Career Pathways

Support Industries

Support Industries Include: Construction, Public Safety, Education, Agribusiness, and Real Estate.  

Industry Resources

Spotlight on Success

As the region continues to grow, expansion is also seen in additional occupations that support this very growth. Support industries encompass various jobs and skill sets, all of which are vital to keeping the region thriving.

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Finance Skills at Work in the Hospitality Industry

Kearra Street Accounts Payable Specialist

Kearra Street grew up in a military household, moving every four to five years.  At age 10, Kearra moved to Okinawa Japan, where she pursued her middle and high school studies.  After graduating from Kubaski High School, she moved to Florida to join her mom who had already relocated to the United States.

Kearra was determined to study Business Administration with a concentration in Communications in college.  However, after speaking with an admissions counselor at Keiser University, her career pathways plans quickly changed.  The counselor suggested that, because of her personality, she may wish to pursue a degree in Hospitality Management. Kearra then spoke with an instructor. After several days of additional consideration, she opted for Hospitality Management.  Of this change, Kearra says, "It took me on a much better path--better suited to me.  I've met so many wonderful people and have had great experiences."

At Keiser, Kearra further explored the hospitality industry via an internship at the Southbank Hotel Jacksonville Riverwalk.  There, she was immersed in a new department each week.  Unbeknownst to her, this experience would provide excellent cross-training for her future job.  When her internship led to time spent in the Accounting Department, she was hooked.  "I thought I would gravitate toward sales, but I love the numbers in accounting and seeing how all parts of the hotel work together."

Once her internship concluded, Kearra and a classmate chose to stay at the Southbank Hotel to work in the Banquet Department.  She saw the innerworkings of back of the house operations and got to know many people individually.  Then, a part-time opportunity opened in the Accounting Department which gradually led to a full-time position.  Today, Kearra is an Accounts Payable Specialist.

Kearra graduated with an Associate of Science in Hospitality Management from Keiser University in 2018.  She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration with a Concentration in Hospitality Management.

Kearra emphasizes that working in a hotel involves much more than cleaning a room and providing a check in key.  Being people-friendly, adapatable and impeccably organized is critical.  Her specialty involves accounting and the ability to navigate the multiple internal computer systems used by the Southbank Hotel.  Recalling where specific information is housed is also essential.

"I thought I was organized, but I found a better way to prioritize and track my work."  One of her adaptations includes using a daily planner.  As a result, month end reports due to corporate and pending vendor bills are all completed and processed timely.  Kearra says, "It's important to find something you enjoy.  You're crunching numbers but you're also maintaining relationships with vendors, colleagues and individuals at the corporate level."

Kearra's childhood experiences afforded her many opportunities to find home in the world.  Now, she is centered in Jacksonville and has found another home in the hospitality industry.  She notes, "My experiences with travel and being part of different cultures definitely helps me in my career today."

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A Firefighting Pathway--an Inextinguishable Flame

Sammie Fendig

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 sys.

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 agressive 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 respoect 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."


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Kenneth Ford, Teacher & Math Interventionist

Inspired by a Teacher, Now Inspiring Students

"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 incorprates 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 comitted 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 consiering 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."

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Big Brothers Big Sisters Takes Learning Beyond School Walls

Sara Alford, Chief Executive Officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida

With a foundation of igniting youth potential and empowerment, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida (BBBSNEFL) has taken industry specific learning to the field in their Beyond School Walls (BSW) school-to-work mentoring model.  BSW connects mentors with students from complimentary career academies, pathways, and programs focused on post-secondary attainment.  These strategic partnerships enrich the education and preparation of participating students by providing meaningful and relevant workplace experiences, training, and mentorship.  

According to Sara Alford, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida, "National trends show us that at least 17% of youth report feeling disconnected from school and career options.*  Beyond School Walls is a strategy we have been employing in Northeast Florida for over a decade in the attempt to directly combat that narrative and not only beat the odds, but change them."

The Beyond School Walls partnership sessions are coordinated and managed by BBBSNEFL.  Students benefit from routinely scheduled sessions and experiences with their mentors focused on growing skills, exposing youth to learning industries/careers in the Northeast Florida market, and planning for post-secondary success.

"We have so much young talent in our community.  Our agency prides itself on helping identify, connect, and align that talent with local opportunities.  We are so thankful for our BSW partnerships--each one is helping establish equitable career pathways, enhanced social capital, and creating a world of opportunity, through exposure, for our program youth," said Alford.


*  SOURCE:  Mentoring:  A Critical Support Strategy for Youth Career Engagement and Workforce Development 

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Falling Into a Career: How Broken Bones led to a Career Pathway in Education

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 Jacksionville 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 radiograpy students.  Mandy moved back to Jacksonvikllle to work in MRI, but the spark for teaching was lit.  So, when a former professor reached our 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 contined 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 clinincal 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.

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Real Estate Industry Offers Dynamic Opportunities

Linda Lindenmoyer, Real Estate Services

Linda Lindenmoyer is the Broker/Vice President of Relocation Services at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty.  Lindenmoyer also serves as chair of JAXUSA Partnership's business development committee.

