Lighting the Way

January 13, 2021

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Phillip Denizard ’16 and mentor Stacy Van Praagh ’93 discuss professional pursuits on Mills Lawn.
Phillip Denizard ’16’s relationship with his mentor Stacy Van Praagh ’93 has been an instrumental part of his personal and professional growth. Photo by Scott Cook.

As students and grads face challenges unlike ever before, Rollins calls on alumni near and far to extend a helping hand.

Working at luxury fashion house Alexander McQueen, Phillip Denizard ’16 has the job of his dreams. But he didn’t wake up to this reality all by himself.

Six years ago, Denizard was a second-year communication major with a flair for fashion. Stacy Van Praagh ’93 was a highly accomplished sales executive whose resume included the likes of Fendi, Oscar de la Renta, Kate Spade, and Chanel.

Denizard’s hustle and determination impressed Van Praagh, who became his mentor and helped him land an internship at L’Eclaireur in Paris. That opened doors to a retail merchandising internship at Givenchy, followed by full-time employment at Gucci in New York City.

Today, Denizard and Van Praagh have reunited at Alexander McQueen, where she’s president of the Americas and he’s an inventory planner and allocator. Their relationship, says Denizard, has been “the biggest part of my growth.”

Of course, this story is not unique—Rollins has always been known for its sense of community and loyal alumni network. Never in our lifetime, however, has the need for personal and professional connection been so great.

This summer, after COVID-19 ravaged America’s economy and crushed job prospects for graduating seniors across the world, Rollins launched its Share the Light campaign. The goal is to help every Rollins student access the kind of advantages and opportunities Denizard gained through his relationship with Van Praagh, whether it’s through job and internship connections or mentorship and expertise. How can you share your light?

One-on-one advising session in Bush Science Center.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Career Launches

Barry Janay ’00 and Hannah White ’20 were the first official match through Rollins’ Class of 2020 Jobs Challenge, the first major initiative of the Share the Light campaign. When Janay, who owns a small New Jersey law firm, heard about the opportunity to help, he wasted no time getting involved. Needing assistance on the administrative and marketing side, he created a position and contacted Rollins.

The Center for Career & Life Planning identified candidates who matched the job description, and Janay chose White ’20, a communication major seeking work after COVID-19 eliminated a position she had lined up with a sports TV network.

“From the first conversation I had with Hannah,” says Janay, “I knew this could be a really great fit because she wasn’t afraid to learn new skills.”

As the firm’s marketing specialist and client relations manager, White handles publicity, lead generation, web design, and a variety of client touchpoints. Janay has big plans to expand his firm, and he’s turning to White to lay the groundwork in strategic areas.

“Rollins helped me accomplish things that were out of my comfort zone,” says White, “and that’s helped me jump into a different career role than I originally planned.”

Jose Fernandez ’95 and Estefania Toro Betancur ’18
From left: Jose Fernandez ’95 and Estefania Toro Betancur ’18.

Bright Spots

Rebecca Wilson ’18 is no stranger to struggle, having watched both her parents lose their jobs during the Great Recession and almost losing her mother to cancer. When she told her mentor and then-trustee Kellee Johnson ’90 she was interested in changing careers, Johnson used her network to connect Wilson to Sharon Frawley ’81, a corporate recruiter specializing in the insurance industry. Frawley helped Wilson get her foot in the door at Vault, a personal insurance firm where she is now an underwriter.

For Jose Fernandez ’92 and Estefania Toro Betancur ’18, a Rollins ballcap sparked their connection. Toro Betancur was interviewing Fernandez, president of Florida Compass Group, for a video being produced by the nonprofit where she was interning when she spotted the cap in his office, so she struck up a conversation. Fernandez was so impressed
by how confident and well-spoken she was that he offered her an internship and eventually hired her as a business strategy analyst at his firm.

By the Numbers

In early March, the Class of 2020 was poised to enter one of the strongest job markets in history. With the advent of COVID-19, everything changed.

