A group of about 40 people pose for a photo in front of a large bronze Gator statue

Inaugural Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow Academy provides authentic, accessible college learning experience for high school students

The access-driven program welcomed 28 students from across the state to learn what it’s like to be a student studying business at the University of Florida.

Twenty-eight high school juniors and seniors from across the state of Florida and other states in southeast had the opportunity to experience life as a Business Gator for more than a week this summer as part of a new University of Florida Warrington College of Business program, the Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow Academy (GBLT).

The Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow Academy is focused on providing high school students who are preparing for college a first-hand and memorable experience of what it’s like to be a student studying business at the University of Florida. The access-driven program focuses on giving students the opportunity to learn about the skills and resources that would help make them successful in college, according to Jeff Danso, Director of Access, Engagement & Success at Warrington.

“Access is really the idea behind GBLT,” Danso explained. “We’re trying to provide access to information and show students who may not see themselves as a business student or pursuing business as a career that these opportunities do exist. We’re creating opportunities for students to come to campus and see what it’s like to be here, to be at student at a top institution, and to understand the skills, habits and behaviors of a successful student on campus.”

From July 8-16, the high school students had an authentic University of Florida Warrington College of Business experience, from participating in a team building exercise at the Lake Wauburg ropes course, learning about and creating their own business pitch with Clinical Associate Professor Alex Settles, hearing from Poe Center Director Brian Ray on ethical leadership, and taking an advanced selling skills mock class with Lecturer Dennis DiPasquale.

Similar to the experiential learning opportunities Warrington students have access to, GBLT students also got to learn outside of the classroom with trips to the offices of JPMorgan and Darden Restaurants thanks to two Warrington Business Advisory Council members and alumni Alex Abreu (BSBA ’87) and Laurie Burns (BSBA ‘84, MBA ‘86). 

At JPMorgan, the students learned about personal finance and careers in the banking industry, among other topics.

“I learned [about] my own financial journey and how that differs in everyone,” one student participant shared as part of their daily reflection. “My financial journey is like no one else’s because we each want different things and work with different things. Thinking about the future and simply how much more there is to learn in our own financial decisions gives me clarity of what needs to be accomplished in the next few years with plans, budgets and final goals.”

The visit to Darden opened the students’ eyes to the many facets of running restaurants, from marketing to finance, technology to distribution, and beyond.

“Today I learned about the diverse branches involved in the fusion of hospitality and business,” one student noted. “It reminded me of the parts of the body and how they work together to cohesively compile a functioning body; similarly, the various parts of the business world all contribute to its unity, effectiveness, and success in the corporate world.

“Corporations like Darden need highly skilled, diverse, and well-rounded individuals, as to better contribute to the unity of the diverse parts of this corporation. For this reason, I will take this opportunity at GBLT and the resources in college to make myself more competent and well-rounded in various business principles involved in all types of corporate processes.”

Aside from interesting lessons from Warrington faculty and experiential learning field trips, the Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow gained both practical insights on navigating the university and overarching lessons on leveling up in their school career. In addition to learning about the application process from UF Admissions, tips for taking standardized tests, and opportunities available for college majors and study abroad trips, Danso noted three areas of growth in the GLBT students through their daily activities.

“In addition to things like how to communicate in class and living in the residence halls, one of the biggest learning experiences for the students came from group work,” Danso said. “They had some moments of struggle, but ultimately they learned how to use people’s strengths to the team’s advantage.”

Public speaking and the power of networking were two other significant skills the students learned about as part of GLBT.

“The students really developed a lot of confidence in public speaking,” Danso said. “And in terms of networking, they came to understand how connecting with others helps build relationships and is a foundation to establishing their network.”

The Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow Academy benefitted more than just its high school participants. Warrington students also had the opportunity to hone their leadership skills and give back in a meaningful way by serving as peer leaders in the program.

“It was a full-circle moment for me,” said Sasha Guedj (BABA ’24, MIB ’25). “I saw my younger self in many of these student as they were eager to start their college journey at a top 5 university by also very confused and somewhat lost. After eight days of being with them and giving out the best advice and guidance I could, it was extremely rewarding to see the feedback the students gave us. They expressed the strong positive impact we, as peer leaders, had on them and their journey which made every hour and day of the camp worth it.”

Saby Mitra and Jeff Danso with six student leaders stand in front of a large bronze Gator statue

Dean Saby Mitra and Director of Access, Engagement & Success Jeff Danso with the Gator Business Leaders of Tomorrow peer leaders.

Similarly to Guedj, Errianna Quallo (BSBA ’26) was reminded of her own personal journey upon meeting the GLBT students. After she was accepted into the University of Florida, Quallo was awarded a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholarship (MFOS) for first-generation college students attending the university. At Camp MFOS, Quallo met GLBT program leader Danso, who welcomed her with open arms to UF and supported her transition to the Heavener School of Business. When she learned about Danso’s plan for GBLT, she knew she had to get involved.

“As a hopeful, first-generation college student, I attended a business program like GBLT Academy in high school to solidify my interest in a business degree,” Quallo said. “I applied to become a GBLT peer leader to give back and provide high school students with the resources I wished I had in high school.”

In the program’s inaugural year, Danso is thrilled with how many students, both high school participants and those already at Warrington, GBLT was able to impact in a positive way. In the coming years, Danso hopes to accept even more students into the program as well as the possibility of bringing the program to communities across the state through 1-to-2-day workshops.

Overall, he is most proud of giving the students an opportunity to connect with others while learning about the incredible University of Florida community.

“On the last day, some students were emotional as the experience came to an end,” he said. “They built such strong relationships with their peers and the peer leaders. That’s really where we made the biggest impact.

Through the skills, friends and experience they gained, we showed them what it’s like to be a student at UF and Warrington.”