An industry leader with more than 20 years of experience, Lindenmoyer supports corporations in successfully managing their relocation programs.  Prior to her role in corporate relocation, Lindenmoyer worked in both residential and commercial real estate.

"There are abundant opportunities in both residential and commercial real estate," said Lindenmoyer.  "The career pathway you choose is a peronal choice based on what you find most interesting."

Despite the pandemic, Northeast Florida's real estate industry is thriving.  The Jacksonville region's job growth in 2020 and the corporate relocation momentum are keeping both residential and commercial real estate brokers busy.

Selling residential real estate requires a passion for people as agents facilitate the home buying process between sellers and buyers.  Commercial agents are similar to residential agents, but they sell or lease properties to businesses.  Since they work with data like gross rent multipliers, capitalization rates and internal rates of return, commercial agents need to have an analyical understanding of business and finance.

Residential Realtors are independent contractors and have the advantage of determining how much and when they work.  However, they often work evenings and weekends to meet customer needs.

"Realtors have to be flexible and willing to adjust as the market demands," Lindenmoyer said.

In Florida, working in real estate requires a Florida real estate license.  The Real Estate Sales Associate license, issued by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, is the same for those who want to work in residential real estate or commercial real estate.

To obtain a license, individuals must complete the state-approved sales associate pre-license course and pass the course exam.  The course focuses on real estate laws, principles and practice, and real estate math.  The 63-hour course is offered online, in a classroom at a real estate school or at Florida Realtor associations. 

After passing the course exam, the next step is to take the Florida licensing exam.  This test has two sections covering both state and national requirements.  Those who pass earn their license and begin working once they affiliate with a licensed brokerage.

"Additional training is very important when an individual begins working with a licensed real estate company, " said Lindenmoyer.  "Licensees should align with a company that offers a formal training program designed to give new agents the support they need to succeed."

Those interested in pursuing a real estate career should take into consideration there are fees for taking the class exam and license.  Since agents work on commission, meaning they make a percentage of the sales price of real estate property in the transaction, Lindenmoyer recomends new Realtors be prepared to go about six months without making any income.  However, there aren't any time limits to how much money top producing agents can make.

"The top successful Realtors don't look at their customers as a transaction," said Lindenmoyer. "They recognize that they are a trusted resource for their customer."

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Boundless Opportunity Spurs Career Transition

Riley Day, Real Estate Agent

Initially, Riley Day, a graduate of Kesier University's Business Administration degree program, planned a move to Jacksonville, Florida from Texas to pursue his education.  After relocating and investigating various training options, he determined that a degree from Keiser University was a solid long-term plan.

While in college, Riley tended bar until hours were reduced due to COVID.  At that time, he began exploring a career pathway in real estate, as his girlfriend had achieved much success since 2017.  Initially, Riley was unsure about pivoting into real estate, despite the overwhelmingly strong market in Northeast Florida, low interest rates spurring buyer demand, and jobs that hold during a pandemic.  However, his mind was changed after seeing the earning potential in both selling and investing in real estate.  He said, "I worried about the future and retirement until leanring about the investing side."

Riley achieved his real estate license in January 2020.  Initially, it was overwhelming on where and how to begin.  He was drawn to Momentum Realty, which became a brokerage, in 2020 due to the structure and mentoring provided.  Quarterly master classes on topics such as winning multiple offers and providing quality customer service through genuine, organic relationships provided great insight.

During the pandemic, he and a partner began isolating a strategy to build a team, The Allied Group, at Momentum.  Riley credits his business degree with helping him strategically approach this career transition, saying, "Real Estate is 100 percent a business.  To be profitable, you must track numbers to avoid surprises."

For those considering a real estate career, Riley recommends diving into the industry full time to commit to learning the industry and establishing a solid reputation.  He indicates that having income to sustain oneself for six months to one year is preferable, as agents work on commission.  Someone entering the industry needs time to build clients, close deals, and become profitable.  Joining a team and finding a good mentor are primary ways to successfully break into the industry.

With a hot real estate market and low inventory, it's critical to have a competitive edge.  Riley stresses that the agent must be the "levelling force" when negotiating deals on what is likely his client's most significant investment.  He also encourages individuals to read several books to establish a mindset that is critical to success in the industry:

Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
Wealth Can't Wait by David Osborn
Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason
Tribe of Millionaires by Mike McCarthy and Pat Hiban
If you enjoy providing fantastic customer service, a career in Northeast Florida real estate is a viable option.  Riley reiterates that multiple touch points with customers are critical.  "Customer service and responsiveness is important.  There have been multiple situations where other sellers cancelled their agreements with other agents so they could list with us," he said.

Ultimately, Riley Day's real estate career pathway with The Allied Group at Momentum is offering noteworthy opportunities right here in Northeast Florida.

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A Career Pathway of Conservation

White Oak Conservation

White Oak Conservation is dedicated to conservation programs directly impacting over thirty species, as well as providing training and education programs to cultivate future conservation leaders. This beautiful property is host to 485 threatened animals and many opportunities to experience and appreciate them. In 1938, the Gilman Family of Yulee Florida purchased acreage on the St. Mary’s River. Located 30 miles north of Jacksonville, this property was established as a conservation facility in 1982 when Howard Gilman returned home inspired by a trip to Africa. As Howard appreciated the arts and public policy in addition to the natural beauty of exotic and domestic animals, he made his property available for those activities. White Oak was for sale in the 2000s; the new owners have expanded Howard Gilman’s reach by doubling the footprint to 17,000 acres under conservation, engaging in more public outreach, and serving as the catalyst for new educational programs. As a result, White Oak is a host site for innovative science, training, and collaboration having global reach.

