and organized documents for the director and instructors as well as assist with various clerical duties. This opportunity provided gas money Kensley needed for her daily commute. However, it also opened doors that have profoundly impacted her career.

After graduating from Keiser University, Kensley took a position at a small hospital in Georgia which provided her valuable work experience. Kensley was soon to be married and with her husband’s job, it would result in a move to Jacksonville. Luckily, Kensley continued to keep in touch with the former nursing director at Keiser University; they conversed about various job opportunities that lead to Kensley applying for a per diem position with Brooks rehab at Memorial Hospital with the nursing director providing a letter of recommendation. Ultimately, Kensley interviewed and was offered the job as a float per diem therapist between Brooks Rehab Hospital and Memorial Hospital. This required her to leave behind a full-time job, all while planning a wedding. After a year of commitment and training, Kensley was officially hired as a full-time occupational therapy assistant at Brooks Rehab at Memorial Hospital. “It was a big leap of faith, but it was definitely worth it!”

Kensley has been actively working at Memorial for two years with her focus in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and Trauma ICU. She states, “I love being there for people even on their worst days. I’m there for a lot of firsts. First steps, first time to bathroom, toileting, dressing, grooming. After a big event like stroke, open-heart surgery or car accident it’s a major accomplishment. It is very rewarding knowing that I helped them achieve their goals.” Alongside patient care, Kensley is active with multi-disciplinary rounding in the ICU, conducts new hire training, participate with education fairs training for nurses, and transfer training.

Admittedly, working as an OT in the ICU can be daunting, as individuals enter the hospital with severe, medically complex illnesses and injuries. Kensley stresses the importance of being that familiar source of encouragement, compassion, and education for patients as well as their families. It helps to explain the entire process of treatment, as some treatment may look like they cause pain but are meant to increase optimal mobility, stimulate cognition, or decrease ICU delirium. “In the ICU, I help patients the best way I know how. It’s about progressing the patient to their maximum capability.” Sometimes, patients experience coma or death, so Kensley works through those emotions. “It’s hard not to bring it home.”

Kensley sites her grandmother as someone whose legacy impacted her career pathway. During WWII, while her husband was in the Navy, her trailblazing grandmother opened her home to anyone who needed shelter and a hot meal. This hospitality morphed into starting a soup kitchen, which then evolved into a nursing home. Eventually, Kensley’s entrepreneurial-minded grandmother operated six nursing homes. “She was an amazing woman and she cared a lot about others. Mom went into finance and took on the business side of all the nursing homes. Eventually, she and my dad ran the homes.” This influence continues in Kensley’s work. Outside of her professional scope, she tries to help others who are vulnerable. She carries packs of water, protein bars, and hygiene products in her car to be able to help anyone at any time.

Kensley’s advice to anyone thinking about going into occupational therapy? “Volunteer, request to job shadow an OT for a day, and make connections to explore the field.” She also notes “Don’t be surprised when your employer states you’ll work a few holidays. People don’t think about therapy being needed on a holiday. People can decline rapidly and need the continued mobilization in a hospital setting.” Kensley also liked to add that there are so many settings in which a therapist can work. “You go into it thinking you’ll work in an outpatient facility or a school. You may not consider doing therapy in a hospital working with a dementia patient or doing therapy for a patient in hospice. OT is needed in all settings and play important roles with physical and mental recovery.“

Matthew Steinmetz

Business Development Manager at Ascension St. Vincent’s

Growth Through Partnership Synergy

Ascension St. Vincent’s, a Catholic healthcare ministry with a mission to “go where the need is greatest and care for the most vulnerable” is one of Northeast Florida’s largest healthcare organizations. Matthew Steinmetz, Business Development Manager at Ascension St. Vincent’s, enjoys the mission-driven community impact of the health system. Matthew’s roles have allowed him to assist in developing relationships that further the reach of the organization, allowing it increased opportunities to provide quality, compassionate care throughout Northeast Florida.

Matthew’s career pathway was intentional; he approached his education from a strategic long-term perspective. At Florida State University, Matthew studied Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and earned a bachelor’s degree. He was passionate and interested in the curriculum. However, he chose this course of study as a way to continue pursuit of his education. Matthew selected the University of North Florida (UNF) for his master’s degree because, “It’s a competitive school and the dual master’s MBA and Health Administration program allowed me to complete in three years.”

While at UNF, he had the opportunity for an internship with some of the administrators at Ascension St. Vincent’s, many of whom had financial backgrounds. Matthew’s approach to finance work within the health care industry was very intentional, as this background can elevate one’s career. He said, “It’s common that the next person to take the CEO role is the CFO, as they have served in an operational role.” While interning, a position opened at Ascension St. Vincent’s as a Financial Analyst. Matthew took the role and was involved in the continued development of Ascension St. Vincent’s Clay County, a 134-bed hospital which opened in 2013 and has since completed two additional facility expansions.

Matthew has taken on the role of Business Development Manager, allowing him to facilitate new and maintain strong business partnerships. “It’s about the relationships more than anything. It’s the heartwarming part of the organization. Relationships allow us to improve the quality of care rather than us working separately. These partnerships allow us to ensure that best care that can possibly be provided will be provided.”

Recently, Matthew was part of creating a new partnership between two organizations and Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, the regional health system that includes Ascension St. Vincent’s, Ascension Sacred Heart based in Pensacola, and Ascension Providence in Mobile, Alabama that will facilitate increased services for individuals needing musculoskeletal care, particularly orthopedics. Each entity contributes resources resulting in synergy that benefits each organization and its patients. As Ascension St. Vincent’s continues to expand its footprint, it will “continue to consistently improve quality, communication, and all aspects of care,” according to Matthew.

When asked what he enjoys about his role within the business side of Healthcare, Matthew states, “Every day’s a different day. I chose this industry because healthcare is constantly evolving. Also, it seemed more recession-proof than other careers.” Matthew notes that Ascension St. Vincent’s made a point to do everything possible to assist its staff and protect their pay when the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I’m really proud to work for a company that made this kind of commitment.”

Matthew realizes the important role education has played in his career pathway and encourages others to seek out post-secondary opportunities. “Education is really important in healthcare. Many of my col- leagues are returning to school for master’s degrees to position themselves for what could be next.” He encourages individuals to take advantage of company-sponsored training programs and tuition reimbursement, as it can serve as a fantastic career laddering opportunity. “Plan for the long-term. Know your goals. Don’t worry about titles and money. People chase titles and money. Be intentional about your career.”

Sammie Fendig

Firefighter/Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department

An Inextinguishable Flame

For many, their experience with firefighters starts and ends with an elementary school field trip. However, for some, it is a viable career pathway and a passion that burns as bright as the very flames they extinguish.

For Sammie Fendig, Firefighter for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD), firefighting offers the opportunity to execute learned skills and satisfy a driven, adrenaline-junkie nature. "It's unlike anything else," she says.

Sammie grew up in Fernandina Beach and obtained a much-loved summer job as a lifeguard for ocean rescue at age 17. At age 18, she took a First Responder class, incentivized by the pay raise that accompanied successful completion. "I fell in love with it immediately. I still remember my first rescue," says Sammie. Clearly, this summer job influenced her future career choice. "I've learned that many lifeguards joined the fire service. It's a natural segue. It also pays better than other entry-level jobs."

Despite her positive initial reaction to an occupation involving risk, physical fitness and saving lives, she enrolled in school as an art major at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), where she studied photography and graphic design while holding various food service jobs. Sammie enjoyed art, but she wanted something different.

After earning her Associates degree, Sammie bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, where she spent three months immersing herself in an entirely new culture. This experience allowed her to consider next steps. "I needed this time to grow and gain more confidence."

Upon returning home, she enrolled in and completed FSCJ's Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic programs, which led directly to Fire School at First Coast Technical College in St. Augustine.

Individuals begin as Probationary Firefighters and can be promoted to Engineer (Driver). Regardless of experience, starting a job at a new firehouse requires starting at the bottom. After completing Fire School, Sammie worked for the St. Johns Fire Rescue. There, she grew her skills for 5 years before taking a job with the JFRD as she is interested in working for an aggressive major metropolitan fire department.

Firefighters work 10-11 shifts per month and are on for 24 hours and off for 48 hours. Firefighting exemplifies a paramilitary-style hierarchy in an extended family environment. Sammie states, "You live in a house with these people every third day. There's a close dynamic and inside jokes. Of a firefighter's rookie year, Sammie likens it to having a first-year learning curve on a typical job combined with additional challenges. "You need to prove yourself. You need to listen more than you talk."

Firefighting involves a combination of skill, knowledge, experience, and gut instinct to successfully execute a firefighting strategy. A healthy respect for the danger involved in fighting fires cannot border on fear. A sense of urgency drives quick decision-making. Where people may think it's just about "running into a building," it involves understanding the science behind fire behavior, requiring knowledge of construction, building codes, electrical and plumbing systems.

There's also math behind fighting fires. For example, if an average engine holds 500 gallons of water, firefighters must calculate how long it will last on an internal or external fire depending on its structure and other factors until other engines arrive. Calculations are made against the backdrop of a critical situation involving life and property.

While Sammie knew firefighting was a perfect fit, others may want to first explore this potential career pathway. She encourages a ride-a-long and says, "EMT is a semester long. Even if you don't choose this pathway, it's worth your time to learn these skills, particularly CPR." She's seen others get into paramedic programs and then pursue nursing or medical school, for example. So, this training can be a springboard to healthcare or to public service.

Ultimately, Sammie says of her career choice, "It's never entered my mind that I couldn't do it. I just want to be the hardest working person in the room."


Deep Dive into the Member Care Specialist Role

You may ask yourself if this role is too good to be true: working 9 months on and three months off all while receiving full benefits, paid time off, and incentive bonuses? A job where you can self-select to go full time, or remain on the schedule above? A job where you can pursue educational opportunities on the “off” time while still having access to a variety of amenities such as golf and basketball to stay healthy as well as continued networking with other colleagues?

This role exists and is in demand at GuideWell.

Member Care Specialist is a key role in meeting the mission of “helping people and communities achieve better health.” Each day, the Member Care Specialist handles between 20 to 40 consecutive calls of potential, new and existing customers which include individual members, group members, business decision makers and agents. Collectively, they receive 10 thousand calls on a slow day and 30 thousand calls on a busy day. Each call taken helps meet the hospital’s mission.

Member Care Specialists have one of the most critical roles in that they interface with the public on the company’s behalf. They’re helping to navigate a complicated system and ensure that members understand how to use their benefits. They also resolve inquiries and process transactions.

When the job was initially created, previous call center experience was required. However, the HR team soon realized they needed individuals with a collaborative, customer service background which could include retail or volunteering. George Cross, Sr. Director, Member Service Center indicated, “These roles turn into professional translators. You are learning another language of medical and insurance terminology. For example, co-pays versus deductibles. What is the difference between oncology and hematology? What is primary care? What constitutes a specialty drug? Your job is to listen to the situation and translate it into the customer’s situation. How good are you at this translation process?” Good customer service involves listening skills and being able to articulate ideas that may seem intimidating to members.

