Educators and Industry Professionals Align Goals at Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Industry Summit
The Oakland Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and the College and Career Readiness Office (CCRO) of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in partnership with the Northern California Human Resources Association (NCHRA) hosted the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Industry Summit on Thursday, April 19th, 2012. Following the Linked Learning model, the objective of this evening was to link industry professionals with high school educators, students and parents to begin a dialogue on how OUSD’s STEM pathways align with the workforce needs of Oakland businesses.
100 people attended the event at the beautiful Chabot Space and Science Center located in Redwood Regional Park. Alexander Zwissler, Executive Director of Chabot, commenced the evening by sharing with the audience Chabot’s mission to inspire youth to think about the possibilities for the future. Mr. Zwissler talked about the need to give children hope and inspiration, despite the many personal, social, local and global challenges they are currently facing. “All the work that OUSD is doing in preparing youth for business and professional careers is exactly what the community needs for positive and meaningful impacts we all so desperately seek. OUSD linking with business makes that happen,” Mr. Zwissler said.
Following Mr. Zwissler’s commencement, John Bailey, of the Oakland (WIB), Susan Benz, Coordinator of the Career Readiness at the College and Career Readiness Office (CCRO) of OUSD, and Amy Phillips, Vice Chair for the NCHRA-East Bay Chapter, spoke briefly about what was in store for later in the evening. Representing a collective impact, all three spoke of the value in providing opportunities to youth from the collaboration between the business community and schools. Mr. Bailey said that when the Mayor and the City Administrator looked at the strategic plan and vision for the Workforce Investment Board and then looked at the strategic plan for Oakland Unified School District, both lined up. “One of the Mayor’s top priorities is summer jobs for our Oakland youth,” Mr. Bailey said “She is committed to working with the business community to create and fund as many employment opportunities as possible, she is also focusing on year-round internships in partnership with our local business community as an opportunity for our youth to experience a real work environment.” Ms. Benz also emphasized this point, stating, “We need to come together and help our teachers create opportunities to give our students a real understanding of the world industry professionals inhabit.” Amy Phillips, SPHR-CA of the Northern California Human Resources Association, the largest HR association in the country said that recruiting and retaining top talent strengthens organizations, which is why this kind of summit is so important. Ms. Phillips said that it was crucial for “professionals to become involved in this effort to collaborate with schools to create a talented workforce through our local community.”
The first panel was comprised of educators from OUSD’s Green Energy Academy (Ayo Akatugba), Green Academy (Josue Diaz), College Preparatory Architecture Academy (Phong Hoang), Health and Fitness Pathway (Kevin Ingersoll), and Green Energy Academy (Tracy Ostrom). The teachers elaborated on the career-technical education courses they teach, what they do to make classroom-learning relevant, and what they view as the most urgent needs of their students. They said that by connecting with industry, they are able to keep up with cutting-edge technologies, contemporary designs, and relevant computer programs, which they then incorporate into their different pathway curriculums. By doing so, their career-technical courses match industry standards and set their students up for success after high school. These connections with industry also generate opportunities like guest speakers, work-based learning projects, teacher externships, and career and college exploration visits, which all give students the exposure to career paths and industry people they may find inspiring. According to Ms. Ostrom, “Having role models and mentors who can engage students and keep them moving forward is very important.”
During this panel, the educators had a chance to talk about the ways in which these connections with industry translate into exciting, dynamic experiences for students, making learning more engaging and meaningful. One teacher discussed setting up a classroom like a business firm to teach professionalism, respect, and the importance of working as a team; several others discussed partnerships with Chabot; and another teacher described collaboration with UC Berkeley on a CO Sensor program. These kinds of alternative teaching practices and work-based learning projects, combined with industry guest speakers and opportunities like job shadows and internships, help students become more invested in their classes. Mr. Diaz said, “If students are invested in their academy, they will definitely jump any hurdle, or get through any obstacle.”
The second panel was comprised of accomplished industry professionals. The panel included Elena Anaya, Community Affairs Director of Turner Construction Company, Mark Babbitt, CEO of Youtern.com, Dr. Caron Bush, PT, DPT, CSCS of the Sports Medicine Center at Oakland Children’s Hospital and Research Center, and Jo Streich, Senior Director of Human Resources at Cerexa, Inc. They discussed emerging trends in their industry sector, relevant skills that students need, and how they position their organization to attract the best employees. Many of these professionals emphasized the importance of computer skills; especially a “flexibility between paper and computers,” according to Dr. Bush. They also spoke of the importance of confidence, communication skills, and the ability to work within a diverse community. They also made a point to emphasize the importance of taking chances, making mistakes, and learning from them. Ms. Anaya said, “Youth who are able to see the big picture are able to ask the right questions, are able to challenge us to think beyond what we know is to be traditional and core, to push the envelope when they can because that is how we learn.” This panel also talked about a rising trend in organizations promoting social responsibility. According to Ms. Streich, the most successful businesses are those consisting of “a core group who believe in what they do.”
After both the educator and industry panels, the attendees were divided into four break-out rooms representing the different industry sectors: 1) Information Technology, 2) Health Science and Medical Technology, 3) Building, Trades, Construction, Engineering and Design, and 4) Energy and Utilities. Pathway teachers gave brief presentations on their respective pathways so that industry professionals could get a closer look on what was being taught in their academy and provide input on their curriculum. Students representing the different pathways spoke about work-based learning projects and internships in which they had participated. This gave the industry professionals a real picture of what is going on inside the classroom and what students are doing to extend the learning beyond the classroom. After the presentations, industry professionals provided feedback on how the skills learned in the classroom can be better aligned with the needs of the workplace. This exercise not only produced significant feedback on the curriculum, but also provoked ideas for work-based learning opportunities for students to apply their 21st Century skills.
In recognition of the Chabot Space and Science Center’s commitment to providing opportunities for Oakland youth through various enrichment and summer programs, OUSD Economic Workforce and Development Coordinator, Jennielyn Dino Rossi, concluded the summit by presenting a Linked Learning Certificate of Recognition to Etta Heber, Director of Education of the Chabot Space and Science Center. Ms. Heber accepted the certificate with enthusiasm, saying how incredible and energizing she found the evening. “It’s wonderful to see business, industry, and education come together to advance workforce development. I hope that OUSD thinks of the Chabot Space and Science Center as a resource and partner in this critical effort in the future,” Ms. Heber said.
With a hum of expectation and excitement, the STEM Summit ended with the feeling that this summit is just the beginning of a strong linkage between education and industry professionals to accomplish the goals of broadening the opportunities for Oakland youth, building a talented workforce and strengthening the local economy.
Written by Katie Wheeler-Dubin
College and Career Readiness Office