White Oak Conservation Center boasts impressive statistics, with each number representing success in conservation efforts. For example, 19 injured and orphaned Florida panthers have been rewilded after their rehabilitation at White Oak, and 188 cheetah and 70 giraffe births have occurred since 1985 and 1987, respectively. Rhinos, okapi, gazelle, and native bats round out this extraordinary conservation property. While it truly takes a village to operate White Oak, three women shared their career pathways leading them there. Brandy Carvalho, Development & Sustainability Manager initially earned a BS in Public Relations from the University of Florida. She then earned master’s degrees in both Public Administration and Natural Resources. She changed course throughout her career and pursued additional education relative to her interests. She now engages in fundraising, community relations, non-profit leadership, and managing sustainability. Of this work, she says, “There are so many ways to plug in from marketing to finance to construction.” 

Laura Gruber, Conservation Program Manager, grew up in Southern California, where her mother was a researcher at the San Diego Zoo. She received a BS in Biology and worked in animal husbandry at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and San Diego Zoo Global before joining White Oak. Laura’s passion for her work is evident. Of individuals interning or seeking conservation as a career pathway, she says, “It’s not just about playing with animals.” Shannon Basile, Stables Specialist, grew up with animals in her household and demonstrated an interest in horses at an early age. She took lessons and showed horses. Shannon majored in business with a minor in equine science. To gain experience, she completed farm work on ranches and managed a small animal vet clinic, before joining White Oak. Her time there has led her to develop passion for conserving exotic animals. 

White Oak also provides ways to plug into similar career pathways. In 2019, 1,298 K-12 students visited for field experiences and work-based learning. A Summer Camp offers exposure to wildlife, veterinary science, natural resources, and sustainability. White Oak staff also engage local students and partner schools for an entire semester to instill in them a conservation ethic and interest. There are internship opportunities available at White Oak designed to foster those who are already serious in making conservation, animal science, or biology part of their career pathways. Nearly forty interns recieve valuable professional training each year. For example, Wildlife Conservation Internships, and Equine Internships are offered. For safety, interns must have a basic understanding of animal behavior and demonstrate it through previous hands-on experience. To gain this critical experience, Laura suggests volunteering at a local veterinary office, in wildlife rehabilitation, or at the local zoo. 

One of White Oak’s activities to engage the public allows individuals to ride horses adjacent to wildlife. Equine Interns must be able to manage the horses as well as provide a meaningful, safe experience for guests. To do so successfully, previous equine experience is needed. Interns must be engaged, serious, and willing to work hands-on with the horses. As Laura states, “It’s hard work and very experiential. You are directly alongside staff in every aspect of their job.” 

For those interested in conservation efforts and have an appreciation and respect for animals, pursuing this pathway could be ideal. For more information, visit: 

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Congaree and Penn: Engaging the Community Through a Family Farm

Lindsay Meyer, Owner and Creative Director of Congaree and Penn

“We just sort of fell into it,” says Lindsay Meyer, owner and Creative Director of Congaree and Penn. An agriculture and culinary operation since 2014, Congaree and Penn offers the Jacksonville community with a diverse number of activities that engage different age groups and keep this family-run enterprise thriving. 

Lindsay and her husband Scott met in college at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Lindsay studied Marketing and Design. Scott, a Jacksonville native, pursued Environmental Science. They later lived in south Florida while Scott pursued a master’s degree in Aquaculture. Initially, he considered starting up a fish farm on his father’s property. He and Lindsay began building rice paddies and milling in their shed, literally “testing the waters” for the components needed in fish farming. 

Scott’s father owned the farm, now Congaree and Penn, a 330-acre property which served as a tree farm. Rather than using the land for fish farming, they pivoted, choosing to grow rice to supply various restaurants as well as their own. The farm now houses a unique mix of muscadine, mayhaw, and olive orchards, tree nurseries, a southern farm-to-table inspired restaurant, and their goats, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and horses. Tours, blackberry and muscadine picking, community events, a retail operation and landscaping service round out their business model and brand. 

While growth has been steady in the last six years, future plans include building the brand to offer a variety of personal agri-tourism experiences to interact with the property, the animals, and the food. Plans for pressing the Arbequina Olives that are produced on the farm would also require expanded capacity. Lindsay indicates that the community has supported Congaree and Penn as they’ve grown and evolved, which mirrors the evolution of her own career. 

Lindsay shares that farming was not her intended career pathway. Although she grew up on a farm in New Mexico that produced green chilis, pecans, and cotton, she originally pictured herself working in a large design firm. However, farm life suits her. She enjoys feeding her menagerie of pets, riding horses, and spending time on their beautiful property. She and her husband also live on the property, a lovely way to work from home.

