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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 1 year ago

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An innovative University of Florida internship program is off to a fast start in Sarasota. More communities are interested in teaming up with the school.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

With a goal of 10 internships, Jason Krywko started off modestly last summer in his work pairing University of Florida engineering students with Sarasota area companies.

But high demand met high supply, and he wound up filling 25 paid internship positions at 12 local companies, including stalwart area business such as L3 Technologies, Robrady Design and PGT Innovations.

“The need and demand is significant for both interns and full-time employees,” he says. “Companies were going out of state to find candidates. So we've opened the door up for them to realize what's available just a couple hours north.”

Krywko is the industry programs coordinator for the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County. The program is the first physical extension of the University of Florida's Florida Engineering Experiment Station — FLEXStation — which aims to help the state become a national high-tech leader.

The Innovation Station, which utilizes partnerships with the public and private sectors and garners support from organizations like Gulf Coast Community Foundation, debuted to big fanfare in March 2016. The program's regional director is longtime Sun Hydraulics CEO Al Carlson, who retired from the $197 million Sarasota-based valve manufacturer in April 2016.

The program has two overarching goals: To show the local area the talent and resources available at the university's Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and help grow and diversify the local economy.

Internships are one way to do that. Companies gain access to well-educated talent who could become full-time employees in the future, and students get introduced to the Sarasota area, and the career opportunities and quality of life available in the area.

It took some convincing for local companies to realize how the Innovation Station could benefit them on the internship front. Carlson, well connected with other area engineering executives and companies, has helped open some doors. The Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County and local workforce development organization CareerEdge also helped connect Krywko with area firms and walk executives through the internship process.

“Some of them had never had an intern before and didn't know what to do,” says Krywko. “Now they're reaching out to us asking not just for interns but for candidates for permanent jobs.”

Many students were from the local area, but others were new to Sarasota County. Krywko worked closely with each company to understand the specific needs and find the right students to meet them. Students filled internship positions in a variety of engineering sectors, from mechanical and aerospace to the digital arts and sciences.

“We did not want internships that would be deemed a failure,” he says. “So we made sure these were good matches and the students were qualified and ready to work.”

This year's goal is 30 internships at 20 companies. Many of the firms that have already worked with the Innovation Station have requested their interns return, and nine have committed to hiring additional interns. “They realized it was a fantastic experience and they'd like more of what they had,” says Krywko.

Krywko, who formerly worked at Sleek Audio, a family-run earphones manufacturing business in Manatee County, sees no shortage of qualified candidates for local internships and full-time jobs. “We had more 'want' positions than we had positions available,” he says.

Krywko also sees potential to work with companies outside Sarasota County in the future and on initiatives beyond internships. And he's spreading the word about things like the UF Integrated Product and Process Design Program, where local companies can provide projects for engineering senior capstone design programs. That gives students real-world experience and businesses another way to check out potential future employees.

“We're getting contacted by companies in DeSoto and Manatee counties, by companies in Naples,” he says. “It's really growing. People are hearing about us and contacting us now. And we're bringing students here to realize where they can live, work and play affordably and have an amazing job.”

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