A Q&A with Jay Riley
Officially, Jay Riley serves as director of business outreach and community engagement in the Office of External Affairs at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Unofficially, he does much more, developing and managing partnerships between students, staff and faculty and local businesses, civic organizations and numerous USF stakeholders.
In short, he helps connect the campus to the communities it serves. You could say Jay is the campus’ unofficial ambassador. Recently, we caught up with Jay to ask about some of the latest ways he’s reaching out to local businesses and others.
Q. First, tell us about the role you play at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus.
A. During my 27 years in the region, I’ve developed relationships with multiple businesses, organizations and individuals who share our vision of building up our community through education. The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus provides a convenient, affordable education for students from all walks of life, and I try to connect our students with our community partners who can help position them for success, whether it’s through internships, part-time jobs, full-time career opportunities, community service, you name it. I try to connect our students with community leaders so they can learn from them and grow into successful leaders in our community.
Q. USF hosts a number of outreach programs, including many that you have piloted, such as Bulls and Biz, the Mentoring Program and Shadow Day, which is held in partnership with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Manatee Chamber of Commerce. To start, tell us about Shadow Day, one of your most recent programs. I understand that the program was extended through the pandemic. Is that right?
A. The Shadow Day program started in 2018 with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. The idea was to help students understand the workplace and gain a behind-the-scenes view into the daily lives of CEOs. We thought this would help students, especially those still trying to figure out a career path, to connect with businesses and potential new employers. The event also demonstrates the level of talent available at USF and presents students with an understanding of the many career opportunities within this community. They learn that they don’t have to leave the area to get a good job and that there are many fine employers here locally. We decided to extend the program through the pandemic because it had been so successful and there was interest to create a virtual event to connect with local businesses. So we moved forward with that and it was very successful. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from both of the local chambers.
Q. The Bulls in Biz career fair has been one of most popular on-campus events in recent
years, connecting students and local businesses. Can you tell us about the program
and how much interest there is among businesses to participate?
A. Bulls in Biz is a Homecoming networking event that connects students and alumni with local employers. It’s designed to help students obtain internship opportunities and possible career leads with businesses, nonprofits and local government agencies. The program has grown in recent years, mainly because it allows employers and students to meet face to face in a relaxed, friendly setting. That way, they really get to know each other. Our last Bulls in Biz took place in November 2021, and more than 20 local businesses participated.
Q. In addition to helping local businesses, how does Bulls in Biz benefit USF students, and is the event open to students of any major?
A. Bulls in Biz is open to students of 12 any major across USF, not just here at this campus. In addition to providing students with multiple career and job opportunities, the event offers students valuable networking opportunities along with interviewing experience, which can help after they graduate and start looking for jobs. Even if they don’t end up with a job at this event, they can make connections that could help them later on.
Q. Another popular program in recent years has been the Mentoring Program matching local executives with USF students. How did this program begin and how does it differ from Shadow Day and Bulls in Biz?
A. We had done a similar program many years ago and decided to bring it back as a pilot program last year. The idea for the Mentoring Program was to create a long-term mentoring relationship program over multiple semesters to help students grow professionally while also giving them opportunities to gain inspiration from executives and insight into their own possible career options. The program is organized around each student’s needs. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all model - it’s student based. We’ve found that, over the years, some students benefit more from a long-term, mentoring-type relationship while others do better in more traditional internship setting where they can gain practical experience. The idea is to help the students in a way that works for them. In general, the executives partner with the students to help them develop goals and possible outcomes for the relationship. Going forward, what we would like to do, based on feedback and what we’ve seen at other campuses, is to further enhance this program around the students’ needs, so that it continues to be tailored to each student.
Q. USF has long been known as a veteran- and military-friendly university. In fact, the campus’ Office of Veteran and Military Success helps to connect student veterans to the resources they need to succeed in both their studies and life. Tell us about some of the ways you have contributed to assist our student veterans?
A. One of the things I’ve been working on with our student veterans relates to career exploration and development, connecting our military veterans with professionals within their specialized field of interest, whether through mentoring, shadowing or internships that match their education and training. In fact, we’ve had quite a few veterans who have shown a strong interest in applying their military background and educational training at USF to their professional goals. Some veterans have expressed interest in national security, and we’ve been able to arrange several internships at one of the world’s top security firms, Security Management International (SMI), in Washington, D.C., and that program has been very successful in connecting student veterans to possible new career paths. This is important because these students have been able to take what they’ve learned, both in the military and at USF, and apply it after graduation to a specific field in the public sector, including national security, or private sector. Our veterans deserve whatever help we can give them, and SMI has been very helpful in guiding our students and showing them the possibilities as they look to build their careers. I can’t thank them enough.
Q. Lastly, can you tell us what you enjoy most about your job when it comes to outreach and providing support to USF students?
A. There are two things I enjoy most about my job and they’re strongly interconnected. I enjoy collaborating with faculty and staff and working with students. My strength is building relationships, and I’ve always enjoyed connecting students with local executives and other resources to help them explore new careers and succeed in their professional development. I also enjoy working with faculty and staff to help them connect with local stakeholders to talk about their work and the ways it benefits our community and brings value to USF. This is an awesome place to work, and if I can connect people to help them see the amazing things happening at USF and how the university can benefit the community, then I’ve done my job. I also have to say, and it may sound corny, but I feel truly privileged to wake up and come here every day.