Being able to respond to member calls involves not only a thorough understanding of their plan’s features and benefits, but ultimately involves truly caring about each unique situation. Cross recognizes the importance of “a heart for service. I can teach you the technical knowledge, but I can’t teach you to care. If you like helping people and solving problems, this can be a long-term career path.”

A genuine interest in helping people will allow Member Care Specialists to succeed, particularly when they learn to apply empathy and listening skills to various situations. For example, learning to ask questions is essential. Cross said, “You can’t assume anything. You need to know the entire context of the situation. Someone could be calling in to get a new ID card. You don’t know if they just lost it or are taking their child to the hospital and are afraid they’ll be denied care. It’s important to ask good questions to lead people to answers.”

This position can serve as a launching pad for additional opportunities within the organization as well. Many examples exist throughout the organization of individuals who began on the phones and were promoted to other positions after several years. Ultimately, the Member Care Specialist role affords individuals to develop critical skills that impact members as well as their professional colleagues while truly helping others.


Wolfson's Hospital NICU Respiratory Therapist

Six years ago, Almira and her two children moved to Jacksonville from Philadelphia to start fresh. Her son and daughter both struggle with health issues, so Almira knew she wanted to begin a career in the medical field. While up north, she earned a patient tech credential. However, she found herself wanting to move beyond just an entry-level position.

Almira utilized one of Jacksonville’s community-based organizations by joining BEAM’s Single Parent Program (SPP). With their help, Almira found a patient scheduler job at a local hospital. Almira also utilized another resource via the ASTEP program through Goodwill Industries of North Florida.

According to, the “A-STEP program aims to provide working adults in North Florida access to higher education in order to elevate earning potentials and job security.” Almira applied to ASTEP and began taking classes at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) in mid-2015.

A year later, Almira’s position was outsourced. She persevered, landing a job working for a local healthcare system at the registration desk. For 2 years, Almira plugged away at completing pre-requisite classes. In 2017, she was accepted into the FSCJ respiratory therapy program.

Almira graduated in May of 2019 with an Associate in Science in Respiratory Care, despite issues that could have caused her to quit. She overcame health issues and severe test anxiety. She successfully passed 2 state exams in late summer 2019. Almira was immediately offered a position with Wolfson’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a Respiratory Therapist. She loves working with children and giving individual care.

Almira says this about her profession in the patient side of healthcare: “I am so blessed to have been selected as a RTA on the NICU floor at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. I am grateful to be a part of an amazing medical team dedicated to helping the sickest (and youngest) patients with chronic respiratory problems increase their survival rate and improve quality of life through Respiratory Therapy. It is my passion. It is my heart. It is my lifelong dream and I couldn’t be happier.”

As a result of her persistence and work ethic, Almira closed on her very first home in the Arlington area in January 2020. Almira is one of many single mothers in the ASTEP program. She sets an example for how hard work and educational achievement in a growing career pathway leads to long-term success.

Mandarin High School Health Science Academy

Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Dewberry, the instructors of Mandarin High School’s Medical Academy, bring an industry focus to their classrooms. Since the program began in 2008, students have seen how their classroom instruction translates into the real world. In 2022, the Health Sciences Academy obtained Master Academy Status following an intensive CTE Academy Accreditation review process. A Master Academy is the highest standard obtained in this DCPS Accountability and Assessment Process.

In a classroom equipped with four hospital beds, equipment, technology, and the requisite mannequins, Collins and Dewberry bring synergy and realism to their health science program, a co-hort model extending from freshman through senior year.

Students begin the Academy as freshmen and continue with the same co-hort through their senior year. As such, the group feels more like an extended family. This “family” is supported by regional businesses and education partners such as Baptist South, River Garden, St. Vincent’s, Keiser University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, University of North Florida, and Jersey College. They have impacted the program through their work on the Academy Advisory Board, providing clinical sites and donating equipment.

As Mrs. Collins is an RN and Mrs. Dewberry an EMT, they are constantly supplementing their instruction with real world experience from industry. RN’s and EMT’s approach their work very differently, as the scenario determines the response. Thus, students get a perspective from each teacher on how to respond to 12 patients needing continual care instead of 1 person needing emergency care.

As freshmen, students learn health science foundations, communication, and teamwork. Students are put into working groups selected by their teacher. “Students don’t get to pick their colleagues or their patients in the real world,” said Collins.

Each year builds on the prior year. Freshmen and sophomores will learn both soft and practical skills such as communication, First Aid/CPR, sterile technique, and vital signs. As juniors, students take Anatomy and Physiology with additional focus on diseases, treatments, prognoses, and careers. The senior courses prepare students for their certification tests.

Part of this preparation includes 16 clinical hours in a medical facility and completing lab hours on campus. When students are at Baptist South, they will be exposed to the Emergency Room, Radiology, and Cath Labs. Students have even been in surgery and post-surgery settings. There they practice the skills they have learned while shadowing professionals. When students say, “’I can read these charts’, they have moment of clarity and accomplishment” according to Dewberry.

Students learn about the multitude of opportunities in biomedicine that exist in Jacksonville. Participating in a virtual classroom with Brooks Rehabilitation allowed students to see how lasers, sensors and plates monitored an athlete jumping and generated data to best evaluate a knee injury. Students have also visited Medtronic to see the medical equipment produced.

Students leave the program with two certifications: CMAA and EKG Technician. The CMAA is an allied health credential which equips students for front office, scheduling, greeting patients and handling payments. Students must complete 10 live EKGs before they can sit for the exam.

Mandarin students participate in HOSA—Future Health Professionals, an extra-curricular activity aligned to national standards. HOSA teaches leadership through competition and community service. Mandarin HOSA is student run and consistently places in regional and state competitions. Students are now looking to compete globally.

Students succeed in the workforce following graduation. For example, one Mandarin graduate is now a lab assistant at Baptist’s downtown campus; several are nurses at Baptist locations. Another former student is mentoring a currently enrolled student. Many are pursuing their studies to be nurse practitioners and physical therapists. The value of this program extends beyond high school. Student Mandy Nguyen said, “The Medical Academy has given me the opportunity to gain and expand my knowledge in health care. This will set me up for success towards future education and careers.”

Technology Services

Emtec Inc.

Growing Talent through Internships

Emtec, Inc., an IT Strategy and Consulting, Digital Transformation company recently relocated its global headquarters to Jacksonville from Pennsylvania. The company has worked in the Jacksonville market for 18 years; they are interested in continuing that work as well as expansion in cybersecurity. To keep up with demand for talent, Emtec has taken a proactive approach, particularly regarding their internship program with Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) students.

In conjunction with Emtec, DCPS sponsored 105 student interns in summer 2019 who were selected from 10 schools to work on 75,000 computers to perform a preventative maintenance cleaning and reimaging prior to the new school year. Students receive a week of training which equips them to travel to various schools and refresh student and teacher laptops as part of imaging and cleaning teams. The program has blossomed from its inception 5 years ago in which fewer than 10 students were involved. While students have a great deal of responsibility for costly equipment, they have “risen to the challenge and gained important soft skills,” according to Doug Goodall, Managing Director of Emtec Infrastructure Services. Students work 32 hours a week at $10 per hour.

The internship is truly a workforce development strategy. As a result of the summer internship, 10 to 15 students are extended an additional 5 or 6 months with Emtec to complete the yearly PC refresh project. Any students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in IT will graduate with six years of progressive IT experience. According to Mike Marino, Operations Manager, Emtec employees rally around the interns, providing support and expertise. The program has become an important aspect of the company culture.

Renaissance JAX

Offering Impactful Robotics Experiences

As the exclusive Program Delivery Partner in Northeast Florida, the mission of Renaissance Jax (RJAX) is to build and retain talented, creative young people in Northeast Florida through opportunities involving FIRST Robotics, STEM education, and mentor-driven experiences. Providing the FIRST progression of programs allows RJAX to instill and invest in students as young as six years old, fostering interest in STEM and building holistic skills as they transition from LEGO to building 18-inch robots, learn Java programming, and more.

RJAX's corporate partners bolster the FIRST curriculum and provide the opportunity to mentor top talent and bring a variety of career options to students' attention. RJAX previously partnered with JEA to host a summer camp for participating Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) high school students. They received hands-on experience by learning to design, build and program a robot. They delved into the process of entrepreneurship with JAXChamber and toured JEA locations to hear from employees about various career pathways. Every student expressed interest in a career at JEA at the conclusion of their five-week experience.

Renaissance Jax regularly tasks students with a hard problem that needs solving. The COVID-19 pandemic caused teams' meeting capabilities to drastically change, resulting in major questions regarding how to share robotics supplies to produce robots. Students learned that if they could not produce a physical robot, they could build a virtual one. Alyssa Olsen and Ishika Doma from J. Allen Axson Elementary School not only taught themselves how to use two digital programs, but they also presented to coaches and fellow students across 28 counties in Northeast and Central Florida. "I learned how useful both LEGO Digital Designer and BrickLink can be for teams to collaborate online to create a digital robot," Ishika said of the experience. Alyssa learned about architecture with LEGO, saying it was "the opportunity of a lifetime to teach a real class in front of real people at the age of ten." Both Alyssa and Ishika then began exploring programs such as Fusion360, participating in challenges alongside high school robotics students.

While FIRST teams all around the world helped produce 3D printed face shields to address the PPE shortage early in the pandemic, RJAX students also assisted in the effort to solve UF Health's PPE shortage. Ultimately, RJAX included students in their community effort to provide face shields that were safe to reuse and easily reproduce.

Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, RJAX continues to serve nearly 3,000 students across Northeast and Central Florida. New partnerships with JTA and Amazon through DCPS and the Jacksonville Icemen are just some exciting developments as they strive to engage and invest in the future workforce.

Jansen Holmes

Network Engineer at Bank of America

In 2014, Jansen Holmes began pursuing education at St Johns River State College (SJR State). After working outside the United State for several years, he returned to Northeast Florida and obtained his Associates Degree in Computer Network Engineering. He has also completed the Cisco Networking Academy and is currently a Network Engineer at Bank of America through Select Group.

Jansen was always interested in dissembling and assembling computers. While working overseas, he spoke to many in the IT field and was intrigued. Upon returning to the States, enrolled at SJR State. After observing the other students, Jansen felt like he needed to take additional classes to supplement his knowledge. Professor Bell encouraged him to stick with it and just ask questions. Jansen found he put in many late nights to persist, but he was motivated to succeed and determined to feel comfortable in IT. He flourished in the hands-on classroom environment fixing equipment and learned to manage his expectations about the industry from hands-on, real-world examples. He said, “I didn’t realize how far I had come in a year until I was able to help other people. You have to have a passion for it.”

Jansen shares helpful advice with young professionals entering the IT field, saying, “You get your foundation in school but it’s a totally different world at work. You will be nervous at the beginning, but people will help you. Be sure to run things past people but try to solve the problem first.” Jansen finds he is constantly learning and communicating best practices with his team.

