Education forges paths. Some grit their teeth and hack their way through while others follow a gilded yellow brick road, but anyone who makes it to the finish line finds a world of opportunity — and a lasting love of learning. Seminole State College President Georgia Lorenz wasn’t sure exactly where her own path would lead, although a guidance counselor’s premonition sparked an idea of what was to come: “She told me that I would major in English and then go into education. I resisted for a while, but ultimately, she was right,” Lorenz recalled. And it’s a good thing she was. Lorenz went on to serve as the vice president for academic affairs at Santa Monica College for several years, where a partnership with Arizona State University helped her implement a “guided pathways” model that helps colleges and universities implement clearer paths to students’ goals with embedded support and assistance. After 13 years at Santa Monica College, she found herself wondering about a new road: pursuing a college presidency. A job posting for Seminole State College guided her to Central Florida, where she now works to carve paths to education for anyone with the desire to learn.
What new opportunities has Central Florida presented?
Central Florida is ripe with all sorts of opportunities for the college and the students we serve. This region has great aspirations and ambitions to grow economically, which is exciting. But even more important than that is a genuine commitment to broad-based economic prosperity for all. That is core to the mission of Seminole State College — bringing about socio-economic mobility for students and families through excellence in education. I have seen this commitment in action from the Orlando Economic Partnership, the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Chamber, University of Central Florida, Career Source Central Florida, the National Entrepreneur Center and its affiliated organizations, Florida Citrus Sports, LIFT Orlando, and many other organizations that serve the area.
What are you and your team keeping in mind in building and continuing a legacy for Seminole State?
At Seminole State, we continue to focus on academic excellence, affordability, open access and equipping our graduates with the skills and capabilities to “Go Far” at a university or in the workplace. The recent Florida 2030 jobs report produced by the Florida Chamber Foundation indicates that the information students learn in college now has a shelf life of about five years. Our role is to enable students to succeed in their chosen professions at the outset but also to have the skills to pivot and adapt as industries and jobs evolve in our rapidly changing economy.
We are also focused on relationship building — providing more options for students by developing a range of partners while continuing our close association with Seminole County Public Schools and UCF. The majority of our associate in arts (AA)/university transfer graduates go on to attend UCF via DirectConnect™. We are also partnering with UF Online from the University of Florida and with Complete Florida. Both of these programs are targeted at serving nontraditional, adult students who are returning to college to complete their degrees.
Central Florida is home to so many universities and growing industries. What do you find exciting about the talent here, and what do you hope for the future?
The talent in higher education and in the business community here is amazing. I have been particularly impressed by the quality of our faculty and staff at the college, the majority of whom have advanced degrees. Many of our faculty also bring real-world industry experience and are licensed professionals in their fields. The college also supports our next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, providing opportunities for work experience and internships, which often lead to jobs. For example, Betsy Prokes, a recent bachelor’s in interior design graduate, interned first for Universal Studios and will be working for the company in Beijing starting this summer. And she is one of many alumni who stay here in Central Florida or find work with Central Florida organizations.
Getting to know our current students stokes my hope for the future. Our students are incredibly talented and ambitious. You will be impressed when they become your employees!
What kinds of steps can students take while still in school to ready themselves for the professional world? Are there any programs Seminole State has implemented to help with this?
I recommend students visit the Career Development Center at the start of their academic experience. Traditionally this is something students were advised to do as they approached graduation. That is too late. Students should start with the end in mind and have some idea of the career they want to pursue, which will inform their choice of academic major. The career center also offers workshops in many critical skill areas.
Students should also seek out internship and work opportunities related to their field. During each term, we have hundreds of students completing internships and cooperative assignments with area employers, giving our students relevant work experience before they enter the workforce full time. The internships provide students the opportunity to explore career paths and options, experience a professional work environment, connect with professionals in their career field of interest, and observe skills and job tasks related to their career field. Informational interviews with leaders in that field are also very valuable. In fact, I did that with the dean of students when I was figuring out what to do with my life, and he helped me decide that a career in higher education was for me.
What do the prevalent areas of interest for students tell you about the future of Central Florida? How do the leaders of tomorrow impact regional priorities?
I think the prevalent areas of interest for students are reflective of the future of Central Florida and tend to be in areas that are considered regional priorities. Cybersecurity, for example, is in high demand both in the workforce and among our students who are pursuing IT and computer programming degrees. Seminole State offers 200 programs, and the college is responsive to our community and industry partners for workforce needs. We don’t maintain programs that do not lead to careers and competitive salaries in Central Florida. We closely watch the Targeted Occupations list and other data sources to ensure our programs align with regional priorities. The fact that over the past 10 years we initiated 48 new programs and terminated 53 programs serves as evidence of our commitment to that alignment.
What factors do you consider when developing the curriculum?
The most important consideration when our faculty develops the curriculum for any course or program is ensuring that it prepares students to excel in their chosen field, whether that’s anthropology or construction management. The college works with more than 300 business and industry leaders who serve on the advisory boards for each of our career-oriented programs. Our advisory board members keep us up to date on industry trends, provide key competencies our graduates need, advise us on curriculum changes, and give our students those important internship opportunities. The Seminole State Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning engages our faculty members in professional development to implement innovative and effective instructional strategies that also impact curriculum development.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Seminole State College curriculum is an increasing focus on problem-based and experiential learning. For example, business students completing a bachelor’s degree act as consultants to local companies and help them solve an identified business problem as part of their capstone projects.
What are some developments or trends in higher education that you are most excited about? What areas do you think need more attention?
One of the national trends in higher education is redesigning the student experience using a “guided pathways” approach. This research-based methodology has been promoted and implemented nationally by the American Association of Community Colleges. Simply put, the idea is to create a more structured educational experience, which helps students make informed decisions that accelerate progress to their academic goal, saving them time and money. It also anchors the student experience in their career interests. This is an exciting and promising development in higher education. It shifts the focus to how colleges and universities can become more “student ready” rather than only focusing on getting students “college ready.”
I think the needs of part-time students and returning adult students should be getting more attention, and these are two areas that we will be focusing on at Seminole State College. The majority of the students who attend one of the Florida State Colleges are attending part-time. There are many reasons for this, including financial resources and family and work obligations. There is little we can do to change those conditions for thousands of students. I want to think strategically about what we can do as an institution to become the best college for part-time students. In addition, we know there are many adults who have earned some college units but never completed a college degree. What can Seminole State College do to effectively and efficiently serve that student population and get them to that finish line?
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Be your genuine self and bring your whole self to the work. This means allowing yourself to be vulnerable in the workplace, which can be uncomfortable. I am not sure anyone ever really sat down and explained this to me, but I have observed this behavior in those leaders I respect and admire the most. I remember this lesson particularly when I am in new situations and feeling tentative about how I might be perceived. I have never gone wrong by being true to myself, my values and my commitments.
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of i4 BUSINESS.