For the last few years, some of the best and brightest New College students have had the chance to meet and work with the movers and shakers of Florida — business leaders, entrepreneurs and politicians — to get a first-hand look at how government and business work together.
In the program called College Leadership Florida, 40 students from across the state spent six days studying a variety of issues: understanding Florida, public policy, leadership, community service and technology. They met noted government, business and community leaders, consultants and professional educators.
Once back home, students are required to design and implement a public service project.
This year is the first time New College has been able to send more than one participant. And by all accounts, all three students, James Montgomery, Francisco Perez and Saif Iqbal, represented New College well.
“They really take initiative,” said Mercy Joy Corlew, the director of College Leadership Florida, of the New College trio. “They’re confident. They were always asking questions. They were proactive in taking advantage of the opportunity.”
The three were able to attend the program in recent years thanks to former New College Board of Trustee Chair Bill Johnston and his wife, Betsy, who have provided the necessary $2,000 per student. Johnston says the caliber of New College students makes decisions about support easy.
“Frankly, what excites me is your [New College] kids,” he said. They’re smart, interesting and interested. And those are the kind of things that turn me on.”
One of this year’s attendees, Saif Iqbal, said the experience was an education in itself. “It’s changed the way I look at Florida,” he said. “This is one of the best states in America; it’s a very interesting and beautiful place to be. It’s opened my eyes to appreciate it for the place it is.”
Cornell “CJ” Lee, a fourth-year student, went through the program last year. “You learn how big companies are invested in Florida, see how they collaborate, different people in diverse fields … how they come together create the synergy to help the state,” he said.
Lee’s service project involves one of his passions, the SailFuture program, which teaches disadvantaged youth life lessons through learning to sail. “Sailing has taught me a lot about how to achieve goals and overcome obstacles,” Lee explained, saying the course curriculum he’s developing will help the program’s youth to challenge themselves and “see the bigger picture to overcome adversity.”
Lee says College Leadership Florida instills pride in the community. After meeting with CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, he saw what he called “big players” trying how to figure out how to make Florida a better state. “You begin to take a stake in it. You realize what it means to care about where you live, the importance of roots.”
Lee says he and the other Leadership participants stay in regular touch with Johnston. “I met him two years ago when he was the chair of the board of trustees,” Lee recalled. “He made an effort to talk to students and understand them. He’s an absolute stand-up guy.”
Johnston says he feels the investment in the program will yield dividends. “It’s exposure to people ‘in the know’ in Florida. It’s access to different arenas of the intellectual pursuit,” he said. “I don’t know if any of these kids will go into politics. I think some of them should.”