“If you like fixing it, it’s fun. There will be long nights when something goes wrong. There will be pressure to perform, but the satisfaction in fixing a problem is great.” He advises that IT professionals hone the skills of paying attention to detail, becoming calm to think under pressure, multi-task, make decisions and think for yourself. Jansen also sees merit in taking advantage of internship opportunities and avoid discouragement when looking for an entry-level job.

Noah Emmons

Software Engineering Consultant, Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Noah Emmons appreciates that fear of failure can play an important role in advancing your understanding and knowledge of information technology.

“Success is equal to failing less,” said Emmons, a software engineering consultant who discovered the Jacksonville region is a dynamic hub for technology development and employment.

“Technology is complicated, intimidating and daunting, and learning it can be scary,” Emmons said. “In time, you have a better understanding and become more comfortable with the unknown. I’m drawn to activities where you have to fail before you can advance.”

As a youth growing up in Fernandina Beach, Emmons enjoyed computer games and had an interest in knowing more about the people behind game development. At 12, he didn’t hesitate to reach out to more than 40 industry professionals via email. He made a connection with three.

“I formed friendships with people who eventually became mentors,” Emmons said. “It’s important to surround yourself with likeminded individuals who make you feel comfortable.”

A 2017 graduate of Fernandina Beach High School, Emmons discovered his passion for technology and software development in the Nassau County School District’s Java Programming and Application Development curriculum at the Lewis “Red” Bean Nassau Technical Career Center.

The Nassau County School District program, led by Director of Career Education Brent Lemond and instructor Kalvin Thompson, provides students with software development training using the latest technologies. The program’s advisory board includes local business partners, such as feature [23], Wells Fargo and CSX, who provide guidance on curriculum and assist with placement and other student opportunities.

As a student, Emmons demonstrated initiative and drive for learning advanced topics and applying them quickly. He also worked hard to expand his skillset beyond normal expectations. Those qualities help Emmons secure an internship at Jacksonville-based software developer feature [23], which led to a full-time software engineer position at the company.

As part of the feature [23] software engineering team, Emmons gained experience in a wide range of domains including distribution, logistics, trading, sales and more, and honed his skills with C#, SQL Server, Azure, React, Angular, and other domain-specific technologies.

“I worked on projects I enjoyed,” Emmons said. “It didn’t feel like I was working.”
After spending nearly five years with feature [23], Emmons recently stepped out on his own as a software engineering consultant. He offers a variety of services designed for both start-ups and established businesses including new product development.
“With all of the opportunities that are out there, going out on my own is the right next step for me,” Emmons said. “I find myself at my best when I am challenged to learn new domains, whether they are business or technical.”

Emmons has risen quickly in his career because he is curious, enthusiastic and has an insatiable desire to learn. He encourages others to find and pursue their passions.
“If you don’t have the initiative, work can be a grind,” Emmons said. “You owe it to yourself to make sure you’re happy and find the things that excite you.”

Bianca Davis

Manager of Data Operations and Strategy, Crowley Maritime Corporation

Bianca Davis is the Manager of Data Operations and Strategy at Crowley Maritime Corporation. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, Crowley is a vessel management, owner and supply chain logistics services company, providing services globally.
Bianca was born in England and has lived in various overseas and U.S. locations. A speaker of German and Icelandic, Bianca relocated to Jacksonville to be closer to her parents.

Her interest in technology was piqued when conducting social science research. When evaluating surveys, Bianca concluded that there was no wholistic solution in the data gathering process. As someone who always enjoyed investigative science, she was drawn into data, saying, “You can impact every corner of life through data analytics.”

Bianca looks to maximize opportunity and has studied people, business and data. She achieved an MBA and MS in Data Analytics at University of Maryland University College. While in college, Bianca worked at Ralph Lauren to fund her education, where her efforts to juggle school and work were acknowledged.

A people person, Bianca changes the narrative that data people lean toward introversion and code all day. In her role at Crowley, Bianca leverages her various strengths to bring together and facilitate cross-functional work between business and tech teams. She focuses on the program level to ensure that data impacts strategy and helps the organization move forward toward ever-evolving data maturity. For example, the legal department may want to digitize processes, so she brings Crowley’s experts together to formulate and implement a solution.

Bianca also works with external partners to ensure support of best practices. Customer experience is also very important, so she looks at technology’s impact on delivery models. Thus, the power of data and systems to make maximum impact on internal teams and external customers is actualized.

A rewarding part of her job is “the lightbulb moment and seeing other people feel good about what they’re doing.” Seeing relationships form, confidence built, and the power of owning the solution is key. She also enjoys being involved in the organizations DEI—supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.

An unexpected aspect of being an IT professional is that “people think you always know the answer. It’s more about finding the answer together, looking past the immediate need and focusing on the long-term solution.” This can involve adjusting expectations while still focusing on the mission to achieve results.

Bianca offers the following advice to those entering IT: “Every company is an IT company. IT is an asset. It’s an enabler that requires us to still innovate.” In addition to seeking out internships in high school and college, focus on a niche technical skill set but be mindful of entering an industry that fulfills your purpose and allows you to drive impact. Think about the context of where you want to work within the tech industry. Consider starting out as a contracted employee to explore various IT roles in different industries and work at companies large and small.

Once employed and looking to begin career laddering, Bianca encourages people to “look for executive leadership and facilitation training. You must be able to navigate the culture of your company and build partnerships. Your career path isn’t linear so be good to yourself and others.”

Lex Walton

Production & Application Support Specialist, VyStar

They said it paid $10, so I was interested,” says Lex Walton, Production and Application Support Specialist at VyStar Credit Union, of his opportunity as a student intern and student manager at Wolfson High School’s VyStar Academy. “I never thought about going into the financial sector, but that was the start of my IT career.”

Lex learned tremendous lessons while involved in the VyStar Academy in high school in 2012 and 2013. He assisted in teaching fiscal responsibility to other students. He assisted with branch efficiency and modified processing systems. Lex also learned computer repair, which included hardware and software, sparking an interest in Information Technology (IT). Lex learned about the multitude of career opportunities available at VyStar while a high school student. He reviewed active job postings and saw the education needed to obtain IT positions, as well as the average wages he could earn with specific IT skills.

Lex continued working for VyStar post-graduation as a Teller Specialist 1 and Teller Specialist II. These positions allowed him to craft listening and empathy skills, as well as master cash handling and balancing abilities. Lex knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career outside of direct customer service.

However, his transferrable experience as a teller consistently proves valuable as he grows his IT career. His career ladder has allowed him to interface with customers, the end-users of the apps he works so diligently to support. “I’ve worked with our customers and I know how they’re going to react if technology isn’t working. It gives me a sense of urgency to make sure everything’s right.”

While working as a Teller, Lex continued his education in IT. While at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), Lex was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Lex received his Associate of Science degree in Computer/Information Technology Administration and Management and continued on at FSCJ for his Bachelors Degree in Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications. Lex took advantage of scholarship opportunities via Career Source Northeast Florida to assist with tuition. VyStar also provides an outstanding tuition assistance program.

As Lex continued to complete educational milestones, he continued taking new steps in his professional career. Averaging a job change at least every 1-3 years, Lex continues to progress. He has been with VyStar for over 8 years now and only continues to progress.
In his current role in Production and Application Support, he troubleshoots application software issues and ensures successful resolution. Lex is an example of how motivation, strategic planning, and resiliency has tremendous impact. He has successfully leveraged opportunities available to him in high school and college. Lex has taken advantage of the high caliber of education and the high-growth IT occupations in Northeast Florida to craft an enviable career with limitless possibilities.

Advanced Manufacturing

Jacksonville Shipyard Repair

BAE Systems Jacksonville Ship Repair is part of BAE Systems, Inc., a company with international operations. In Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Ship Repair team completes vessel repair and maintenance for a variety of vessels and customers. While Jacksonville Ship Repair services many U.S. Navy ships, they also service yachts of all sizes, such as Bono’s yacht from the musical superstar group U2. Located nearly two miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville Ship Repair is positioned at the intersection of the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway and the St. Johns River. This permits easy access for a variety of water vessels.

To offer premier services in this market, Jacksonville Ship Repair requires a variety of skilled workers to maintain their reputation of excellence. A variety of custom shops make up the shipyard’s expansive facilities, such as carpenter, insulation, sheet metal, pipe, paint, rigging, and steel fabrication shops.

Working at Jacksonville Ship Repair requires diversified skills to meet the challenges of the industry, but also allows workers to use the same technology used in the energy and aerospace industries to do so. Specialized welding using mirrors allows workers to weld completing around pipes. Massive equipment permits lifts of entire ship modules with its thirteen-ton payload. Specialized equipment allows for the precision cutting of up to 6 inches of steel and cutting large steel sheets with plasma cutters.

Currently, Jacksonville Ship Repair has 800 staff including temporary agency employees. They offer various shift options, such as a night shift and an overnight shift. The shipyard will be full throughout 2020 and 2021. As a result, they would like to expand their footprint to take on more vessels simultaneously. They are exploring options to make it a reality. If successful, the workforce may also expand as well. The Jacksonville division looks forward to assisting the community with establishing apprenticeships to support the maritime industry.

According to Ernie Aglugub, Jacksonville Ship Repair’s first training specialist, there are two paths to employment: directly with the company through the website and through the “Master Service Provider” NSC Technologies. NSC is their interface with several temporary employment agencies who provide both skilled and unskilled labor. Those employees who rise above the rest are sometimes offered permanent positions on the Jacksonville Ship Repair team.

Entry level positions are known as helpers. Ernie stated, “If high school graduates have an interest and motivation to learn and work in a shipyard, they can begin at better than minimum wage and be eligible for great benefits. While many grads just entering our community’s workforce often start through NSC, it’s not uncommon for them to be hired directly.”

Ernie indicated that “Our Talent Acquisition does a great job living up to its
namesake…acquiring talent. But I assist our shipyard by helping to bridge the gaps between the workforce pipeline of the community, the entry-level welding helper, the seasoned ship fitter and the master welder. Our new Henry S. Jordan Welding Technology Scholarship for select high school students is a great example of one of those bridges.”

Jacksonville Ship Repair also works closely with Career Source Northeast Florida (CSNEFL) to upskill existing personnel using Customized Training Grant funds. Roben Faircloth, Industry Manager at CSNEFL said, “BAE Systems is committed to helping its employees continue to grow their skills and advance on their career pathways. The company has utilized our Customized Training program to offset some of the cost of upskilling their employees. BAE Systems is working to ensure the company and its employees are ready to fulfill the requirements of its customers today and tomorrow, and CareerSource NEFL is happy to help support them.”

BAE Systems is a strong and successful advocate of diversity and inclusion, illustrated by award-winning Employee Resource Groups (ERG). Every employee is invited to join any ERG, which are run by volunteers throughout the company. ERG’s include Abilities Beyond Limits, African Americans Committed to Excellence, Asian/Pacific Islander ERG, GENerations & YP@BAE, OutLink, Hispanic Organization for Leadership Advancement, Veteran's Support Network, and Women's Inclusive Network. Jacksonville Ship Repair regularly takes part in several community events and sponsors many local organizations as well.

