Getting a foot in the door
Justin Jensen sits next to the high-tech equipment at Laser Components in Palm City where crystals are grown for use in pyroelectric infrared detectors. After graduating from Indian River State College, Jensen went from being an intern to supervising several other IRSC interns. GREG GARDNER PHOTO
Internships help IRSC graduates hit the ground running
BY GREG GARDNER
Indian River State College graduates are landing hundreds of well-paying local jobs in a variety of careers, many of them staying on after internships.
Justin Jensen says he learned more studying for his associate degree in electronics engineering, photonics than he did earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Florida State University. The 26-year-old project engineer at Laser Components in Palm City began as an intern and today supervises several interns.
The company with partners in Germany grows “very rare” crystals used in the development and manufacture of pyroelectric infrared detectors. “Thermal detectors are used in commercial applications including spectroscopy, gas analysis, flame detection, medical, aerospace and defense applications,” says Jensen. “We provide detectors to companies throughout the world for these applications, and currently are the only provider in the world for DLATGS and LiTaO3 based detectors.”
“IRSC was monumental in my career, giving me access to the teachers, hands-on, high-tech labs to be involved in research. We have had interns the past few years. We are heavily involved with IRSC. They have well-trained students who are vital to our growth. We have gone from four employees 18 months ago to 12 full-time today.”
LIKED WHAT THEY SAW
Edgar Morataya is looking for a couple of interns from IRSC at Hometown Financial. His first intern, Gabriela Valdes, was a perfect fit and the company’s first hire from the college. “When she came here she was on time and prepared with ethics and business knowledge,” Morataya says of Valdes, who received one of the first bachelor’s degrees in business administration given by IRSC. “We liked what we saw. She was professional and knew how to write a letter and respond to emails. If it’s a perfect fit, we are going to hire someone.”
Jeremiah Willis literally hit the ground running after graduating from IRSC’s Law Enforcement Academy in August 2014. Willis, who interned a summer semester with his hometown Port St. Lucie Police Department, walked off the stage at graduation and was offered a job by Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, who teaches supervisory leadership courses at IRSC.
“It is our primary recruiting ground,” Currey says. “Jeremiah has a positive attitude and he is very personable. He cares quite a bit. He is a team player with no issues. As an administrator, you look for that in a patrol officer.” Willis, 22, is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from IRSC while working as one of 54 sworn police officers on the streets of Vero Beach.
“The college is there to support you, the teachers, the administrators,” says Willis, who is working different details to gain experience. “I did everything they (IRSC) asked me and it was fantastic. I was hired super fast. I love what I am doing.”
Shelby Rebora is one of the first graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education from IRSC. She was hired as an exceptional student education specialist at Floresta Elementary School in Port St. Lucie, working with children from kindergarten to fifth grade.
“The students love her,” Floresta principal Dawna Guiel says of Rebora, who was chosen by her peers as 2015 Outstanding First Year Teacher. “She plans well and collaborates with teachers. She is crisis trained and helps us with discipline. The four-year (IRSC) program is new, but there is good teacher preparation. Intervals of teaching experience are really helpful to what teaching will look like with the different learning strategies to meet their (ESE students) individual needs. She was very well prepared.”
IRSC WAS ALWAYS THERE
Rebora was able to go to school while taking care of her young children. Her husband is also an IRSC graduate working as a paramedic in Martin County. “IRSC has been very good to us,” she says. “I got hands-on experience from professors who are still teaching. They were always there when I needed them and so willing to help you get through it.”
With the addition of the four-year nursing school, IRSC graduates are finding work at hospitals all over the Treasure Coast. Almost 300 people have been hired at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute. “Our partnership with Indian River State College has helped to help ease the student-to-nurse transition,” says Brenda Dupree, chief nursing officer at Lawnwood. “Our program provides student nurses the opportunity to work under the direction of a registered nurse and gain direct nursing experience. In turn, some of these students join our team as employees.”
There are 211 interns working at Lawnwood in radiology, paramedicine, respiratory healing, practicum, pharmacy technology, lab work and as surgical technicians. Students seeking associate degrees also work at Lawnwood to gain experience.
Kamron Pratt had nursing experience as a Navy corpsman including a tour in Iraq, but he needed formal education to continue his career. Through the GI Bill and scholarships, Pratt is grateful he has not had to pay for college while he works full time at Lawnwood as a nurse in the trauma care intensive care unit. He can’t wait to graduate from IRSC in April as a registered nurse. Pratt hopes to attend officer candidate school in the fall and transfer from the Navy Reserves to active duty.
“Indian River State College changed my life and helped me grow as a person,” Pratt says. “It was an outlet to reach my goals. You get out of it what you put in. Why reach for the sky when there are footprints on the moon? I am a nurse and I am so happy.”
NEED GROWS AS BOOMERS AGE
Yajaira “JJ” Wouters enjoys her long hours in respiratory therapy at Martin Health System, using her IRSC training to care for patients. “They did an excellent job getting us ready for work in the field. You have to be ready. It is a lifesaving field and it is tough when it comes to teaching, very intense. I have saved many lives working with critical patients. It is nice when you have a critical patient walk in weeks later all better and want to thank you.”
A critical shortage of nurses in Florida is expected to worsen as the large population of baby boomers requires more health care. The Florida Center for Nursing is projecting a shortage of more than 50,000 registered nurses by 2025.
Planning ahead on the Treasure Coast, Martin Health System and Indian River State College have partnered to expand the nursing program. The goal is to train nurses for Tradition Medical Center in Port St. Lucie, which is undergoing expansion and will require 200 additional nurses by 2018. To meet this challenge, Martin Health System has made a financial commitment to IRSC of $750,000 to hire additional nursing faculty and enroll 80 additional associate degree in nursing students.
“IRSC has long been a valued partner with Martin Health System in developing a skilled workforce that provides exceptional patient care,” says Robert L. Lord Jr., senior vice president and chief operating officer for Martin Health System.