By Shaun Ryan
About 50 area student-athletes attending a career forum in March recently got a big surprise when the forum’s sponsor presented them with free laptop computers.
Training U Powered by CDW was designed to introduce high school students to career opportunities beyond the sports they play. Forum participants gleaned insights from successful athletes, interacted with career professionals and spoke with representatives of several colleges.
Because the forum coincided with THE PLAYERS Championship, attendees were able to tour the stadium course. The tour was led by PGA TOUR employees from CORE, one of the TOUR’s employee resource groups. CORE established the Training U forum in 2018.
Marsha Oliver, vice president of community and inclusion for the PGA TOUR, said the forum’s goal is to “inform and inspire student athletes about the wide variety of job opportunities and careers available throughout sports.”
“When we think about aspiring athletes who want to be in the game, we also want to show them that there are a myriad of careers that are also within the sport,” said Oliver.
During this year’s program, presenting sponsor CDW and its technology partner Intel delivered a surprise. CDW’s North Florida field sales manager, Troy Okerberg, presented a $25,000 donation to Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub to support the nonprofit’s mission of reducing technology barriers that impede youth from reaching their potential.
“We’re working on equitable access,” said Kathy Schofield, Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub executive director, “making sure that no matter what ZIP code you’re in, you’ve got access to these skills that really open the door for personal economic prosperity.”
STEM2 Hub — in part an acronym for “science, technology, engineering, math” — works with school districts across a seven-county region to close the “digital divide.” Schofield estimated that tens of thousands of local students lack access to a computer at home — especially where, at the end of the school year, district-owned computers must be returned.
At the forum’s conclusion, during the “Fireside with Firsts” discussion, PGA TOUR professional and CDW ambassador Harold Varner III announced that the $25,000 donation would be used to purchase computers for each of the attendees.
CDW is a technology and solutions provider that helps its customers with hardware, software and service needs.
The computers were delivered in June to the students, who were from St. Johns and Duval county schools or participants in First Tee or the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation.
CDW representatives were able to participate in the computer distribution.
“For me, it’s super-rewarding to be able to kind of see the donation in action,” said Okerberg.
Reflecting on the event, he called it a proud moment for CDW.
“We find it so important to interact and support organizations in our local community where we live and work,” he said. “We definitely share the belief that all students should have access to technology to pursue their educational and career aspirations. Our donation to STEM2 Hub reflects that belief.”
As in the past, the forum centerpiece was a panel discussion, “Beyond the Sport: Igniting Passion for a Profession,” moderated by Donna Orender, Orender Unlimited CEO, Generation W founder and former WNBA president.
Panelists included seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller, ESPN golf analyst Michael Collins, Wimbleton finalist MaliVai Washington and two-time PGA TOUR winner Len Mattiace.
Participating students also spoke with “career champions” — a sports physician from St. Vincent’s Health System, the Brentwood Golf Course general manager, the head of marketing for the Association of Tennis Professionals, general manager for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, head of marketing for the Jacksonville Jaguars and deputy general counsel for the PGA TOUR.
In addition, students met with representatives of Edwards Waters College, the University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Jacksonville University and Navy Region Southeast. Florida State College awarded one student a $500 scholarship.
Computer donations like this one have proven critical to the mission of Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub. Previously, the PGA TOUR donated 500 computers when it was planning to replace them. Recently, TIAA also donated 300.
To learn more about Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub, go to stem2hub.org or call Schofield at 904-502-0958.