Frank H. Peterson Robotics Academy

Preparing Students for the Workforce and Higher Education

Russell Henderlite, MSSC, CPT, is an instructor of Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Technology at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, a public magnet career and college preparatory high school in Jacksonville.

The outlook for advanced manufacturing and technology is strong for both industry growth and job growth with the need for skilled workers. In Jacksonville, advanced manufacturing employment is outpacing the national average.

Henderlite is a dedicated supporter of advanced manufacturing and technology education, recognizing it as essential to providing a skilled workforce. He is the founding instructor for the robotics and advanced manufacturing academy at Frank H. Peterson, where he introduces and attracts students to manufacturing careers and educational pathways.

Prior to becoming a high school teacher, Henderlite served 21 years in the U.S. Navy, where he was involved in nuclear power plant operations and maintenance. His experiences, first as a nuclear prototype instructor and later as a nuclear repair coordinator, inspired his decision to become a teacher when he retired from the Navy.

"I was always teaching and training in my Navy positions, and I was able to take these skills and move into a position in education," Henderlite said.

At Frank H. Peterson, Henderlite is the Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Career and Technical Education (CTE) Program's lead teacher. The program, which provides students with a foundation of knowledge and technically oriented experiences in the study of the principles and applications of robotics engineering, helps students develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving ability and communication skills.

The CTE Program includes coursework in safety, quality and measurement, pneumatics, hydraulics and welding. Students learn the skills and expertise necessary so that they are prepared to take the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) national certification exam.

"The MSSC national certification exams are challenging," Henderlite said. "Our school is one of only nine schools in Florida that teaches this program."

Students at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology earn a Career and Professional Education (CAPE) certification and a high school diploma. Students graduate prepared to enter the workforce and/or pursue higher education.

Advanced Placement courses are also offered. In addition to their high school diploma, students may earn an Associate of Science Degree in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering from Florida State College at Jacksonville. The partnership provides students with mentors, hands-on work experience and consideration for employment opportunities at the end of the program.

Henderlite's enthusiasm for manufacturing and technology education and his students' success extends beyond the classroom. He serves as a coach in the FIRST Tech Challenge competition and has been actively involved with FIRST Robotics with Renaissance JAX. These and other after-school initiatives create excitement and engagement, helping students learn valuable skills for the future.

"I encourage students to be open to opportunties and not to limit themselves," Henderlite said. "The skill sets are transferable from one career to another."

The knowledge, training and MSSC certifications earned from the CTE program have prepared Henderlite's students for employment and their future careers. The success stories include a paid student internship at Johnson & Johnson Vision, a position as a 3-D printing engineer at SAFT after earning a college engineering degree and employment at Special Tools Solutions, a Jacksonville machine shop.

Transportation & Logistics

Trailer Bridge

Trailer Bridge is an asset-based, full-service logistics firm that offers transportation over water and land. Trailer Bridge service lanes run throughout North America and the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, USVI) Trailer Bridge has enjoyed rapid expansion in recent years, but is proud to be founded on historical significance. Its founder, Malcom McLean, is considered to be the father of containerization, something in which the company is very proud. McLean’s methods of shipping goods completely altered the way ocean bound goods are loaded, stored, and offloaded, dramatically increasing the efficiency of these operations.

The fastest growing arm of Trailer Bridge’s business is the North American Logistics line. Trailer Bridge has dramatically increased the number of operational locations to include Los Angeles, CA, as well as sites in Jacksonville, FL, Atlanta, GA, Harrisburg, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Houston, TX, Chicago, IL, Raleigh, NC, Mexico City, MC and Cincinnati, OH.

Trailer Bridge is distinct for their history, but they’re also set apart by factors other than growth. Their assets including seven barges, and an extensive fleet of containers and chassis. They also see their workforce as their most important asset and consider them family. Trailer Bridge also intentionally serves their community.

When Trailer Bridge began their growth strategy, they wanted to create a culture where employees enjoyed their work and felt a sense of purpose in serving their customers. They felt that having a great working environment would not only maintain productivity, but also translate into superior customer service. The leadership team shifted the focus to employees, establishing a collective leadership philosophy via a common ground. They started by asking the teams what attributes they wanted in leadership and that would create the kind of culture in which they would thrive. This resulted in the creation of the TB12 Core Values which are the foundation of Trailer Bridge’s culture, and which could be described as old school values meets fun start up. These values include: Deliver Exceptional Service to Everyone, Be Kind and Fair, Be Honest and Fearlessly Authentic, Act with Integrity, Pursue Growth and Learning, Create and Be Fun, and Be Fast and Accurate. But they didn’t stop there. They designed and launched a customized training program to implement a common philosophy among leadership to support these values, as well as training to keep the teams growing and innovative.

The TB12 serve as the core of what drives the team and leadership to create the best experience for employees and customers in an industry known for a fast pace. It results in a high level of service, a natural result of a workplace atmosphere where employees feel cared for and enjoy what they do.

Another aspect of the company that permeates the culture is community involvement through the TBGives Program. The TBGives service team supports causes like Habijax, The Clara White Mission, and Dreams Come True to name a few. Trailer Bridge believes this is a natural extension of their business of serving others, so they also help smaller groups, such as a local dance team who lacked funds to travel for competitions. More information can be found at

Matt Rogers

Senior Transportation Systems Manager at Kehe

Formula for Success: Education, Research, Networking, Internships

Matt Rogers, Senior Transportation Systems Manager at KeHE in Elkton, Florida, said, “My Dad taught me that there are three decisions that you can make: the right one, the wrong one, and none at all. “ This advice appears to have guided Matt’s career pathway in the Transportation and Logistics (T&L) industry. Through careful research, making decisions on the educational program most suited to his learning style and area of interest, and being open to industry opportunities and challenges, Matt has found success in the industry in Northeast Florida.

Matt works for KeHE, a national company with a location in St. John’s County. KeHE specializes in order fulfillment and distribution to 30,000 stores in North America with continuing acquisitions. With 550 trucks and 15 North American distribution centers, KeHE is able to provide fresh, natural, and organic specialty foods to companies such as Publix and Sprouts. They serve big box stores to smaller family-owned operations.

Matt’s current role will allow him to improve route visibility. This industry trend incorporates technology and is the result of “The Amazon Effect.” The expectation of knowing when delivery will take place is a customer service issue that also allows businesses to be more responsive. Due to the distance trucks travel to each their many locations, an estimated time of arrival may change depending on traffic, accidents, or a variety of other factors. Matt’s work will involve a device in trucks that provides customers with real-time data and a notification when the driver is 30 minutes away from his or her destination. He previously worked for other regional companies such as Shoreside Logistics, Interstate Distributor, and Interline Brands.

After relocating to Jacksonville in between his junior and senior years of high school, Matt obtained his Associate of Arts degree at FSCJ and attended University of Florida until his Junior year. Matt began investigating the program at the University of North Florida (UNF) and was attracted to the smaller class size. He also realized that he needed to distinguish himself from many other students pursuing a business degree. Matt also realized that his hometown of Jacksonville was a major site of T & L activity encompassing road, rail, sea and air.

In 2008, Matt graduated from UNF with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Logistics and Transportation with a minor in Economics. Studies in this degree track at UNF qualified Matt to register for free and bypass the exam for the Certification in Transportation and Logistics (CTL), an internationally recognized industry certification.

Matt finds the industry interesting because “It’s so broad. The general public doesn’t understand how T & L impacts everything. The goods that reach families have a supply chain behind it.” Also, the industry is fun because “It’s always different.” Technology changes lend excitement to the industry as well. For example, on the warehouse side, KeHE’s Pick-to-Light capacity means that a light guides a picker to carious aisles and rows that house goods needed for multiple bins. This replaces print-out sheets of the past. Also, voice-to-pick technology provides opportunity for ESL workers, as the system can read orders in their native language.

Working while in school was a key to Matt’s success. In high school, he worked at Publix and realized how close and vast their warehouses were to the region. While at UNF, Matt worked at Medtronic, an opportunity secured through networking. While there, he was able to learn many aspects of the business including warehousing, purchasing, and customer service. This provided valuable cross-training and exposure in the company.

Matt cites the primary characteristics of people who are successful in this industry include thriving in a non-repetitive working environment that is deadline and time sensitive. Someone must be able to pivot quickly and realize that despite planning and strategy, not everything goes according to plan. “You can’t take it personally despite being invested. If something doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on.”

When asked what kind of helpful advice he’d share with individuals seeking to get into this field, Matt said, “Networking is critical. In this industry, everyone knows everyone. You never know who will help you. Be open to opportunity and take on challenges.“ He would encourage students to “work while you’re finishing your degree or secure an internship. If you can reduce debt while in school by working or using Bright Futures, it will pay dividends down the road.”

Clearly, Matt has made many choices and taken specific actions to reach this juncture in his career pathway. Now, you have more information equipping you to do the same.

Jesus Garay

Owner of Jacksonville's Global Freight and Commerce

Senator Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized Jesus Garay (pictured left), owner of Jacksonville's Global Freight & Commerce during National Veterans Small Business Week.

After 20 years of active military service, which included 6 combat tours in Iraq and Bosnia, as well as 3 tours in Korea, Jesus Garay started Global Freight & Commerce. Not one to let military retirement in 2014 ease his schedule, Garay has not only started a small business, but lends his time and support to community endeavors. A Jacksonville native, Garay is passionate about investing in real opportunities for the community so that others can have a solid, profitable career. He participates in events such as job fairs, conferences on topics such as Opportunity Zones, and community events like the JAX Chamber's The Longest Table. His abundant energy and commitment to seeing others succeed makes him a valuable entrepreneur in Northeast Florida, as well as an excellent mentor to employees and community members seeking to change their lives.

According to their website, Global Freight & Commerce is a 100% owner-operated trucking company and an industry-freight leader. Owner-operators have the ability to earn above average wages in the industry. Partners include Department of Defense, FEMA, JB Hunt, and Pepsi.

When honoring Garay, Rubio stated, "A member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Global Freight & Commerce is also involved in the community… which provide leadership training to assist and develop the local workforce. Veteran-owned businesses such as Global Freight & Commerce are examples of the talent and dedication of our nation's veterans. I look forward to watching Global Freight & Commerce's continued growth and success."

Beth Wilder

Marine Personnel Specialist at TOTE Services

Putting the Puzzle Together: A career transition to Transportation & Logistics

Beth Wilder is a Navy veteran having worked as a mechanic as well as in quality assurance while serving. After transitioning to civilian life, Beth worked multiple jobs to support her three children, one of which brought her to Jacksonville to play football at a top-notch high school. After moving to Northeast Florida, Beth chose Keiser University as she needed flexibility to keep working while pursuing her education. This choice moved her closer to the goal of obtaining a fantastic job that facilitates making worthwhile professional contributions.

