Six USFSP Students Complete TBTF Boot Camp

A photo of the USFSP student participants, from left: Heidi Roschke, Emily McKelvey, Caleb Bacon, Aaron Wasserman, Tim Carty and Andy Fernandez. Photo is courtesy of Andy Fernandez.

USFSP student participants, from left: Heidi Roschke, Emily McKelvey, Caleb Bacon, Aaron Wasserman, Tim Carty and Andy Fernandez. Photo is courtesy of Andy Fernandez.

Six students in the USF St. Petersburg Kate Tiedemann College of Business were selected to participate in a five-day Exploratory Lab Boot Camp through the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. This marked the second iteration of the TBTF Exploratory Lab Boot Camp, which kicked off its pilot program in March with two USFSP student participants and others from area institutions. This semester’s students included:

  • Aaron Wasserman, senior, Entrepreneurship
  • Andy Fernandez, junior, Finance
  • Emily McKelvey, senior, Management Information Systems
  • Heidi Roschke, junior, Finance
  • Caleb Bacon, post-baccalaureate student pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems
  • Tim Carty, senior, Entrepreneurship

The goal of the program is to help college students learn skills necessary for landing a job after graduation, and to increase non-tech student interest in the Technology industry. The idea resulted from a collaborative study conducted by several local economic development organizations to determine why technology groups could not fill positions. What they discovered was a gap in training and communication between technology businesses and academic institutions teaching the next generation of workers.

“Exploratory Lab is a middle ground between education and business: It’s an area where education and business can come together with no risk of criticism,” said Patricia Gehant, director of IT Workforce Initiative at TBTF, which led the study. “We’re not doing this because one or the other is doing something wrong – it’s the right way to expose students to the skills that businesses want.”

Prior to the study, only 35 percent of the businesses had a relationship with colleges in the region, said Gehant. “One of the recommendations that came out of the study was to conduct an exploratory lab program to help students work with business leaders who define what skills they need students to have.”

Gehant worked with a number of local corporations and academic institutions, including the University of South Florida, USF St. Petersburg, University of Tampa and St. Petersburg College, to help start the initiative. The boot camp, which involves more than 40 hours of training over five days, requires participants to attend two pre-boot camp sessions, be part of team pitch presentations and attend a graduation ceremony, in order to complete the program.

Gary Patterson, interim dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business, said the boot camp provides an opportunity for students to meet and interact with high level business professionals directly.

“This program is a great way for students in all disciplines to enhance their technical skills and increase their marketability in the job market,” Patterson said.

For the team presentations, boot camp participants were invited as part of three teams to present their wearable technology pitch proposals to Bob Dutkowsky, chief executive officer of Tech Data, and a panel of business and academic professionals. Two of the USFSP students, Aaron Wasserman and Andy Fernandez, were on the team whose project was selected to be the most marketable.

“I believe that it was chosen as the winner due to the fact that we provided the best return on investment, lowest risk and the most scalable option,” said Fernandez, who serves as vice president for the Student Chapter of TBTF. “Our idea had the possibility to expand to other verticals such as the education system, blue-collar working locations, reform systems and even sporting events.”

Fernandez added that the experience was invaluable.

“Being able to pitch our idea in front of multiple C-Level Employees from various corporations was a thrill,” said Fernandez, who noted that the boot camp opened up a number of career opportunities for him. “Knowing that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, such as Bob Dutkowsky, was watching allowed me to understand the importance of good preparation and delivery because you never know who will be listening, and especially who’d be willing to buy in to your idea or product.”