However, it’s not all beautiful sunsets and rows of impeccable crops. Farm life is hard work and requires its owners to wear a variety of hats. Diversity of skills needed on the farm truly represent modern agriculture. For example, designing a brand, logo, and website, responding to all communications, event planning, and managing a restaurant staff all fall within Lindsay’s self-created job description. She gets her hands dirty during the day-to-day operation along with their 30 employees. “You have to be weather-tolerant and be comfortable being outside. Weather isn’t always easy,” Lindsay says. 

An easy hospitality is part of the brand. Congaree and Penn has a boutique feel and offers an intimate experience, but its reach continues to expand due to hard work. For example, their small batch Pecan Oil won both a Good Food Award and a Garden & Gun Made in the South Runner-Up Award. Sustainable farming allows Lindsay and Scott to innovate, grow and change as the consumer market and community interests change. Having a diverse number of products, goods, and services also allows them to weather any economic changes. 

With a name inspired by family history, it’s only natural that the farm’s philosophy is encapsulated in Lindsay’s statement, “We want everyone to feel special.”

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UNF Awarded NSF Grant for Use of Autonomous Robotics in Agriculture

Dr. Ayan Dutta, UNF Computing Assistant Professor and Lead Researcher

The University of North Florida College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, in collaboration with the University of Central Florida (UCF), has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for collaborative research in the use of autonomous robotics for agriculture in Northeast Florida. 

The $499K research grant, led by UNF School of Computing and School of Engineering faculty and supported by a UCF computer science faculty collaborator, will focus on efficient and secure agricultural information collection using a multi-robot system.

“As world population continues to grow and agricultural lands diminish, it is essential to maximize crop yield,” said Dr. Ayan Dutta, UNF computing assistant professor and lead researcher. “This project will aid farmers by helping them to utilize safe, efficient robotic technology to securely collect the information needed to improve production, protect crop health and mitigate pests and disease.” 

Dutta is working in collaboration with two UNF faculty members, Dr. Swapnoneel Roy, computing associate professor, and Dr. Patrick Kreidl, electrical engineering associate professor, as well as numerous UNF undergraduate and graduate students. The team will conduct basic and applied data-driven research in controlled simulation labs and then test their findings with local Northeast Florida farmland partners using multiple aerial robots for real agricultural information collection. 

The project will utilize multiple autonomous robots that communicate wirelessly to perform agricultural tasks, such as harvesting and pesticide/fertilizer applications. For example, as devices fly over the farm, they would be able to determine areas in need of watering or take pictures of crops to check weed levels, and deliver that data to the farmer, while reducing labor costs. The research team will determine how the robots can best collect and share real-time data to adapt to field and crop conditions, as well as use secure communication and autonomous decision-making. The security of the inter-robot communications and mitigating adversarial influence that targets the integrity of collected data are important components of the project. 

This research anticipates the growing adoption of precision agriculture solutions in farmland operations. It seeks to deliver a prototype multi-robot agricultural information collection system that is simultaneously autonomous, efficient and secure, while also 

contributing to fundamental knowledge about cyber-physical system development in general. Project plans include regional workshops to promote technical interchange between faculty and student academic computing/engineering researchers and the farmers and technologists who make up the agricultural industry stakeholders.


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An Ag Pathway: From Extracurricular to Career

Kelly Oehler, Intern at the UF’s Meat Lab

“I want to show a steer in the County Fair,” Kelly Oehler told her parents one evening. Kelly’s interest was a result of a seventh-grade agriculture class at Wilkinson Junior High in Clay County. Her teacher, Mr. Johnson, mention steer and pig weigh-ins for some of the other students. Kelly was intrigued. Her parents were open to the possibility. The family had moved from Fleming Island to Middleburg and homesteaded on 34 acres to accommodate Kelly and her sister’s love of horses. The steer could accompany the family’s horses, chickens, and miniature donkeys. 

This moment helped set Kelly on a career pathway that she once just considered a hobby. With the help of experts in the community, Kelly learned how to groom and show a steer. While she was sad when the steer was sold at auction, her interest didn’t diminish. In fact, she showed steer for six years. 

At Middleburg High School, Kelly was involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA), which was her all-consuming extra-curricular activity. Kelly served as the secretary and president of her school’s chapter. Kelly was involved in placing in and judging various state contests from poultry to ornamental horticulture, learning skills like propagation of begonias via leaf cuttings. Participation in FFA also allowed Kelly to teach kindergarteners through Food for America. Once a month, she would teach students different agriculture lessons, from making butter, to planting flowers, to understanding egg embryology. 

Kelly grew up loving all aspects of agriculture, but she didn’t anticipate that this would be her career pathway. After high school, Kelly pursued an Associate degree from Santa Fe College while working full time. She interned at the Jacksonville Zoo, intending to enroll in the University of Florida’s (UF) Zoology program. She pivoted from this program of study, encouraged to change her major to Animal Science. In the interim, she continued full time work for several years at the University Air Center adjacent to the Gainesville Regional Airport. Ultimately, she realized her current role did not ofer growth potential and the love of ag hadn’t diminished. “I learned that we don’t all take the same pathway and it’s okay.” She enrolled at UF to study Animal Science. The degree has three concentrations: Animal Biology, Food Animal, and Equine. Kelly selected the Food Animal area of focus. 