  • ZipRecruiter postings for entry-level jobs typically filled by college graduates fell 73%.
  • Unemployment for ages 20 to 24 skyrocketed to nearly 1 in 4 workers.
Intern Neny Lairet ’21 discussing the day’s tasks with Knoza Consulting COO Allen Kupetz while walking on the treadmill.
Last year, Neny Lairet ’21 started at Knoza Consulting as a client services intern and now works as a client services manager. Photo by Scott Cook.

Impactful Internships

Orlando-based Knoza Consulting knows a thing or two about building winning teams. Founded by CEO Adam Schwartz ’10 ’12MBA, the Amazon optimization company regularly mines Rollins for new hires. Today, seven of Knoza’s 21 employees are from Rollins’ Class of 2020, and five more have ties to the College as graduates, students, or faculty.

“In hiring Rollins grads,” says Schwartz, “we know what we are getting, and that is a teammate who can think, communicate, and grow.”

Teammates like Neny Lairet ’21, for example, an international business major who started as a client services intern last year and, two promotions later, now works as a client services manager, drawing on skills in teamwork and task management that she gained at Rollins.

The investment in grads like Lairet has produced a high degree of success in a short amount of time. The company, with more than 100 clients on three continents, quickly exceeded $1.5 million in annual recurring revenue and has created multiple positions since the onset of the pandemic, with more expansion on the horizon.

“This is the classic win-win,” says COO Allen H. Kupetz, former Rollins business professor and Schwartz’ longtime mentor. “We need well-trained grads, and they need a job … and, of course, our clients are the biggest winners, working with such a well-educated team.”

Michael Gutensohn ’18 and Ahrmon Mahanpour ’20
Both Michael Gutensohn ’18 and Ahrmon Mahanpour ’20 had transformative internship experiences at NASA and Microsoft respectively during their time at Rollins.

Bright Spots

Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning helps connect Tars to the best in hands-on, real-world experience both in our backyard and around the world. Just ask Ahrmon Mahanpour ’20, an economics major who turned his internship at Microsoft into a full-time account manager position where he’s helping clients find creative solutions for their business systems.

“My internship really showed me that technology can empower anyone, no matter their status,” he says.

Just like Mahanpour discovered a home at Microsoft, at Rollins Michael Gutensohn ’18 discovered that not even the sky was the limit. The computer science major parlayed four internships at NASA—where he worked on everything from 3-D facial and object recognition to software development and computer engineering—into his current position as an artificial intelligence engineer at Apple.

“The interpersonal skills I gained from attending Rollins definitely gave me an edge at NASA,” says Gutensohn. “I was able to talk through design decisions with clients and users, asking questions other developers might not know how to ask.”

By the Numbers

Studies done by Gallup and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU) show that internships are the No. 1 attribute employers look for in recent college graduates.

  • More than 90% of executives and hiring managers prefer employees who have on-the-job experience.
  • Those who engaged in experiential learning are 2 times more likely to flourish professionally, a finding backed by Rollins’ own research.
  • In 2019, Rollins student interns logged over 41,800 hours in academic credit-bearing internships.
Brandon Burns ’08 and Harrison Loew ’20
Brandon Burns ’08 and Harrison Loew ’20 sparked an immediate connection through Rollins’ Career Champions Mentorship Program.Photo by Scott Cook.

Meaningful Mentorship

They were paired up two years ago through Rollins’ Career Champions Mentorship Program, but the bond between Brandon Burns ’08 and Harrison Loew ’21 keeps growing stronger by the day. It’s also helped produce one heck of a starting gig.

Since age 15, Loew, an international business major, has been 100 percent invested in his goal of working as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch. Thanks in no small part to career navigation tips from his mentor Burns, associate portfolio manager at City National Rochdale, Loew recently accepted a full-time offer, starting in July 2021, with the company of his dreams.

“At the beginning, I saw Brandon as an asset in a career path that requires a strong professional network,” says Loew. “As time went on, that relationship flourished to encompass far more than what I had anticipated. I learned a tremendous amount of key information that made me a better intern, professional, and friend.”

Burns explains that the real power of a program like Career Champions is in its ability to create real connections built on shared interests and camaraderie, explaining that he and his “professional ally and friend” focus on career growth and opportunities but also talk about life, sports, food, and even politics.

“Mentorship programs don’t just benefit the mentee,” says Burns. “I never realized the positive impact it would have on improving my own skill sets in communication, leadership, and self-awareness.”