Beth chose her studies carefully after considering what mattered most to her and how she can best add value to an organization. Beth spoke with various professors about the transportation and logistics industry and how to maximize her opportunities within it. She heeded their advice to participate in various clubs of genuine interest as well as networking within the industry.

As a result, Beth will graduate from Keiser University with a degree in Business Administration in May 2021 after four years of study and participation in various clubs which provided exposure to employers as well as offered scholarship opportunities. For example, she earned a $2,000 scholarship from Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) Northeast Florida which advances women’s careers to strengthen the transportation industry. Involvement in the International Propeller Club, JAX Chapter generated award recognition as well as an interview with TOTE Services.

While still pursuing her degree, Beth obtained a position at TOTE Services as a result of this interview. TOTE Services facilitates ship operations and management of U.S. flag vessels and U.S. government owned vessels. As a Marine Personnel Specialist, Beth processes paperwork ensuring that all people can safely board ships, ensuring adherence to regulations and compliance, and interfacing with the officers to ensure the processing meets their needs. “I love puzzles and I miss the sea. This role is as close as I can get while still ensuring my role as a Mom comes first and still having satisfaction of serving others.”

Beth will start graduate school with a focus on Business Administration in Marketing or Accounting so she can continue career laddering. “I like knowing I can help. There are tangible results of my efforts. It’s important to know that I’m being useful with my time and that I can have a piece of this huge industry.” She also takes advantage of virtual training and educational programs offered by TOTE Services via the Blue Ocean platform.

Trends that Beth anticipates seeing include more ships powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), a move in the maritime industry that began with the company with which she now works and which fueled the world’s first LNG-powered containership in 2015.

She also sees the increase of automated functions with an increased need for specialized personnel to maintain machines. The push for a balanced, happy employee in the industry
is also important, as is instilling confidence and leadership in the next generation of the workforce.

Beth states, “I want people like women and young professionals to feel empowered. Get past the fact that I’m a woman and just think about my abilities. Look at who you are, not what you are. See beyond a demographic.”

Financial Services

Sean O'Neill

Intern, Citi Bank and Deutsche Bank

Sean O’Neill is a third-year student at Florida State University, who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. As a graduate of the St. Johns County’s Creekside High School, Sean has taken advantage of multiple internship opportunities over recent years. These internships have all occurred in Jacksonville, at Fortune 500 companies such as Citibank and Deutsche Bank, along with local Jacksonville start-ups like OnDefend. These internships were focused on cybersecurity, one of the fastest growing fields globally, and helped Sean to learn valuable skills that can’t be taught in the classroom.

Internships are highly beneficial work-based learning opportunities. Sean is able to apply what he has learned in the classroom to real-world situations and gain hands on experience from seasoned industry professionals. These experiences have proven extremely valuable for Sean, who states, “With the training and experience I have gained through school and internships, I feel very confident in my skills and abilities as a cybersecurity professional and look forward to future opportunities throughout my career.”

Sean has proven himself to be a skilled contributor to the workforce, garnering praise from colleagues and industry experts. His LinkedIn profile features this quote from a former supervisor: “Sean worked as an intern for me over the summer. He showed true leadership skills, quickly grasped the cyber security skills to have a successful career in the future and was a true asset to the company even as an intern.” From the knowledge gained through his collegiate studies and internships, to the cybersecurity industry certifications and other independent training, he has generated a wealth of experience to prepare him for his future career as a cybersecurity professional within the financial services sector.

Kenneth McAllister

Director of Business Services, Jax Federal Credit Union

Kenneth McAllister, a graduate of Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), was recently named Director of Business Services for Jax Federal Credit Union, which serves members across Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Baker and Nassau Counties.

In his new role, Kenneth is responsible for the continued development and implementation of products and services for commercial members, such as commercial mortgages, company vehicle loans, business lines of credit and equipment loans. Previously, he held the position of Branch Vice President for VyStar Credit Union.

Kenneth graduated from FSCJ in 2015 with an Associate of Arts (AA) Degree in Business Administration and Management.

Kenneth became interested in the financial services industry because it was “the perfect combination of people and numbers. I liked math and science.” The financial services sector allows Kenneth to positively impact the lives of people. For example, his work helped people get a first credit card, home or car, all with the education required to make smart financial choices. As Kenneth’s role has evolved, he helps maintain and grow businesses.

Kenneth enjoys the industry because of its constantly changing environment which requires progressive learning. When he entered the industry, Kenneth taught himself a great deal about interest rates and loans. He also mastered the skill of talking to customers about their finances, which initially challenged his comfort zone. Now, Kenneth sees his career choice as one that’s generated happiness and has provided a meaningful career. He encourages those seeking to enter the financial services industry to understand themselves and seek a field that is interesting and “goes beyond chasing a dollar.” Kenneth exemplifies selecting a career pathway and setting goals to achieve success — all of which was accomplished using opportunities and resources in Northeast Florida.

Elmin Sacic

Senior Mortgage Loan Processor, Citi

A strong work ethic and a thoughtful approach has helped Elmin Sacic achieve a rewarding career that matches his strengths and personality style.

Sacic, a Sr. Mortgage Loan Processor at Citi and Keiser University graduate, has successfully navigated his career journey by consciously assessing his goals and performance while maintaining a willingness to learn new skills and explore opportunities. His drive to achieve and exceed expectations has helped him develop strong interpersonal skills, conscientious business judgement and excellent time management abilities.

“I knew I wanted a career path to help others,” Sacic said. “As a loan processor, it is rewarding to help others achieve their goals.”

At Keiser, Sacic earned a bachelor’s degree of Business Administration with a focus on finance and financial management services in June 2020. While he initially attended Keiser because of its convenient location, Sacic recognized the excellence of its programs and appreciated the guidance and assistance he received throughout his student experience.

In August 2020, Sacic joined Citi, where he manages an assigned pipeline of 50 plus loans on a daily and weekly basis. Sacic is responsible for processing loans from application to closing, assisting clients by striving to provide the best guidance and service to meet their needs.

“It’s important to be as transparent as possible and build trust throughout the process,” he said.

The mortgage industry is constantly evolving and impacted by the overall real estate market. The pandemic forced the industry to go digital and many, including Sacic, continue to work virtually. Much of the daily workflow in the mortgage industry is built upon relationships and the customer experience. Sacic draws upon his interpersonal communication abilities, strong organizational skills and passion for analyzing data and information, which required him to master calculation capabilities.

“I didn’t find math to be my strongest suit in the beginning but I took on a challenge,” Sacic said. “Finance requires a willingness to calculate for presenting data and information.”

Sacic is pursuing a National Mortgage Lending Services (NMLS) license, an industry distinction and certification of excellence. In addition to his drive to learn, Sacic credits his dependability and time management skills for his success. He acknowledges the importance of working with transparency, integrity and adaptability to succeed in the financial services industry.

“Change is always happening in the finance world,” he said.

In addition to finding a career that matches his skills, Sacic’s success and engagement aligns with his company’s culture and mission.

“Citi fits who I am and It is a great feeling to know they are there to push us to grow and succeed in our respectable career paths,” he said.

There are expansive employment opportunities in the financial services industry. Sacic’s advice to individuals considering the mortgage/loan processing field is to have patience and a willingness to learn.

Shannon Coles

Senior Vice President Business Management, TIAA Bank

Shannon Coles, current Vice President of Strategic Business Development at TIAA Bank, maximized her collegiate experience and has translated that experience into career success. Shannon leveraged her positive student experience into a clear career pathway. She’s worked for TIAA Bank in various roles for over 12 years. In addition, Shannon pursued her professional education by attending the CBA Executive Banking School.

A graduate of the University of North Florida in 2007, Shannon initially became interested in the industry after taking some accounting classes. Seeking the ability to infuse more creativity into her studies, she took a financial management class. She enjoyed it immensely, as it permitted application of rules and practices in different ways. Financial management presented flexibility within a specific framework — something that meshed naturally with her personality.

Shannon’s interest and aptitude were further cultivated through involvement in the Osprey Financial Group, a student managed investment fund responsible for a $500,000 endowment. Only 10-15 total graduate and undergraduate students are accepted into this program each year. Shannon was accepted after completing a competitive application and interview process.
The group involved competitions in which the team completed and presented projects to industry professionals and leaders. This work, in addition to her course load, taught Shannon valuable skills in written and oral communication, teamwork, accountability and conflict resolution. This experience provided real skills and resulted in heightened confidence and empowerment.

Shannon also participated in the Finance & Investment Society, as well as Students in Free Enterprise, additional activities that supplemented classroom learning and made her a more valuable hire. Her advice to others seeking this career pathway is to use experiences to “stretch and expand your skill set, as it will open other doors. Take opportunities to expand your network with professors and industry professionals.”

Ultimately, Shannon is an example of how an individual can successfully select a career pathway, pursue education in that pathway, and obtain gainful, fulfilling employment — all right here in the Northeast Florida region.

Chris Kalin

Regional President, PNC Bank of Florida

Jacksonville native Chris Kalin exemplifies the formula for success. With more than 16 years of experience in the financial services industry, he understands that success is a result of a strong work ethic, a drive to succeed, and being ready for and open to career opportunities that come your way.

“You can see where your future can take you if you put in the effort,” Kalin said.

Kalin is the regional president of PNC Bank in North Florida – an area that includes Jacksonville, Daytona, Gainesville, and Tallahassee. His extensive banking experience includes a variety of middle market and corporate banking roles, with responsibilities that included credit analysis, commercial strategy, portfolio management, relationship management, and market expansion.

He didn’t always aspire to become a banker. As a teen, he had an interest in pursuing a degree in criminal justice after watching several crime drama television series. After taking a few classes, he discovered it wasn’t like what he had seen on TV. Fortunately, an advisor recognized his interest in numbers and math, and encouraged him to explore finance as a major. He is a graduate of Providence School and the University of North Florida with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in Finance.

Kalin began his banking career in Jacksonville at Wachovia, which is now Wells Fargo. He was recognized as a top talent and was quickly promoted to a leadership role in Los Angeles. Following a successful build out in Southern California, and recognizing his aptitude and pursuit of excellence, he was promoted to another leadership role in Chicago. While working in Illinois, he maximized his time and earned an MBA from the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. Another promotion brought him back to Jacksonville in 2014.

Kalin has been with PNC since 2017, where he originally helped lead the corporate banking efforts in North Florida. That success led him to be named the North Florida regional president in October 2022.

“I am fortunate to have a career that inspires me, and to work for an organization with incredibly talented individuals that I respect,” he said.

Kalin currently serves on the board of directors of the Museum of Science & History as well as the JAX Chamber. He serves on the Business Advisory Council at UNF where he also spends time mentoring students.

“When I speak with students, I assure them that you don’t have to have everything figured out when you graduate,” Kalin said. “Success will come if you work hard, are excited and engaged, and deliver everything that’s expected from you.”

As a mentor, this energetic leader encourages students to pursue lifelong learning by keeping a pulse on current events through reading reputable news media outlets and staying on top of industry trends in real time. He also recommends students focus on connecting and building relationships with others.