Once Kelly returned to school full time, she continued to keep a full-time work schedule saying, “If you really try, you can do it.” The commitment and enthusiasm needed to maintain such an intensive regimen resulted in Kelly’s graduation following the Spring 2020 semester with a bachelor’s in Animal Science and a minor in Agribusiness Management and Sales. She now joins her grandmother, mother, and sister as UF alumni. 

As part of her program, Kelly was required to take an introduction to meats class. After doing so, she selected other classes such as meat processing, selection and grading, processing, evaluation, and food safety. Kelly’s education has provided many industry lessons. She said, “There are so many untrue facts about how the industry is represented as well as how products are marketed.” An avid proponent of the Farm to Table movement, Kelly indicated that sometimes consumers are provided half the narrative. For example, packaging indicating that chickens aren’t treated with any growth hormones isn’t newsworthy. In fact, it isn’t legal to give any chicken in the United States any kind of growth hormone. “Cage free” still involves chickens being raised in massive barns. 

Kelly intended to intern with Tyson Foods in Illinois this summer prior to its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she secured a part-time internship at the UF’s Meat Lab. While initially disappointing, the smaller operation offered Kelly the opportunity to engage in all aspects of production from humane kill to slaughter wrapping and customer service via the UF Meat Store. Kelly notes that a USDA Inspector is on site to ensuring that the Humane Slaughter Act protocols are in place. One experience involved making bacon from over 80 animals, seeing the process from smokehouse to slicing. 

Kelly said most people assume her degree is specific to pre-veterinary studies. However, her degree allows her to work in extension education, agribusiness management, and agricultural operations management. She can pursue a government job, such as a USDA Inspector. Kelly is particularly interested in jobs such as Food Safety Inspection Agent, specializing in import and export products. She says, “Agriculture is everywhere. It’s the backbone of this country. Thousands of animals help feed everyone each day. This is a way of life that has sustained generations of people.” 

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Your Roots Determine Your Routes: A Clear Agriculture Pathway

Clayton Brauman, Senior at QI Roberts Junior-Senior High School

The quote “Your roots determine your routes” is applicable to Clayton Brauman.

A senior at QI Roberts Junior-Senior High School, part of the Putnam County School District offering Cambridge Advanced Studies, Clayton Brauman is involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA). Students take advanced placement coursework and exams.  Through the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Program, Clayton earns college credits to transfer upon enrollment at Oklahoma State University in the Fall of 2021. At the end of this school year, Clayton will qualify for several specific certificates, such as the Agriculture Associate Certification, Agriculture Systems Associate, and Animal Science Specialist. 

Clayton’s career pathway is clear. He will earn his bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a concentration in Business, studying different aspects of ag production and specializing in cow and calf operations. Once he completes college, Clayton intends to return to work his family farm and have a job in animal nutrition. After a recent sale of feeder calves, his family owns a cow operation involving six hundred head of commercial female cattle. The Brauman’s also own a feed store in Palatka--County Feed and General Store. This retail operation hosts a quarterly farm swap showcasing local producer of canned goods, pre-started plants, goats-milk soap, or baby chicks. Clayton is involved in the execution and promotion of these events.

Clayton’s experience in ag is specialized, but he sees the importance of diversification of products and services that farmers offer their communities.  He and his sister own 25 head of registered Charolais, a creamy white breed which are known for their good growth rate, producing big calves, and significant average daily gain.  They intend to produce bulls and breed them for local and statewide sales. 

Clayton’s interest in agriculture began early due to his family’s farm and retail store. However, he quickly developed a skill set that allowed him to travel across the United States, cementing an appreciation for farming in Northeast Florida. Clayton was part of the state champion 4-H Livestock Judging Team from Putnam County. The team judged livestock in state and national contests.  From sixth through eleventh grades, Clayton began traveling to competitions, also exposing him to farms and ranches across the country. He learned to spell every breed and formulate speeches to justify his judgements based on specific criteria. He learned the discipline required to complete classroom assignments on the road in a timely manner. No doubt this experience will propel him forward in his career pathway.

As a result of his travels, Clayton has concluded “Florida is unique in that many local producers will help each other out. People aren’t afraid to call their neighbors.” Clayton cited a recent example where local ranchers needed a shipping facility to sort and load their calves. Clayton’s family offered their pens to sort and load the calves onto semi-trailers. Not only did they provide the facilities, but they helped with the process of loading.

Clayton also wisely observes agribusiness trends. He mentioned more farmers sell their USDA approved meats directly to the consumer rather than selling their cattle to companies that process the animal and sell to the consumer.  This relationship helps the producer recuperate costs while keeping costs affordable to the consumer. Selling directly to the customer also creates the awareness of showing people the source of their food, thereby linking the community closer to the land and its products.  Sometimes, aspects of the economy beyond a farmer’s control can be impactful.  For example, COVID-19 shut down schools that generally purchase milk cartons for school lunches.  Farmers were impacted due to temporarily losing this consumer base. This is another reason why Clayton sees the need for producers to have multiple products and income streams. Farms that offer corn mazes, cafes, retail operations, and hayrides can best connect with their communities and increase resilience.

