Oscar Gonzalez has always looked up to his father – a manager of migrant workers who emigrated from Mexico to provide a better life for his family.
Gonzalez grew up helping with migrant work in Florida and Michigan, which instilled in him a strong work ethic that makes his family proud but didn’t put higher education at the forefront – at first.
“When I was younger, I just wanted to work,” he said. “Then, I realized, my parents were working so hard to support my sister and me in getting an education that would give us more opportunities than they had.”
A 2014 graduate of Frostproof Middle-Senior High School and first-generation-in-college student, Gonzalez worked full time as a sales associate at Home Depot while he chipped away at an Associate in Science in Business Administration, which he achieved in May 2019 from Polk State College.
Today, he’s enrolled in Polk State’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management Program with a concentration in Business Administration and has already landed a full-time job as a receiving clerk at Florida’s Natural Growers in Lake Wales thanks to his Polk State education and an internship opportunity through the College.
“Polk State has given me a lot of opportunities and my advice to students is to find the internship that is right for them,” Gonzalez said. “It will open a lot of doors.”
“Polk State has given me a lot of opportunities and my advice to students is to find the internship that is right for them. It will open a lot of doors.”
— Oscar Gonzalez
Polk State Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management student
But finding an internship wasn’t easy. With the help of Internship and Experiential Learning Coordinator Matina Wagner, Gonzalez spent two semesters researching and applying for different opportunities before he found a fit at Florida’s Natural.
Through his internship in the Human Resources department at Florida’s Natural, Gonzalez was exposed to a professional office environment for the first time, developing time management and communication skills that will be valuable to him in all his future endeavors.
“When I was looking for an internship, there were times where I felt discouraged, but students should be patient and never give up,” he said, “because it truly does pay off in the long run.”
Three months into his internship, Gonzalez’s supervisor recommended he apply for an open position in the Receiving Department, and he jumped on the opportunity.
“Florida’s Natural is a great company and I want to have the experience here under my belt so that I can continue to move up in my career with this company,” he said.
CareerSource Polk has recognized Florida’s Natural with a Best Places to Work Award for three consecutive years, earning the company an Employer of Distinction Award. Additionally, Florida’s Natural received Employer of the Year in 2014 from the Florida State Association of Occupational Health Nurses.
“We have been thoroughly impressed with the quality of interns referred through our partnership with Polk State’s internship program,” said Susan Langley, Vice President of Human Resources at the cooperative. “Each has gone on to be a valued full-time employee at Florida’s Natural Growers.”
Gonzalez’s newfound skills come in handy as he is responsible for coordinating with vendors and accounting for incoming inventory within the company.
He also noted that management is supportive and flexible as he juggles work with pursuing his bachelor’s degree. Thanks to Polk State’s online and hybrid courses, Gonzalez can complete his degree while he works 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Gonzalez’s ultimate goal: to be in management like his father someday.
“I’ve always wanted to be a leader like my dad – he set a strong example for me,” he said. “Polk State and Florida’s Natural are allowing me to gain the education and skills I need to be successful.”