There is an Opportunity to Learn from Every Story

By Brian Ardavin

Brian Ardavin is a rising senior majoring in Psychology with a specialization in Behavior Analysis and minors in Innovation & Leadership. As he approaches his senior year, he is looking forward to being intentional with the time he spends with various organizations and internships that are centered in aiding individuals and entrepreneurs to grow. You can find Brian running through the Innovation Academy office, working tirelessly connecting with people in Gainesville, and traveling the world to seek perspective. Brian is dedicated in all that he does and always puts time aside to help, to learn, and to meet any individual he can.

Let me ask you something: What does networking mean to you? Do you think it doesn’t apply to your major? Do you think that you’re not good at it? Do you feel you’re too shy? Well, all those thoughts have crossed my mind one time or another. But here’s the thing – no matter what you’re studying, no matter what your field is, no matter where you want to go... people will always be involved.

Why Network?

When I began my college career, I set a goal for myself. I told myself that I would make sure to constantly meet new people. I chose to do this for connections, for friendships, and most importantly, to learn. If you go into it with the mindset that you are just doing it for some sort of transaction, people will know.

The most valuable thing about networking is to take in the perspectives that other people have to offer. Whether the person is older, younger, or the same age… Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to teach you. Everyone has something to say.

The Beauty of Personal Branding

When I first started going to UF and began to meet people, I didn’t really know what my story was; I would always question what I truly wanted to do. That’s when I took a step back and reflected on who I was:

● What do I stand for?

● What makes me different?

● What is my story?

Once you understand who you are, you are able to better describe who you want to be. This gave me the path I needed to put myself out there and know what to talk about when someone asked me who I was.

Always Know and Utilize Your Resources

Right when I stepped onto campus in January of 2018, I hit the ground running. I made a Facebook account, I looked for event posters, I researched different clubs/organizations, and I took every opportunity to learn and get involved.

We are at a school of more than 56,000 students and that can be incredibly overwhelming. There are hundreds of resources out there for you to use that can help incredibly in seeking things you may be interested in. If you fail to use them, you are taking away from your experience here at UF and the Innovation Academy.

Here are some of the many resources I chose to use and stay updated with:

  • Gator Connect – Find an Organization
  • Innovation Academy Instagram – Stay updated on IA exclusive opportunities and resources
  • Your respective UF Class Facebook Page – Check out what events may be happening

Put Yourself Out There!

Sitting in my dorm room in Beaty Towers during the first week of classes, I surfed through Facebook groups and pages to see what I could attend nearby. Little did I know, going to a bootcamp and pizza party were the two things that would absolutely shape my college career. At the bootcamp I met Danielle Gertner who, only a month later, became my boss, mentor, and close friend. At the pizza party, I met incredible individuals in the Entrepreneurship Club, including former IA student Pablo Casilimas, who introduced me to the many networking events in the community.

The best way to put yourself out there is by going to events and/or joining clubs that encourage you to introduce yourself to new people. When you do this, you will be able to find what you like and what you don’t like. And remember, it’s never too late!

Don’t Stay in the UF Bubble

Danielle Gertner and Pablo Casilimas were both former UF students who introduced me to how much more there was outside the UF bubble. From the many Gainesville networking events (hosted by ONESIXONE) that Pablo invited me to, to the Costa Rica retreat (hosted by Startup Island) that Danielle introduced me to, I was given many more opportunities to connect to people outside of UF.

Although UF has much to offer, many of you won’t be here forever. It’s important to expand your horizons and get to know people who aren’t students or faculty. Allowing yourself to do that can introduce you to people and communities who are living much different ways of life. These may even be people you will work with or work for in the future.

Follow Up - Make Friends, Not Connections

I learned from a friend and former UF student, Aaron Froug, that you should always follow up with the people you meet after eight hours of meeting them. Whether that be a text or email, it’s important to make those honest connections with the people you get to know. Although it may not always be possible, following up is what solidifies that meeting. That piece of advice is what led me to what I am doing now as an intern for one of the most accomplished companies in Gainesville.

My Journey to Infinite Energy

One random day at the end of the Fall of 2019, I got a LinkedIn message from Kaitlyn McGowan from the Human Resources team that I met when she worked at Feathr. She was now working at Infinite Energy and was reaching out about a last-minute internship opportunity that came up for the Spring semester. Infinite Energy was looking to start projects that required someone who was innovative and worked well with others. With my Innovation and Leadership minors, Kaitlyn thought I was a great pick for this position. She knew what I specialized in, what I was interested in doing, and what I wanted to learn thanks to the past conversations we had. I instantly said I was interested and was willing to meet to talk about it in more detail.

Visiting Infinite Energy for my interview was overwhelming, stepping into a large campus with many big solar panels out in the parking lot. I knew this company was the real deal. During the interview, I was able to talk about my story and experiences in the Innovation Academy as tools that better helped me be suited for this position. Walking out of that interview I was confident and excited to be introduced to a new and exciting part of my journey.

My whole networking journey led me to this opportunity. I solidified my personal brand, I utilized my resources to find events to attend, I put myself out there and attended events, I made sure to meet people outside of UF, and I followed up and developed rapport with the people I met. Without those steps, I wouldn’t have been offered that opportunity when I wasn’t even looking for it.

Is the Coronavirus an Obstacle?

Now you may be asking, how do I attend events or connect with people when we are restricted from being together? As much as I love to be able to shake hands, hug, and talk face-to-face, there are dozens of opportunities and experiences out there that can help you do just that. If you just limit yourself to in-person interactions, you are limiting yourself to hundreds of people around the world that you can connect to.

Two examples in which connection is working from far away:

  1.  Infinite Energy is working fully remotely without fluctuation in productivity and effectiveness. The tools and resources available are allowing for human connection to happen even from our own homes.
  2. Startup Island ran a remote College Summer Camp retreat at the beginning of June that helped college students network, connect, and grow alongside other students all around the world.

There are opportunities, jobs, and internships out there and the first steps to finding them is by looking and connecting with others.

So… Why Network?

Connection is key. Learning, growing, and developing yourself through others is what helps you become the person you are destined to be. Don’t give up on yourself, don’t pass up opportunities to meet others, and don’t burn bridges. Go into every meeting and conversation wanting to learn and listen to a story that isn’t your own. And live your life connecting with the people that will always be there. Now… how will you define your journey?