For those who are considering an agribusiness career pathway, Clayton believes a hands-on aspect of farming is critical to generate interest. Conservation and water treatment are important aspects of the industry, as is crop and animal production. Clayton encourages students in Putnam County  to get involved in CTE classes, where they can participate in the Land Lab which features cattle, goats, and chickens. Membership in the FFA Chapter in Putnam County allows access to a local community garden that raises organic crops.

Overall, Clayton is approaching his career pathway by incorporating academic work, extra-curricular involvement, and hard work on his family’s farm. Clayton’s roots provide a clear agriculture pathway with a forward-looking route in Putnam County.

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Crossing the Finish Line: The Pursuit of an Amazing Career

Giselle Carson, Esq

Anyone meeting Giselle Carson, Esq. will be impressed by her many credentials and accomplishments. Giselle was born in Cuba, immigrated to Canada and then to the United States. At the age of fifteen, her friends, language, culture and home were gone forever when she escaped Cuba. Giselle was scared. Change is scary. Change is hard. But, she was determined to rebuild her life. 

Today, Giselle is a business immigration attorney, speaks three languages, has authored and published a book, Beyond the H-1B, and is an Ironman tri-athlete. She is a shareholder at the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville. She partners with regional and global employers to help them hire and retain foreign talent. A pioneer in immigration law in our region, Giselle has been recognized by numerous professional organizations such as the American Lawyer & Corporate Counsel and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

Anyone meeting Giselle Carson, Esq. will be impressed by her many credentials and accomplishments. Giselle was born in Cuba, immigrated to Canada and then to the United States. At the age of fifteen, her friends, language, culture and home were gone forever when she escaped Cuba. Giselle was scared. Change is scary. Change is hard. But, she was determined to rebuild her life. 

Today, Giselle is a business immigration attorney, speaks three languages, has authored and published a book, Beyond the H-1B, and is an Ironman tri-athlete. She is a shareholder at the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville. She partners with regional and global employers to help them hire and retain foreign talent. A pioneer in immigration law in our region, Giselle has been recognized by numerous professional organizations such as the American Lawyer & Corporate Counsel and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

What isn’t obvious is that creating a notable legal career wasn’t her first career path. None of her family members are lawyers. It wasn’t on her radar. Rather, it emerged from her personal experiences. Through her journey, she discovered that practicing business immigration law would allow her to help others reach their immigration goals. 

Giselle obtained a bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy. She worked as a rehabilitation department director and started to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. Despite enjoying her job, a seed had been planted. She thought about the immigration lawyers who helped her immigrate to the U.S. and obtain a green card. “I couldn’t be where I am or accomplish what I have without their help,” Giselle says. 

So, she pivoted. She had big goals. Giselle continued to work while taking night classes at Florida Coastal School of Law. She drove from Palm Coast to Jacksonville to take classes twice a week. This made for long stressful weeks. After a few years, she made a firm decision to pursue schooling full time, earning a Juris Doctorate. Giselle graduated first in her class. 

Giselle initially practiced litigation of medical malpractice. However, she realized that the clients she served were not been assisted by local immigration lawyers. So, she used her legal skills, personal experience and relationships to fill the gap. With the guidance of mentors and additional legal coursework, she developed a business immigration law practice within Marks Gray. Her legal work differs from the image typically projected in the media. Instead of presenting a case to a judge and jury, she helps companies understand and navigate laws centered on hiring and retaining foreign talent. Initially, it was just her. Learning all she could, as fast as she could. She kept moving forward one step at a time. Today, she has a strong immigration team of four. 

She is thrilled to do what she does. Giselle says, “I have the privilege to expose Northeast Florida to the world. To help companies bring talent here. To enhance our diversity and innovation. To strengthen our country with immigrants who are hardworking, innovative trailblazers.” 

For those considering the legal profession, Giselle offers encouragement and advice. Like most industries, law is enduring disruption. But, Giselle sees disruption as positive if it helps diversify the field. “We’re missing out on the huge value that diversity and inclusion brings. We need to invest and commit to diversity. Our immigration team is so strong because we value and respect our diversity of ideas, backgrounds and skills.” 

Giselle’s advice is truly a call to action to begin, commit and persist. She states emphatically, “If you’re looking for a perfect world or a perfect situation, it doesn’t exist. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take action and don’t give up until you achieve your goal.” 

While she notes that one’s studies are critical, being passionate, determined and invested in one’s profession is paramount. She also encourages involvement with professional and business associations. She says, “They offer tremendous perspective, showcase trends, and generate critical relationships.” 

Giselle’s passion for business immigration law is clear, as is the parallel of her roles as a lawyer and triathlete, “I help my clients overcome challenges and cross their finish line. When I begin a race, the first mile isn’t necessarily fun. But, I know the reward of the finish line is worth it.” This professional truly offers great career and personal lessons for a life of contributions and opportunities. 

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Pathway of Excellence: Blending Military & Law Enforcement Experience to Create a Meaningful Public Safety Career

Chief Robert Hardwick - St. Augustine Beach Police Department

These words stand out when chatting with Chief Robert Hardwick of the St. Augustine Beach Police Department in St. Johns County. With 28 years in law enforcement, he is St. Augustine Beach’s 11th Chief of Police, taking on the role in 2012. According to their website (, his department consists of 21 sworn officers, three civilian personnel, a part-time accreditation manager and ten volunteers. The office provides service 365 days a year and averages 260,000 calls for service each year. This married father of two has blended impactful military and law enforcement careers while coaching local youth. 

