Engaging with alumni benefits current students

Connecting alumni with students builds relationships, offers real-world learning, and in the case of Gabriel Martinez, leads to an internship opportunity

Engaging with alumni benefits current students

September 1, 2021

Since the spring of 2021, the Center has been encouraging engagement with our Latin American Studies alumni across industries to share their valuable career experience, technical expertise, and cultural knowledge of the region. Jorge Piñon (BALAS 1975) and Lorenzo Hamilton (MALAS 2019) served as alumni mentors for the UF Career Connections Center virtual workshops in March and April. Piñon participated in the four-week Envision Career Academy for Latinx Students, designed to help students develop their identities as a Hispanic/Latinx professional; Hamilton participated in the four-week Black Student Envision Career Academy, which focused on impostor syndrome, self-advocacy, professional branding, and building social capital.

The positive results of engaging with alumni are almost always reflected in rave course reviews from students. But in some instances, students even gain a substantial benefit in the form of an internship opportunity. This was the case for Gabriel Martinez, who was offered an internship from Center alum and Alumni Board President Steven Keats, Vice President at Kestrel Liner Agencies LLP. Keats and other logistics alumni, Francisco Santeiro and Jay Brickman were guest speakers and project mentors in the Latin American Business Environment (LAS6295) course. Keats also participated  on a career panel of alumni board members in the summer of 2020.

“In the spring of 2021, through the LAS6295 course, I was informed that an alum on the board had an internship opportunity, and I didn’t hesitate when I found out it was in the supply chain industry,” explained Martinez. “I sensed a positive connection when I first met with Steve; he gave off a professional and serious vibe, yet inspiring and empathetic.”

“Gabriel is interested in entrepreneurship and Kestrel provides a very good hands-on model to see how we work and adjust to ever-changing logistics challenges,” Keats followed up. “I did ‘caution’ him that he should spend time working for a company to learn the basics of marketing, operations, and finance before jumping into his own gig.”

Gabriel Martinez (center) with Kestrel Vice President and Center alum Steve Keats (right) and Adriana Rego, Kestrel Director of Sales (left)

The internship gave Martinez a chance to work with the sales and customer service teams and get a basic overview of the operations department. His main responsibility was communicating with customers about their shipping requests. Kestrel has clients in East Asia, South America, and Europe, which provided Martinez with an education in international markets.

“It became second nature to know all the ports around the world, as well as the fact that rates are at highs never seen before,” Martinez reflected. “This made for a pleasant challenge, as each week it taught me how to work in an unfavorable market environment.”

Real-world internships can mean real-world pitfalls, too. Keats shares an anecdote about Martinez dismantling a small well-packaged box to ship in a larger box, rather than putting the well-packaged box inside the larger box. “It was a ‘Karate Kid’ wax on/wax off moment,” he joked. “Learning opportunities like that put into context three important attributes when I look to hire someone: first, do they follow instructions? Second, do they use critical thinking to assimilate my thought process? And lastly, do they exercise common sense?”

Even with occasional challenges, the internship experience was a positive one for Martinez. “I am grateful for the opportunity given to me and can assure that I came out knowing much more than I did before. Meeting Steve and the Kestrel crew has furthered my understanding of the supply chain industry, allowed me to develop into a better professional, and most importantly, shown me the type of environment I aspire to work in the future.”

Keats keeps year-round internship opportunities available for interested students. “An internship works both ways; foremost it provides real life experience and life lessons for the intern. But it also helps our company by getting the intern involved in aspects that frankly the staff do not have the time to dig in to. And it gives the company and managers a chance to see how the intern performs without strings attached. The ultimate question is, would I hire Gabriel for a full-time position, if he so desired? That answer is a resounding yes.”

As we move into the 2021-22 academic year, we hope more of our alumni will be interested in participating in a variety of LAS courses and consider offering internships.  For more information on how to become involved, please contact Mary Risner at mrisner@latam.ufl.edu

UF-LAS students interested in an internship opportunity at Kestrel can reach out to Steve Keats at skeats@kestrel.com. Internships are available at Miami and Long Beach offices, and offer the intern a global perspective of trade, as well as a distinct focus on the Caribbean and Latin America.