“Your network starts now,” Kalin said. “It’s important to maintain those connections. You never know when you may cross paths again.”

To achieve career success, he encourages students to be likeable, trustworthy, and a team player.

“People want to do business with people that they like and who honor their commitments,” Kalin said.

This JAXUSA partner has been recognized as a leader in the community as a recipient of the Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. He is also an alumnus of Leadership Jacksonville and Lifework Leadership.

He recommends individuals concentrate on their personal goals and achievements, rather than compare themselves to their peers.

“The only person you should be trying to beat is the person you were yesterday. If you focus on what you can control, be the best you can be, and surround yourself with other positive, like-minded individuals, career opportunities will find you,” Kalin said.


Ashley Szczukowski

Business Development Manager, Marand Construction

Ashley Szczukowski never intended to be employed in the construction industry. She returned to school at a turning point, needing to make a change because of an economic downturn. She attended Florida State College at Jacksonville and the University of North Florida as a non-traditional student at age 38, studying communications and public relations. She credits the generosity of a local family that provided a full ride scholarship as “making an investment in our community and our people.”
Ashley’s skill set, which includes relationship building, fundraising and sales, hadn’t been utilized in construction prior to her Business Development Manager role at Marand Builders. Rather, she worked in health care and at non-profits in various capacities involving donor relations as well as corporate and agency partnerships. She heard about the job “through the grapevine.” Ashley thought she was chatting with Marand about making a referral for the role. Instead, the conversation made it apparent that she was the best fit.
When asked what interests and motivates her in the construction industry, Ashley indicated that understanding and meeting the needs of her customer is key. She loves “connecting the person to the THING. Whether that’s helping a person build a medical office building, buying a big piece of equipment, it’s all about connecting people and watching the relationships grow.” She encourages others who are considering their career pathways to look at construction, saying, “Look at your skill set. Determine where there are gaps. Decide what it will take to fill those gaps and be willing to do the work that others are not willing to do.”
Being a woman in a historically male-driven occupation doesn’t intimidate Ashley at all. “The paradigm is changing. The landscape is different. There are many women LEADING in architecture, firms, and in project management in our region. It is great to have a female perspective, not only in design, but in infrastructure as well.” Ashley shared an example of a design, project management, and architectural team from one of Jacksonville’s largest employers which is made up of 75 percent women.
Ultimately, the construction industry affords Ashley a great career opportunity to grow her career in an area she’s called home for 18 years. “We’re bringing quality people to the area and we’re being noticed internationally for our quality craftsmanship in many areas.”

Janet Duffy

Documents Manager, Eisman & Russo, Inc.

Construction Career Days, held in February each year at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, engages 11th and 12th graders. Over the course of three days, over 3,000 students in 11 counties throughout the region participate in learning labs, use equipment, and can ask questions of industry professionals. Every student is encouraged to attend these events, regardless of their interest in transportation construction or engineering, as there are jobs in accounting, project management, human resource management, and marketing that exist in the construction industry as well.

According to Janet Duffy of Eisman & Russo, Inc., “As the needs grow in our community, so does the need for our young men and women in our area to learn about and pursue a career in the Construction / Engineering profession. The Department of Transportation and the Transportation Industry have teamed together to put on a one-of-a-kind event to show high school students the many great career opportunities that exist so hopefully they will pursue a careers in our industry.”

Duffy is one of the many event organizers and volunteers who makes the event shine. Contractors, engineers and utility companies share their expertise with students each year to plant seeds in the hopes of growing interest in construction-related occupations.
The event is a partnership between the Florida Transportation Builders Association (FTBA), Industry Partners, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Students will interact with the industry via over 50 learning labs. Over 20 exhibitors are on hand as well. Students are given the opportunity to operate heavy equipment and learn more about scholarship opportunities offered by the NEFL Construction Career Days.

Northeast Florida Builder's Association (NEFBA)

Apprenticeship Program

According to Northeast Florida Builder’s Association’s (NEFBA) website, apprenticeships offer a multitude of benefits to “Earn While You Learn,” including:

• Structured training system registered with the Florida Department of Education’s Workforce Development Division.
• 10 percent hourly rate increase every year of the program paid by the employer.
• Job placement assistance upon complete application submission.
• 2,000 hours of on-the-job training each year of the program.
• Graduate debt-free with four years of working experience in the second fastest growing industry in Florida.

NEFBA Apprenticeship partners with the Jacksonville Campus of Keiser University to offer workforce development career training in the form of paid apprenticeships. In 2016, Keiser and NEFBA won the “Innovator in Education” award through the Jacksonville Business Journal for their contribution to the industry.

In 2017, NEFBA Apprenticeship began participating with the Florida State Apprenticeship Grant program. As a participant, NEFBA has an articulation agreement in place with Florida State College of Jacksonville for three of their A.S. degree programs. Graduates of the NEFBA Apprenticeship program can be awarded up to 27 credit hours of college credit towards a 60 hour A.S. degree upon completion of any of NEFBA’s apprenticeship programs. This is an especially attractive option for apprentices who entered the program having previously completed college courses in high school or another college or university.

Erin Virgin

Electrical Apprentice at Electrical Training Alliance of Jacksonville

After studying at Eastern Illinois University and transferring to Southeast Missouri State University to complete a bachelor of science in Business Administration, as well as spending nearly a decade in the mortgage loan processing industry, Erin Virgin chose another career path. “I was ready for a change. I wanted to work with my hands. I felt that electricity would be an interesting and challenging career,” said Erin.

Erin is a third-year electrician apprentice at the Electrical Training Alliance of Jacksonville (ETA). This apprenticeship program offers work-based learning on site with veteran electricians as well as trade-related classroom and online learning. The program allows students to earn while they learn about the craft--all without incurring any debt.

Electrical professionals are employed in many capacities such as telephone and computer infrastructure, audio-visual installation, and electrical facility maintenance. According to, electrical professionals “install, provide and maintain the backbone of power and information system’s needs.”

In 2018, Erin applied for and was accepted into the ETA’s apprenticeship program. Currently, she is halfway through her third year of a five-year program. Erin is working on a new construction build for Baptist Hospital, helping to build a Newborn Intensive Care Unit and a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (NICU/PICU). A typical day involves reporting to the job site at 7 AM and working 10 hours per day. This overtime is essential in completing the project. Erin also attends school twice a week in the evening.

Juggling this hectic schedule has its rewards, however. Erin enjoys the format, stating, “I really enjoy working in the field while going to school. I can directly apply what I am learning in the classroom on the job. Being involved in new construction is rewarding to see the progress and know your work building a hospital for children will impact the community for years to come.”

Making this career pathway change meant that Erin took a more physically demanding job rather than working at her computer desk each day. After some adjustment time, however, she truly enjoys a more active workday. Ultimately, the apprenticeship has opened many doors she hadn’t previously considered and has offered the chance to try several different aspects of electrical work. The future is exciting, as Erin has considered getting into solar and installing chargers for electric vehicles.

“I would encourage anyone, especially women, to get into the trade. It is a lot of hard work. Working full time and going to school isn’t easy, but you will be on a path to an amazing career. Being an electrician has so many different aspects to it, and the work is always changing and evolving with technology. It’s exciting to think about where this will lead in the future!”

At the completion of the apprenticeship, graduates receive 30 credits toward an AS degree in Industrial Management Technology at Florida State College of Jacksonville. So, individuals wishing to pursue a degree can leverage these credits toward developing their career pathway.

Recreation & Hospitality

Rich Grigsby

Professor of Culinary Management, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ)

Classic cooking shows--Julia Child’s The French Chef and Graham Kerr’s The Galloping Gourmet--inspired a young man from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to pursue a career that now impacts the educational and professional development of students in the Culinary Management program at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ).

Chef Grigsby, Professor of Culinary Management at Florida State College at Jacksonville, is a recipient of the 2021 Postsecondary Educator of the Year Award from the Center for the Advancement of Food Service Education. However, before reaching this point professionally, he learned about the industry while watching television chefs as a child.

After the steel mill crash in Pennsylvania, Chef Grigsby left Pittsburgh and, at his brother’s urging, relocated to Palm Beach where he began a newly created 3-year apprenticeship at The Breakers, a luxury resort hotel. This foundational experience led to the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta and other exclusive clubs and hotels.

At FSCJ, Chef Grigsby is now part of a 5-person instruction and operational team offering a Culinary Management associate degree program, one of 2 state college programs of twelve possible in the state to receive an exemplary rating because of full compliance. The program was accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission through 2026. FSCJ also offers a Culinary Arts Technical Certificate. Students learn menu and marketing, food production, nutrition, and hospitality management.

Students meet learning objectives via different labs. For example, Chef ensures plenty of onions are available to practice knife skills. Students execute skills through a simulated restaurant environment, Café Frisch, created through a financial gift by Holocaust Survivor and Jacksonville resident, Harry Frisch, founder of Beaver Street Fisheries. Proper plating, receiving customer feedback, and restaurant operations are imperative aspects of the curriculum. Chef said, “You can’t learn computer programming without a computer. You can’t learn all aspects of culinary arts without a restaurant.”

FSCJ students have access to an Aquaponics lab and an organic garden featuring various fruits and herbs, speaking to the Chef’s commitment to using seasonal fresh foods. He said, “When the door at Whole Foods opens up and you smell strawberries, that’s when you use strawberries.” This concept was reinforced during his 4-restaurant stage in FSCJ’s sister city of Nantes, France, where he learned more about various cooking techniques and grew accustomed to 4 AM trips to market and to local rabbit and goat farms to source daily ingredients.

While Chef prefers to cook sans-recipe, some roles in the profession involve distinct precision--pastry chefs who cannot deviate from a recipe or risk failure, or a hospital dietician who must adhere to careful guidelines to maintain a patient’s health. Students can use the AS program as a foundation for a nutrition degree to create menus for athletes or individuals with special dietary needs. They also learn important concepts about trends, projections, interpersonal skills, and how food brings people together. “Conflict resolution begins at the table,” Chef stated.

Culinary Arts graduates are making their careers in the region, at Restaurant Orsay, Black Sheep Restaurant, and One Ocean for example. “I always walk past the kitchen to check for former students,” Chef said.

Adriana Farrell, Culinary Arts 2020 Graduate, is excited about her career pathway. She said, “The program revolves around teaching students the different skills needed for every position in a restaurant, from a waiter to a chef. When I first walked into Café Frisch, I opened the door to a successful future. FSCJ’s Culinary Program has helped turn myself into the chef I once dreamed of becoming.“

The program involves completion of two internships. Opportunities range from international, national, and regional internship opportunities. Chef recommends that students “Try two completely different internships. Determine what you want but don’t be disappointed with where you may go. Travel is essential to learn more about types of food and various preparations.”

To watch FSCJ students share their internship experiences, click:




Mandy Stelz

Keiser University Clinical Coordinator/Radiologic Technology Instructor

Originally from Florida's Panhandle, Keiser University Clinical Coordinator/Radiologic Technology Instructor Mandy Stelz relocated to Jacksonville after completing a hospitality degree. She had been accepted to Mayo Clinic's School of Radiography in Jacksonville and decided to realize a childhood dream.