Chief Hardwick has had an interesting and compelling career pathway leading to his current position. A veteran of the US Army and Florida National Guard, Chief Hardwick was inspired early on by his brother, a recently retired 30-year member of the US Coast Guard. Chief Hardwick observed his lifestyle, which offered structure as well as the change of various, interesting locales.

Following high school graduation, Chief Hardwick enlisted in the United States Army. Training hard provided ownership and accountability. He realized a long-term paramilitary career path was the right choice after he entered the 82nd Airborne 35th Signal Battalion. Prior to that, he had not considered a law enforcement career. 

After finishing his first Army tour, the next intended duty stop was Korea. However, he and his wife and young son were not able to deploy, as families were not permitted. So, he took a job with the Florida Department of Corrections as a Corrections Officer (CO) at Tomoka Correctional Institution, a state prison in Daytona Beach. However, Chief Hardwick knew that working in the prison system was one step in his career pathway. 

Working as a CO allowed Chief Hardwick to interact with many individuals with diverse situations and backgrounds which impacted his effectiveness eventually working on the road. 

He was hired by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office in Palm Coast in the mid-90’s to “work the road” as a Law Enforcement Officer after taking a cross over course. 

Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Chief Hardwick enlisted in the National Guard for multiple missions. Deployments in both the Army and the National Guard gave him the opportunity to work in many unique assignments with specific orders, including tours in Operation Desert Storm, participating in hurricane relief here at home, and engaging in a special ops missions as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As part of the 53rd Infantry Brigade supporting the 5th Special Forces Group, he and his Guard unit were actively seeking out mid-range targets and experienced the loss of two fellow soldiers. 

Part of a role in law enforcement and the military is being able to pivot quickly. During job changes, military deployments or assignments occurred. For example, Chief Hardwick learned that his Guard Unit reactivated in the middle of his career transition from his role as a Detective at the St. Augustine Police Department to the Assistant Chief Investigator with the Office of the State Attorney 7th Judicial Circuit.There, he was assigned to homicide, government, and corruption cases. At another point, Chief Hardwick re-entered the National Guard and took a three month leave of absence to participate in and graduate from the FBI National Academy, Session 247. 

His most recent assignment was in the Florida Army National Guard as a Platoon Trainer (TAC) at the Camp Blanding Regional Training Institute’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). He describes teaching black hat drill instructors, saying: “I loved making a difference in creating this talent that would lead us in combat.” 

When Chief Hardwick was in school, he found that Vocational (Vo Tech) classes in EMS, Fire & Law Enforcement sparked his interest. He enjoyed the course content and the camaraderie of his classmates. This set the stage for a career in highly regimented role with a strong, supporting team. For those who are considering a career in law enforcement, Chief Hardwick suggests several options. He references the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post 911, which currently has 40 students enrolled with a waiting list. He also cited the Academy of Law Homeland Security in St. Johns County at St. Augustine High School. 

According to the website1, the Academy consists of several components and reviews theory, courts, jails, and patrol officer techniques including report wiring and traffic crash investigations. 

Crime scene investigations, as well as evidence collection and processing are studied. Students also complete requirements for the Florida Class D Security Guard license, the Police Service Aide, and are exposed to a 911 Telecommunicator program. If you cannot access an Explorer Program or participate in an Academy Program, he recommends volunteer or internship programs at your local department. 

Chief Hardwick sees value and a legal tie into many school classes. For example, understanding basic psychology fundamentals helps triage an individual with a mental health condition. A degree isn’t needed, but it can be helpful in developing writing skills used for reports. 

Education—from the military or from formal training— is the key to success. While military service provides a chain of command and a common bond, he does not see it as a requirement for success in this career pathway. Rather, he encourages civilians to consider law enforcement, saying “You can have leadership skills and do the job.” 

Chief Hardwick has found a balance between career and home life, also actively coaching youth sports. Chief Hardwick has been married to his high school sweetheart for 29 years. Together, they have two sons. “The key to your success is your support group.” 

A nearly life-long resident of St. Johns County, he says, “We want the best from our community for our community.” Chief Hardwick loves the people and the community in which he works. Even in the face of adverse situations, he would still choose his profession because he can mentor young men and women to provide a structure, a chance to understand perspectives, and the opportunity to coach. As a representative of the city and his profession, he believes that “Law enforcement is customer service based. We need to hear from our customer. Community feedback is important.” 

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EMT Student at SJR State

Christy Cole

Christy Cole, a Clay County High School Student dual enrolled in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program at SJR State, has found that this pathway provides personal satisfaction, a link to her community, and a springboard into additional career opportunities. 

The program prepares students to take the National Registry for EMT certification exam and is the prerequisite for paramedic training. While Christy has taken other dual enrollment courses, she has found the first year of this coursework to be the most extensive and competitive. With the support of her parents, as well as Clay High School teacher and Registered Nurse Lynn Dickinson, she has persevered and learned important lessons. Christy said, “I have always been told from my parents to be better than average and follow every dream I ever had. I believe grades and knowledge can only get you so far, character is what makes an impact.” 

