Earning a degree that means business

Preparing students for success is the bottom line

Whether you are thinking of changing careers, enhancing your current skills or dreaming of your own business, practical knowledge and effective management and communication skills are all linked to the success achieved in the many facets of the business world.

One piece of advice - “If you’re not going to major in business, you should at least minor in business,” says SJR State’s Director of Business Education Merrianne Bieler. “Because everything is a business.”

From financial institutions and insurance companies to corporations and small business enterprises, Northeast Florida’s local businesses rely on skilled employees to help them thrive, and St. Johns River State College is a key contender in preparing students to fulfill those needs.

SJR State President Joe Pickens, J.D., said the College takes a leadership role in initiating degree programs that meet the workforce needs throughout the tri-county district of Clay, Putnam and St. Johns counties.

“Our team of dedicated faculty and administrators ensures a proactive, hands-on partnership with local businesses and industries to align programs with the latest skill requirements and the most current business practices in technology and communications,” Pickens said. “Programs and courses are also developed based on expanding industries and occupations targeted for regional growth.”

With the assistance of local business and community stakeholders, SJR State’s faculty and administrators are keeping pace with the workforce demands by revising the Business Administration degree program to include two components - a core of comprehensive business courses and seven specializations in targeted industry areas:


According to Bieler, the two-year Associate in Science degree allows the College to “reach out to individuals in the small business arena (making up about 70% of businesses) who need enhanced skills in order to be promoted or to advance into that first level of supervisory positions,” she said.

The program also offers students the skills to become more competitive in the job market. “Smaller businesses are looking for employees who can serve in multiple positions,” Bieler continued.

The core courses offer a well-rounded knowledge base, while the specializations add to the graduate’s resume, making him or her a better candidate. “When looking for work, our graduates won’t be limited to say they are only skilled in accounting or only skilled in finance,” she said. “They will be able to sell themselves with the ability to provide additional assistance in other areas that comprise a business, such as human resources or marketing.”

For SJR State graduate Amy Hampton, earning her A.S. degree in business accomplished several goals – it laid the groundwork required to continue her education and provided her with the fundamental skills and tools to not only become a greater asset to her current employer, but to run a successful business as well. “Starting a business was not complicated, but without the fundamental skills and knowledge I received by obtaining my degree in business, operating a successful business would have been impossible,” Hampton said.

Once completed, students earning the Business Administration or Accounting degrees have the option to enter the workforce with their new skills or enter SJR State’s new bachelor’s degree program in Organizational Management.

Students seeking a faster career route can enroll in the college credit certificate programs that include many of the business core components.

For students seeking clerical training, the Office Administration degrees offer word processing, file management and microcomputer operating systems training. The legal office systems specialization is designed to include training for students dealing primarily with law offices.

Once students enroll, they have the option to earn their degree online or in class or through a combination of the two. With approximately 35% of SJR State’s students being classified as non-traditional, online classes are often the popular choice, since many non-traditional students have additional responsibilities. Students also have the option to attend full time or one class at a time.

In addition to the traditional classroom setting, SJR State’s business classes expand the College’s teachings each year to bring in guest speakers and experts in the field to shed insight onto the latest practices and perspectives, said Dr. Anna Lebesch, Vice President for Workforce Development. Students also gain a new perspective when they participate in field trips that range from observing the business practices of the Jacksonville Jaguars to observing how international sales companies such as Vac-Con handle the challenges of management, production, purchasing and exporting. Lebesch said field trips and on-site tours are crucial in providing students with a better understanding of concepts that are typically studied in class. “It gives students a greater understanding to see all the aspects of business working cohesively together - from budgeting and revenue streams to building partnerships and working with volunteers,” she said.

Students enrolled in the Cultural Diversity in International Business course will have the opportunity to earn college credit in Europe this summer. The Study Abroad program to Ireland will provide students the chance to gain a comprehensive international experience by being immersed in another country’s culture and customs. SJR State business professor Summer Garrett said such direct, experiential learning is not attainable in the traditional classroom. “The comprehensive outcome of Study Abroad is universal: To develop globally mindful citizens,” Garrett said.

SJR State’s connection to more than 300 businesses and stakeholders is an integral step in preparing students for the workforce. When business, industry and education collaborate, students gain real-world, professional experience.

Partnerships play a key role in creating networking opportunities and in pairing students with new entrepreneurs who need assistance in their operations and planning. Independent insurance agencies partner with SJR State to create a scholarship to help them answer the demands for customer service representatives and account managers. The program also allows students who complete the nine semester hours of approved insurance coursework to obtain a 440 Customer Service Representative License without the required state certification exam.

SJR State also reaches out to businesses, providing onsite training and development courses. Businesses such as Parallon Business Performance Group, an Orange Park company that employs more than 600 people, partnered with SJR State for training. Parallon CEO Rebecca Dooley said, “Having such a rich resource in our own community is a great benefit of working in Clay County.”

Tammy Gibson, a non-traditional student, enrolled at SJR State after realizing she needed a bigger business foundation in addition to her communications/advertising degree from Florida State University. “Earning a business degree will give me flexibility in the job market,” Gibson said. “All industries need a business department; all businesses pay taxes, process payroll, and experience profits and losses. They need someone with the skills who can manage those responsibilities.”

Trae Weiss, a 20-year-old traditional student, has already experienced the benefits of his newly acquired skills by being promoted to a management position in his current job in the grocery retail business. Weiss is also beginning an internship where he will develop a market plan for a new business owner of a local spa.

Brian Frattini, a U.S. Naval veteran, said the opportunity to continue his educational goals at SJR State was a blessing to him and his family. When tough economic times hit his community, his job as a sheet metal mechanic ended. “By utilizing my Montgomery GI Bill, I found a home as a full-time student at St. Johns. In two years, I earned my A.A. degree.”

Eager to further his education, he enrolled in SJR State’s Bachelor’s degree program in Organizational Management. Feeling confident in his recent achievements, he applied to various jobs within the local area and was hired by a coffee distribution company that distributes to hundreds of business offices in both north and central Florida. “I am doing well there and still managing my classes at St. Johns,” he said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t give credit to the faculty and staff of St. Johns River State College for my most recent achievement - successful employment!”

The Northeast Florida Regional Council and JAXUSA Partnership selected a consulting team to examine the strengths of Northeast Florida and identify the industry clusters and sub-clusters that will catalyze future growth. The process—entitled Innovate Northeast Florida—has resulted in an action plan for energizing entrepreneurship, business expansion, and business recruitment.

So that SJR State’s students are aware of the industries experiencing growth in our region and have an understanding of the training and education required for entrance and advancement in these areas, SJR State will present a showcase to present the plan on November 14.

The Innovate Northeast Florida showcase will include a panel presentation to highlight the targeted industries: financial services, healthcare, information technology, transportation, logistics and manufacturing.

For more information regarding the business programs, visit the Web site at: or call (904) 808-7481. For more information regarding the showcase, contact SJR State at