"As a kid, I broke a lot of bones and had a lot of x-rays. Despite being in pain, I was fascinated by my x-rays and wanted an explanation of what those x-rays meant," Mandy said.

Following completion of the Mayo program, Mandy left Jacksonville and worked at a Pensacola Hospital as an X-ray Technologist. There, she helped train college radiography students. Mandy moved back to Jacksonville to work in MRI, but the spark for teaching was lit. So, when a former professor reached out with an adjunct teaching opportunity, Mandy's career path changed. This led to Keiser University, where she's taught for six years.

Mandy realized "There's a lot to education. You're not just standing in front of a classroom." So, she pursued her master's degree in Education with Keiser University and is now in the process of earning her Doctorate in Educational Technology from Walden University. Those doctorate studies have added tremendous value to her teaching approach during the pandemic, as she implemented strategies learned into her own classroom. She also continued use of a pre-pandemic strategy of asking students to record themselves executing learned skills, followed up by self-assessment. This has now become a best practice in her teaching repertoire and ensures that students are ready for clinical experiences.

One of her favorite moments while teaching is when a student's learning all comes together. "We study medical terminology, positioning, radiation physics, and anatomy and physiology. When that lightbulb moment happens, I have genuine excitement for students."

In her role as Clinical Coordinator at Keiser University, Mandy visits over 20 clinical sites to assess students in action. These sites are top healthcare systems in the region who hire students following degree completion. Mandy follows students in the field as working techs. She said, "I want students to go into their clinicals and love it." However, she will encourage them to continue their education via Keiser's Bachelor in Imaging Science program.

"Teaching is one of the most rewarding things you can do, so it takes time to know yourself and develop your style. It's okay to question yourself and feel overwhelmed, "claims Mandy. She encourages new teachers to find a mentor and keep a journal. She sees the role of the teacher as being a perpetually positive leader who easily adapts to change, someone who ensures that students are seen and heard, and someone who illuminates the "why" and "how" to students so they can put learning into practice. One of Mandy's favorite quotes speaks to this philosophy and comes from William Butler Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

Ultimately, broken bones have led to a fulfilling career pathway as a college educator.

Kenneth Ford

Teacher and Math Interventionist

"I always was a math guy. Science answers so many questions kids have about the world and how things work. Then, they begin applying that learning," said Kenneth Ford, a teacher and math interventionist at Rufus E. Payne Elementary School.

As a child, Ford was diagnosed with leukemia; he missed most of his seventh-grade year due to hospitalization and being homebound. Ford was able to transition back into the classroom successfully due to his eighth-grade English teacher, Ms. Tave, whom he credits for being instrumental in his career pathway choice as well. Ford remembers that she allowed students to free write at the beginning of class, which was a great way for him to work through his thoughts and feelings. His appreciation for this special teacher provided a spark and influenced his choice to pursue teaching.

A Jacksonville native and graduate of William M. Raines High School Ford pursued his undergraduate studies in Information Technology at the University of North Florida. He also obtained his master's degree in Information Technology at Florida State University.

Ford has three years of teaching experience. He has taught in third and fifth grades and now supports teachers and students in all grade levels as a math interventionist. He enjoys teaching more complex math, science, logic, and reasoning skills at higher grade levels.

Prior to transferring to Rufus E. Payne in the interventionist role, he developed Carter G. Woodson Elementary's plan for data-driven instruction. He uses positive behavior management through innovation and a student-centered approach which is evidenced in his classroom by use of structure, technology, and hands-on engagement opportunities. "There are different ways of learning and instruction needed to meet different learning styles to make sure you reach every child in the classroom."

As a teacher, each class begins with Ford detailing why students need to learn the material, including sharing with students how they can use their skills in real-world applications and occupations. He emphasizes that learning through fun is paramount in his classroom, saying, "It's a better experience overall and students don't even realize they're learning." Ford incorporates movement, collaboration, and accountability into his daily instruction as well, emphasizing that students make each other better leaders when they're engaged.

These teaching techniques garnered the attention of his colleagues, resulting in Ford being one of five finalists for the 2021 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year. Ford, sponsored by Wells Fargo, was honored as one of only five finalists at the 30th Annual EDDY Awards presented by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund as part of a group of committed educators from Southside Middle School, Mandarin High School, R.L. Brown Gifted and Talented Academy, and Lake Lucina Elementary School.

Not only was the recognition from colleagues inspiring, but Ford shared "After the Teacher of the Year nomination, I got a lot of emails from former students." However, the most rewarding aspect of education is "when students grow academically as well as human beings--their transformation. We're building students up. I want to push them to become leaders themselves so when they're adults, they're already trained leaders."

Ford has learned to adapt amid challenging circumstances as a teacher. With half of his career set against the global COVID-19 pandemic, Ford learned to use more technology and investigate new means of reaching and impacting his students. He will continue using some of these proven strategies.

Despite these challenges, Ford offers this advice to anyone considering a career pathway in education. He said, "Do it. Connect with other educators. They'll help guide you through the process. It will help you adjust quickly. Stay connected with your colleagues to share resources and learn from each other. Stick it out. You're learning in that first year, but experiences teaches you how to adjust."

Frank H. Peterson Academies

Frank H. Peterson, a laboratory school in the Duval County Public School system, offers students a four year Early Childhood Academy program based on National Career Academy Coalition Standards of Practice that facilitate students’ growth and development. The ultimate goal is providing instruction and opportunity to best prepare students to obtain the industry recognized certification, National Childhood Development Associate (CDA). As students are promoted by grade, they increase their preparedness for credentialing. The frameworks also provide college readiness with opportunity for dual enrollment through Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Based on Florida Frameworks for Early Childhood Education, students engage in learning about financial management associated with operating a childcare center; health, safety, and environmental issues such as identifying child abuse and neglect; adherence to all rules and regulations associated with working in or managing a daycare; and developmentally appropriate practices for children through age eight.

Geraldine Thompson is the lead Early Childhood Academy teacher at Frank H. Peterson. She’s been in the teaching profession for over thirty years. While most of her career was spent in Health Education, Geraldine always liked Family and Consumer Science. So, she returned to obtain the additional certification in Early Childhood Education.

Geraldine shared that the academy involves students from freshman to senior. In her three years of teaching in this particular program, 23 students have received their national certification. To qualify to take the test, students must have 480 hours of lab experience with children ages birth through five years, professional observation by the Council for Professional Recognition, and 120 hours of Early Childhood Education. Students must take and pass the written exam administered by the Council of Professional Recognition to obtain the CDA.

Students receive hands-on experience onsite at Frank H. Peterson via the Silver Eaglets’ Preschool. This is not a daycare—specific, thematic curriculum is taught by students. The Silver Eaglets’ Preschool is offered from 8:30-1:00 Monday through Friday, allowing ample time for assessment of student understanding and application of course material. Parents can bring in children ages 2 to 5 years old. Typically, 15 to 20 preschoolers attend. Student-teachers are divided into different disciplines with the goal of preparing the preschoolers for kindergarten. This experience also prepares students for taking the CDA exam.

Geraldine likes the applicability and functionality of the CDA. Many successful, nationally recognized experts in the field started their careers with a CDA foundation. Due to the COVI-19 pandemic, students have been doing more independent research projects at home. Geraldine recently assigned her students to study and report on these experts, such as the CEO for the Council of Professional Recognition ( and the National association of Educational Young Children ( This research is also serving the purpose of promoting student membership in organizations that advocate leadership skills.

Students are learning that transferrable skills generated from this certification are very important. Geraldine indicated that, “Even in the midst of COVID, you can transition how you use childcare skills. You can do Zoom lessons with students. Even as a parent, students will use this knowledge.”

Students have seen that this curriculum has value and provides a great career pathway perspective. She shared that a student emailed her, saying, “My eyes are opened and I really want to pursue this profession now.” Students who have graduated from the program are using this credential in various ways. Two are working in pre-schools looking to direct and own their own pre-schools, combining an educational and entrepreneurial pathway. One student obtained her CDA as a Junior and has worked the entire school year in a pre-school. She is pursuing a college major related to children.

Ultimately, a high school academy can provide a fantastic framework for foundational skills leading to one’s chosen profession.

Charles Darwin Magdaluyo

2022 Vystar Duval County Teacher of the Year

On January 22, 2022, Charles Darwin Magdaluyo – Mr. M to his students – was named the 2022 VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year at the 31st Annual EDDY Awards. This celebration is a time-honored tradition lead by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to elevate Jacksonville’s leading teachers.

The Rotary International sponsored Magdaluyo, who was one of Duval County Public School's 180 Teachers of the Year. After being selected as one of fifteen semi-finalists and narrowed to five finalists, Magdaluyo was identified as being the district’s top example of an educational professional and a true difference-maker.

Magdaluyo is in his fourth year of teaching Anatomy & Physiology at Ribault High School, where he has also taught Biology. After studying at the Philippine Normal University, renowned for its educational degree programs, Mr. M came to Jacksonville and began teaching one week later. However, his entrance into education was not as straightforward.

As the oldest sibling, Magdaluyo’s parents often asked that he look after his siblings. His default “babysitting” mode included playing teacher. Although he knew in his heart he wanted to teach science, he initially pursued post-secondary studies in graphics technology based on his parent’s encouragement and his exam scores. After one year of study, Magdaluyo admitted to his parents that he would not be happy unless he pursued teaching as his chosen career pathway—and true vocation.

Once Magdaluyo settled on this decision, his enthusiasm and commitment has not waivered. The quality of his instructional methods and his approach to student centered learning make his classroom one in which students easily can feel comfortable and engaged. He says, “A teacher nurtures through their content, but also by teaching character and 21st century skills. Show students your energy and you’ll see it in return.”

Often, students think that their teachers chose their profession because they were themselves outstanding students. However, Magdaluyo shares that he was not the best student as a child, but that he witnessed his teachers working diligently on his behalf. He understands the stress of not always understanding the classroom material. As a result, he insists on creating a physical classroom environment of belonging. A few of his strategies involve creative bulletin boards, classroom seating arranged into teams, and interaction while students problem-solve in real-time.

The start of his teaching career was not picture perfect. Magdaluyo said he reflected after each day to determine how he could more effectively interact with each student. His daily analysis combined with the mentorship provided by his administrators and fellow teachers improved his classroom management skills and teaching style. He says, “You don’t learn from your experiences. You learn from reflecting on your experiences.”

Magdaluyo enjoys teaching subject matter that is difficult but also connects to social issues, such as mental health. He teaches students to arm themselves with facts so they can think critically and be socially aware rather than rely on misinformation.

Magdaluyo’s teaching philosophy requires that he considers the whole student and their development both in and outside of his classroom. “Students can be strong in mind but also in character to create a better community,” he says. As such, he incorporates what he calls the “Three Gs” into his classroom: goal setting, growth mindset, and grit. He encourages his students to set goals, believe in themselves, stay productive and persist through obstacles.