Emergency Medical Technicians need to maintain composure in high stress, life-threatening situations involving an accurate and immediate response. In contrast to a hospital environment, they never know where they’ll be called to demonstrate the technical knowledge needed when delivering high-quality care. Christy has learned that while being under pressure can be difficult, she’s been able to adapt, “It is a great experience. Critical and brisk thinking can become overwhelming, along with rewarding. You learn to train your brain into any high stress environment.” 

Christy has studied in SJR State’s hands-on environment, which includes a real-life ambulance, EMS equipment and manikins to simulate patient scenarios. Students participate in ride-alongs and emergency department clinical hours which provide another opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a real-world setting. 

Christy sees the role of an EMT professional as someone who helps the general public in many ways beyond offering emergency medical care. Through interpersonal skill, EMT’s offer connectedness to their community. 

It’s common for individual in public safety professions to have followed in a family member’s footsteps. However, Christy is a trailblazer in her family, saying, “I do not have family in the field and that has encouraged me more so to stand out.” 

For those interested in this career pathway, achieving a paramedic certificate is a one year commitment. In two years, you can earn an Associate of Science degree in Emergency Medical Services. This career pathway in public service can also transition into the healthcare field as well, providing multiple opportunities in the region. 

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Career Pathway Options & Opportunities

Jason Fraley, Military Recruiter/Liaison - JSO

Jason Fraley, Military Recruiter/Liaison, is part of the Recruitment and Selection Unit at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO). After twenty years in the Navy in sonar and combat control, he retired as a Senior Chief. Ninety days prior to his military discharge, he participated in a pre-release program. It was during that process that he met a representative from the United Service Organizations (USO) who recommended that he apply for an open position at the JSO. The interview process impressed him, so Jason bypassed other offers to take the role. 

Jason sees his job in public service as highly rewarding. He witnesses individuals move forward on their own career pathway. For Jason, military service was not his intended career but a means of opportunity that morphed into the winner on a pros and cons list each time it came time to renew his contract. ROTC classes in high school positioned the military as an option, but he didn’t realize then that an aptitude in electronics and fiber optics would eventually lead to a recruiter role. Jason’s job involves recruiting and supporting veterans and their families, as well as translating military and civilian skills to connect individuals to suitable roles at JSO. He also sees each police academy class from initial contact to the classroom to their graduation day. He says, “It’s rewarding from start to finish.” 

While Jason acknowledges a career at JSO provides a soft landing from the military as it involves the continuity of structural and procedural compliance, he encourages civilians of all ages to consider the multitude of careers available. “You can be an 18-year-old Corrections Recruit making $38,084 per year with full healthcare benefits and an awesome retirement package.” Once sworn, Corrections Officers’ salaries start at $42,110. 

Likewise, Community Service Officers (CSO) can be hired at age 18. Once an individual has completed four years of service as a CSO, that individual can transition to the police academy without a degree. CSO’s issue citations, work crashes, and conduct traffic crash investigations. They also manage traffic flow for Jaguars games and other major events in the city. In addition to the Corrections Officer and CSO routes, there are multiple pathways to becoming a law enforcement officer: obtaining a bachelor’s degree, having four years of military experience, or having combined college and related experience.Once individuals complete the police academy, they move to a patrol unit. After working two years on that unit, officers can then apply to other specialty units. In some of these units, sworn officers work alongside civilians. 

There are numerous units in which individuals can work, some of which include various detective units, the dive team, training academy instructors, computer forensics, technical support, internet crimes, K-9 and mounted units, and the air unit. There are career pathways appropriate to specific areas of interest. 

College internships, the Explorer Program, Ride-a-Longs and Work-a-Longs are all exploration tools. Reviewing the JSO website at and reaching out to a local recruiter is helpful to learn more about these options. Individuals are also encouraged to learn more about career opportunities available via the videos available on JSO’s YouTube channel, JAXSHERIFF. 

Ultimately, there is an opportunity in this career pathway worth considering, especially if, as Jason says, you have “integrity, a willingness to serve your community, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.” 


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Investing in Their Own Paras - Putnam County

Tonya Whitehurst, Area Director of Human Resources

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’s 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 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. 

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

Carley Dyal, an agricultural teacher at KHHS in Clay County

Sometimes, one's career pathway circles back to the beginning. Such is the case with Carley Dyal, an agricultural teacher atKeystone 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's 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 fieldtrips 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 ofsome 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 tomaximize 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 remotesurveillance 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 adraining 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 consideringeducation as a career path that they'll have such a tremendous impact on students. She acknowledges the significantdemand for teachers. "It's a hard job. Some days are rough, especially in your first year. It's worth it. Kids see yourpassion 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 exam- ple. 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.

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Foundational Skills Establish Multiple Pathways

Frank H. Peterson, a Laboratory School

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 child care skills.  You can do Zoom lessons with students.  Even as a parent, students will use this knowledge.”

Geraldine shared that 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 pathways.  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.

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Earn Up

Building Their Own Workforce Pipeline

Janet Duffy of 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.

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Earn Up

An Unexpected Career Path

Ashley - Job Business Development Manager role at Marand Builders

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.”

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