University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus


Fall 2023

Campus Magazine

A win-win for students and businesses

Student Consultant Course Provides Experiential Learning Opportunity While Helping Local Businesses

The University of South Florida is connecting students to companies as a part of a new Student Consulting class at the Sarasota-Manatee campus that has senior-level students offering in-depth analysis and recommendations – all under faculty supervision.

Students in the three-credit, semester-long course work with executives, conduct research and create PowerPoint presentations with customized analysis and recommendations.

“We were especially excited to interact with the students to hear their perspectives,” said Carrie Rasmussen, community engagement director at Easterseals Southwest Florida–Happiness House, one of three local employers involved in the program this past spring.

“Their enthusiasm for the project led to a professional and complete final report that included good and sustainable suggestions, even prompting some fresh ideas on our end,” she said.

Also participating were the FCCI Insurance Group and financial consultants at Cumberland Advisors. Course instructor Greg Smogard, assistant vice president for innovation and business development at Sarasota-Manatee, said the course provides USF “a new way to partner with the community while also preparing our students for the workplace.”

“The Student Consulting course provides students with hands-on consulting experience that they can carry with them after they graduate,” he said. “This helps local businesses, who are able to hear an outsider’s perspective, along with faculty guidance, and it helps the students as they move forward in their careers.

I’m extremely proud of the students and they received excellent feedback.”

The program debuted in 2020. Most of the students are business majors, but it’s open to students of any major.

Accounting senior Sophie Kiehl said the class honed her research and presentation skills while deepening her understanding about nonprofits. She and her teammates were matched with Easterseals.

In addition to offering analysis and marketing solutions, the group learned about the charity’s 75-year philanthropic history in Southwest Florida.

“It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun,” Kiehl said. “I liked that we worked with an actual company on real issues and that we did something we might all do after we graduate and enter the workplace.”

Another student, business major Brett Szalbirak, was paired with FCCI, working with students to analyze COVID-19’s financial impact on the insurance industry.

“It was a great experience overall, and I liked that it wasn’t a traditional class,” Szalbirak said. “It teaches you a lot about project management. You definitely have to be self-disciplined to keep on track with meetings and research and not rush to get your work done at the last minute.” 

Headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, FCCI provides commercial property and casualty insurance, surety and risk management services to policyholders in 20 states plus Washington, D.C. The company supports USF’s School of Risk Management and Insurance, and the campus’ rotunda is named for FCCI.

“The student team we worked with accepted the challenge, solicited and was receptive to feedback, and the students put forth the effort to learn about our industry and organization, the project topic and our expectations,” FCCI Managing Director of Internal Audit & Governance Jessica Markun said.

Students participate in one-on-one interviews with Smogard before signing up for the course. They spend several weeks learning to work as consultants, then meet the executives to hear their assignments. Once the assignments begin, they provide weekly updates to Smogard while also discussing strategies and next steps.

Business management senior Michael Mastroianni said the course was unlike any of his lecture-based classes because he could immediately apply what he learned to actual business scenarios.

“This is a really fast-paced course that tests your marketing, finance, communication and management skills,” he said. “It allows you to utilize all that you’ve learned and apply it together in one class, and you’re working with an actual company. I loved it.”The students were graded on their level of engagement and final presentations.

Mastroianni and his teammates performed market analysis for Sarasota-based Cumberland Advisors. Founded in 1973, Cumberland helps individuals and institutions meet their financial needs through carefully tailored advice and proprietary investment strategies.

“The consulting project is a great experience for executives to ‘step outside’ and not only work with excellent students but embark on seeing how other people – beyond existing clients and vendors – see them,” President and Chief Executive Officer John Mousseau said.

To learn more about the Student Consulting course, contact Smogard at

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About Sarasota-Manatee Campus Magazine

Momentum is published by USF Research and Innovation and the Office of University Communications and Marketing on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The University of South Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities, is a high-impact research university with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.