“This is not just a job. It is a vocation. You burn out if you do something you don’t like,” says Magdaluyo. As such, his influence reaches beyond his classroom. He helps other international teachers feel comfortable in their new surroundings through learning communities.

Truly, succeeding in the educational career pathway requires the Three Gs from those who wish to pursue it. Perhaps, like Mr. M., teaching is for you.

Tonya Whitehurst

Area Director of Human Resources, Putnam County Schools

Sometimes, it can be difficult to see your career pathway. Should you pursue additional schooling? Will you find a job that provides gratification as well as increased pay? How will you know you’re a good culture fit within the organization?

These questions and more have been answered by the Putnam County School District via the Paras to Pros Program (Paraprofessionals to Professionals). Tonya Whitehurst, Area Director of Human Resources for the District says this program is a “win-win-win.” The Paras to Pros program is an exclusive offer for those working as paraprofessionals in the Putnam County School District. It’s an internal program established to grow their own talent.

However, it takes a strong partnership to sustain the Paras to Pros program. Initially, Saint Leo University approached Putnam Schools to create a program leveraging their Elementary Education, Bachelor of Arts, K-6 degree program. While enrolled in their degree program, they’ll learn Classroom Management, Educational Technology, Teaching Diverse Populations, Reading Foundations in the Elementary Classroom, and courses in teaching Elementary Math, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts. Saint Leo received approval from the State of Florida to utilize the in-class experience already gleaned by the paraprofessionals to apply to their practicum and internship hour requirements. No leave of absence is required to complete the final internship required. Paraprofessionals that are targeted for this program have an associate degree or 60 college credit hours, as well as one year of service in the district. These individuals must be interested in pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Education and sign an Intent to Enroll Agreement.

Tonya indicated that the District’s goal was to achieve a ten student class for an initial paraprofessional cohort. Last spring, they achieved that goal with a cohort of 10. Nine of ten are still enrolled in the program. Instructors and administrators within the District having Masters in Education Leadership and Reading degrees also assist with providing instruction. Students take two face-to-face classes and two online classes per semester. There are many benefits of participating in this program, such as access to tuition assistance. Paraprofessional students accepted into the program receive reduced tuition from Saint Leo. Many students qualify for student aid and grants such as the Florida Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) grant, which flattens the cost of tuition to $320 per credit hour at a rate locked in for two years. Students can also reduce their tuition via a TEACH grant by committing to teach in a low socioeconomic school.

Putnam County Schools purchase textbooks that students can check out and use—a Paras to Pros Library. Saint Leo agreed to keep the same textbook for two to three cohorts, so it allows the District to alleviate costs without incurring a great deal of costs themselves.

At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, nine paraprofessionals will have earned a BA in Elementary Education from Saint Leo. Students finishing the program will be considered first for hire. The District will help students with a subject area exam if they are interested in transitioning to middle grades. Graduates agree to work for the District for a minimum of one year.

Tonya sees a distinct advantage in growing their own talent pipeline. Throughout the Para’s degree program which involves student teaching experiences, District teachers can observe strengths, weaknesses, and improvements, all which will determine the best placement within the District.

Tonya anticipates that the Paras to Pros Program will only keep on building. “It’s motivating because paraprofessionals can clearly see the end result.” Typically, individuals can be reluctant to pay for and pursue training that may not yield a promotion. The Paras to Pros Program removes that apprehension. Tonya anticipates a waiting list and increased interest after the first cohort graduates. “The District has a long-term recruiting and retention strategy as well as succession planning.” Clearly, this career pathway checks a lot of boxes for Putnam County Schools.

Carley Feagle

Agriculture Teacher, Keystone Heights High School

Sometimes, one's career pathway circles back to the beginning. Such is the case with Carley Dyal, an agricultural teacher at Keystone Heights High School (KHHS) in Clay County.

Carley attended Keystone Heights as a student and was involved in Keystone's Agriscience pathway from middle school through high school. Carley's family has a strong agricultural background, as her paternal grandfather farmed. Carley showed steer and raised cows. She participated in 4-H in Elementary School and FFA in High School.

Carley was dual-enrolled, earning an Associate degree from Santa Fe College while attending KHHS. She earned a B.S. in Agriculture Education the University of Florida. It wasn't Carley's plan to return to Clay County after her college graduation.

Carley had interned at Santa Fe High School, which had a large lab in conjunction with a veterinary science program. She thought she would stay around Union and Alachua Counties. However, a position opened up in Clay County. Combine that opportunity with a bit of homesickness, and Carley realized she was "meant to go home."

Currently, Carley teaches 3 Middle School and 2 High School agriculture classes. She taught at Lake Asbury Junior High School for a year and has been at KHHS for the past two years. Her middle school courses focus on introductory information on the basics of the agriculture industry, such as plants and animals. Her high school courses delve more deeply into animal agriscience. Unlike Carley, only a handful of her students work or live on a farm or are involved in 4-H. However, her passion and enthusiasm resonates in the classroom. She knew from an early age that her career pathway involved sharing her skills and knowledge in the classroom.

Carley is motivated to provide students experiences they'll remember. She recalls student amazement at planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting it. She said students enjoy the experience of raising a baby calf to become a full grown 1,200 pound animal by April—an animal they have fed, brushed and provided care. She also cited field trips as being an experience students enjoy, particularly the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia each October. This hands-on event feature vendors such as John Deere. Carley charters a bus for 50 students. This perennial favorite of some students involves horse demonstrations, a livestock pavilion and field demonstrations.

Another fun aspect of Carley's pursuit of the educational pathways is her ability to reach students who have an interest in both agriculture and technology. Self-driving tractors have GPS technology embedded in the equipment to maximize efficiency in planting and harvesting, as well as maximize crop yield. Weather analysis, automated irrigations, and reduced water usage are all end-products of increased technology used in today's agriculture. Carley cited one Keystone graduate who was keenly interested in drones, so he pursued a Drone Technology Program at the University of North Florida. He intends to use this skill to fly over farms, providing remote surveillance of properties and helping to identify potential issues with crops or livestock without the cost of manual inspections.

One of Carley's favorite aspects of teaching is seeing the lasting effects on kids. One parent approached her after a draining first year of teaching and indicated, "You've brought him out of his shell. He's actually talking about his career plans now." Much like her students tracking the growth of their plants or animals, Carley enjoys monitoring the continued growth of her students after they've left Keystone High School. Carley encourages anyone considering education as a career path that they'll have such a tremendous impact on students. She acknowledges the significant demand for teachers. "It's a hard job. Some days are rough, especially in your first year. It's worth it. Kids see your passion and interest, and they'll appreciate it. Surround yourself with a team of other teachers you can count on and bounce ideas off of, even if they're not in your content area."

Carley has made an impact on senior teachers and colleagues as well. Former Agriculture teacher and current Career & Technical Education Supervisor for Clay County Schools, Kelly Mosley, says, "Carley is a wonderful example. She is a natural teacher and she is a tremendous example of a ‘beginning' teacher. It always surprises me she has only been teaching for 3 years because she has skills and abilities far beyond her years!"

Sometimes in life, the same soil that helps to grow you is the soil you also cultivate for others.


Jesus Garay

Owner of Jacksonville Global Freight & Commerce

Senator Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized Jesus Garay (pictured left), owner of Jacksonville's Global Freight & Commerce during National Veterans Small Business Week.

After 20 years of active military service, which included 6 combat tours in Iraq and Bosnia, as well as 3 tours in Korea, Jesus Garay started Global Freight & Commerce. Not one to let military retirement in 2014 ease his schedule, Garay has not only started a small business, but lends his time and support to community endeavors. A Jacksonville native, Garay is passionate about investing in real opportunities for the community so that others can have a solid, profitable career. He participates in events such as job fairs, conferences on topics such as Opportunity Zones, and community events like the JAX Chamber's The Longest Table. His abundant energy and commitment to seeing others succeed makes him a valuable entrepreneur in Northeast Florida, as well as an excellent mentor to employees and community members seeking to change their lives.

According to their website, Global Freight & Commerce is a 100% owner-operated trucking company and an industry-freight leader. Owner-operators have the ability to earn above average wages in the industry. Partners include Department of Defense, FEMA, JB Hunt, and Pepsi.

When honoring Garay, Rubio stated, "A member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Global Freight & Commerce is also involved in the community… which provide leadership training to assist and develop the local workforce. Veteran-owned businesses such as Global Freight & Commerce are examples of the talent and dedication of our nation's veterans. I look forward to watching Global Freight & Commerce's continued growth and success."

Noah Emmons

Software Engineering Consultant, Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur Noah Emmons appreciates that fear of failure can play an important role in advancing your understanding and knowledge of information technology.

“Success is equal to failing less,” said Emmons, a software engineering consultant who discovered the Jacksonville region is a dynamic hub for technology development and employment.

“Technology is complicated, intimidating and daunting, and learning it can be scary,” Emmons said. “In time, you have a better understanding and become more comfortable with the unknown. I’m drawn to activities where you have to fail before you can advance.”

As a youth growing up in Fernandina Beach, Emmons enjoyed computer games and had an interest in knowing more about the people behind game development. At 12, he didn’t hesitate to reach out to more than 40 industry professionals via email. He made a connection with three.

“I formed friendships with people who eventually became mentors,” Emmons said. “It’s important to surround yourself with likeminded individuals who make you feel comfortable.”

A 2017 graduate of Fernandina Beach High School, Emmons discovered his passion for technology and software development in the Nassau County School District’s Java Programming and Application Development curriculum at the Lewis “Red” Bean Nassau Technical Career Center.

The Nassau County School District program, led by Director of Career Education Brent Lemond and instructor Kalvin Thompson, provides students with software development training using the latest technologies. The program’s advisory board includes local business partners, such as feature [23], Wells Fargo and CSX, who provide guidance on curriculum and assist with placement and other student opportunities.

As a student, Emmons demonstrated initiative and drive for learning advanced topics and applying them quickly. He also worked hard to expand his skillset beyond normal expectations. Those qualities help Emmons secure an internship at Jacksonville-based software developer feature [23], which led to a full-time software engineer position at the company.

As part of the feature [23] software engineering team, Emmons gained experience in a wide range of domains including distribution, logistics, trading, sales and more, and honed his skills with C#, SQL Server, Azure, React, Angular, and other domain-specific technologies.

“I worked on projects I enjoyed,” Emmons said. “It didn’t feel like I was working.”
After spending nearly five years with feature [23], Emmons recently stepped out on his own as a software engineering consultant. He offers a variety of services designed for both start-ups and established businesses including new product development.
“With all of the opportunities that are out there, going out on my own is the right next step for me,” Emmons said. “I find myself at my best when I am challenged to learn new domains, whether they are business or technical.”

Emmons has risen quickly in his career because he is curious, enthusiastic and has an insatiable desire to learn. He encourages others to find and pursue their passions.
“If you don’t have the initiative, work can be a grind,” Emmons said. “You owe it to yourself to make sure you’re happy and find the things that excite you.”