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As merger threatens independence, Florida Polytechnic University moves forward with banner job fair

The school is facing possible consolidation with the University of Florida.

As lawmakers continue to consider, and argue about, a plan to merge Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida, the school continues to gather momentum as the state’s only 100% STEM school in the university system.

Fifty companies gathered at the school’s Lakeland campus this week for its annual spring career fair. Companies came in search of highly skilled talent to fill positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

Florida Poly is attempting to bridge the gap between STEM careers available in the state and the number of professionals available to fill them.

The Florida Chamber says that since 2010, the state’s demand in STEM fields has gone up more than 63% with more than 55,000 unfilled STEM jobs in Florida right now.

“We have many employers who started with us back in 2016 when we had only 13 companies here, and many return to campus yearly seeking more Florida Poly talent,” said Kathryn Miller, vice provost for student affairs. “Having alumni return to campus on a company’s recruiting team is a great compliment to the university and the student experience.”

One of the companies that have been present at the event since its inception is Accusoft, a software development company based in Tampa. Product Manager Mark Hansen said Florida Poly students stand apart for their readiness and adaptability to industry needs.

“We’ve had really great success coming out here in previous years and meeting with the students,” Hansen said. “They bring a lot of technology and a lot of know-how that some universities don’t have, and they’ve been really great at coming in and getting integrated with our team quickly.”

Hundreds of students gathered to line up potential post-graduation jobs wearing pressed suits and carrying crisp resumes.

“I’m excited to get my foot in the door and see what’s out there,” said computer science junior Paul Llamas of Miami. “I did basic casing before coming out and looked at all the companies who were going to be here to see who would be best to talk to.”

Llamas had a long discussion with representatives from Accusoft and connected with alumnus Kris Kindle, who now works for the company as a business intelligence analyst.

Trevor Hillsgrove graduated from Florida Poly in 2018. Hillsgrove now works for Qgiv, an online services provider for nonprofit organizations. He landed the job after meeting with representatives from the company at one of the annual job fairs.

“We love Florida Poly. It’s our number one source of talent,” said Dan Bough, lead data engineer for Qgiv. “The students come out with a good understanding of the real-world engineering and project management part of the software programming process.”

Whiting-Turner, a nationwide contracting company with offices throughout Florida, was on hand with a Florida Poly graduate it hired after she graduated in 2018. Shelby Sims is now a project engineer at the company. She said she was proud to be back and serve as an ambassador for both her school and her employer.

“This is an awesome job and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Sims said. “I want these students to try as many fields as possible and take as many opportunities as possible, because even though you think you might like health care, as soon as you look at construction you might fall in love with it.”

Florida Poly was established as an independent university to provide a pipeline of high-tech talent to tackle Florida’s STEM professional shortage and put the state on the map as a destination with a major tech school like Virginia or Georgia.

“We are connecting students with employers who are in dire need of STEM talent and our students have an opportunity to showcase what they’re capable of,” said Pairris Jones, Florida Poly’s associate director of career services.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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