George Sciarrino ’07 and Mariam Tabrez 18
Through George Sciarrino ’07’s mentorship, Mariam Tabrez ’18 discovered an interest in intellectual property law that she plans to apply to the entertainment and fashion space.

Bright Spots

Without George Sciarrino ’07’s guidance and insight, Mariam Tabrez ’18 might never have developed a passion for fashion law. She is now in her third year at New York Law School, where Sciarrino earned his JD. Inspired by her mentor’s career path, Tabrez plans to focus on intellectual property law within the entertainment and fashion space. She also became a legal intern at the Humans of Fashion foundation, a nonprofit that partners with the Fashion Law Institute, where Sciarrino is a volunteer.

“The connection I made through the Career Champions Mentorship Program really got me excited about my future,” says Tabrez.

It’s this ability of the Career Champions program to spark connections that transcend the timeline of the program that helped communication major Shaneen Hermantin ’20 realize her dream of working at the intersection of social media and food. Her mentor, Andi Perez ’10 ’12MA, senior community and marketing director at Yelp, connected Hermantin to Rockaway PR, an Orlando-based culinary lifestyle agency where she’s currently working as a paid intern.

By the Numbers

The 2019-20 cohort of Rollins Career Champions included 47 pairs of mentors and mentees, and the impactful program is continuing to grow.

  • 100% of alumni mentors reported they would recommend the program to a peer.
  • 100% of students said the experience helped them grow professionally.
  • According to the Gallup-Purdue Index, workplace engagement doubled for college grads with a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.
Day with a Champ mentorship event at Charles Schwab.
Rollins’ first Day with a Champ event included multiple alumni panelists serving in a variety of roles at financial giant Charles Schwab.

Invaluable Expertise

In 2019, Eric Fraser ’08, a managing director in Charles Schwab’s Orlando office, piloted Rollins’ Day with a Champ job shadowing program.

Seven Tars shadowed Fraser throughout the day and met with an alumni panel of Schwab employees. One of those students was business management major William Narut ’19, who is now working as an advisor custody and trading associate at Charles Schwab.

“The job shadowing program was a great opportunity to learn about the financial industry and Charles Schwab,” says Narut. “Eric gave us the opportunity to sit with representatives and see the role firsthand. During that day, I actually met my current manager.”

At Rollins, alumni have several options to share their expertise with students.

Chat with a Champ provides opportunities for panel discussions, speaking events, and flash mentoring, where alumni hold informational interviews in person or remotely. The Career Champion in Residence program allows distinguished alumni leaders to visit campus for a full day of engagement with students, faculty, staff, and student organizations. In addition, other customizable options can also be explored.

Doorstep Delivery co-founder William Moore ’99 and Career Champion mentee Nick Johnson ’20.
Doorstep Delivery co-founder William Moore ’99 served as the inaugural Champion in Residence last year—one of the first events in the new Kathleen W. Rollins. Photo by Scott Cook.

Bright Spots

William Moore ’99, co-founder of Doorstep Delivery, was Rollins’ inaugural Champion in Residence. In February, he spoke with students, met one on one with his Career Champion mentee Nick Johnson ’20, led a discussion on entrepreneurship, and shared best practices from his industry experience.

“I was able to go back and share knowledge with the place that played such a crucial part in shaping mine,” says Moore.

Another tier of Career Champions is Chat with a Champ, where grads like Neil Otto ’05, talent acquisition and HR compliance administrator at Orange County Public Schools, have contributed expertise through Making Any Major Marketable, one of Rollins’ Career & Life Planning courses. In April, Otto also hosted the first virtual Chat with a Champ session to help students navigate the evolving job market in the face of the pandemic.

Grads can also offer guidance through the Careers Courses program. Zack Starkey ’10 ’12MPCU, a broker associate at Emerson International, regularly gives back through these immersive events, which include everything from panel discussions to mock happy hours and intimate conversations.

“I am always impressed by the engagement and preparedness of the students,” says Starkey.

By the Numbers

Last year, almost 300 Rollins students connected with alumni professionals in one of the many engagement opportunities offered by the Center for Career & Life Planning.

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