Toppel provides electrifying connections for students, local businesses

Kristophe Smith-Walker landed his current internship with NextEra Energy after attending a Toppel career fair.
By Ashley A. Williams

Kristophe Smith-Walker landed his current internship with NextEra Energy after attending a Toppel career fair.

Toppel provides electrifying connections for students, local businesses

By Ashley A. Williams
Kristophe Smith-Walker, a junior at the University of Miami, utilizes the Toppel Career Center’s resources and programs, including internship opportunities, to gain experience and bolster his career development.

Last year, students around the world were living in uncertain times as internships and new careers were paused or canceled altogether because of the coronavirus pandemic. This pushed the University of Miami’s Toppel Career Center employees to work even harder for the students and alumni they serve.

Today, students—including Kristophe Smith-Walker, a junior studying economics at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School with a double minor in business law and strategic communications—are appreciative for the Toppel Career Center staff’s dedication to meeting their needs in an ever-changing work world.

According to Smith-Walker, the Center’s assistance has helped him to get many exceptional opportunities, including his current internship with NextEra Energy, the world’s largest utility company and the parent company of Florida Power & Light. Also, this past year, he was selected as Toppel’s academic liaison with Student Government.  

“My experience with Toppel has been unique,” said Smith-Walker who gets to work closely with Toppel’s staff, including Ali Rodriguez, executive director of employment engagement, and Christian Garcia, the center’s executive director and associate dean. “Visiting Toppel and getting to know the staff has really taught me a lot about interviewing processes and provided me with a certain level of preparedness that has bolstered my overall skills.”

Rodriguez also leads the Talent Partner Program at Toppel. The goal of the program is to facilitate connections between students and employers for internships and full-time job opportunities. The program currently works with dozens of businesses to provide students with internships.  

“In an ideal world, these organizations have this internship program so that when they're making these full-time hiring decisions, their goal is to convert internships to full-time roles if they're able to do that,” said Rodriguez. “It's so much smarter to hire a known candidate for a full-time opportunity when you've seen the value of the student’s work. You know what they're like; you know how they adjust to the workplace culture.”

The Talent Partner Program allows organizations like NextEra Energy to support the career education of University of Miami students. Other resources—including Handshake, a platform created for students and alumni to use for career development—have also proven to be an important tool for students to utilize during their internship search.

Smith-Walker, who is also a recipient of the prestigious Ronald A. Hammond Scholarship, encourages all students to use Handshake. Once he applied to the NextEra Energy internship, he found out through the platform that the company would be visiting the University for a career fair. Smith-Walker seized the opportunity to apply all that Toppel taught him to seal the deal and get hired for an internship.

“Through that career fair, I was able to connect one-on-one with a NextEra Energy representative, and they made a note on my application that they met me in-person and highly recommended me,” said Smith-Walker. “I don’t know if that would have happened if Toppel didn’t make that connection with the business,” he added. He looks forward to continuing his internship this summer at NextEra Energy, where he works in the external affairs business unit on new innovations that came to fruition last year during the pandemic. 

“I would tell every UM student—especially my fellow business school students—that Handshake is your best friend,” said Smith-Walker. “I think a lot of the times, students forget that Toppel is there for us—always. Not just when we have an interview coming up—it’s a year-round office with resources for us all the time.” 

Local businesses looking to become a Toppel Partner or Career Expo/Fair sponsor can contact Ali Rodriguez by email at 305-284-1819 for more information.