Lilly Endowment grant to improve real-world education

December 19th, 2013

News Coverage:

Lilly Endowment grant to improve real-world education

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2013 9:45 am | Updated: 4:58 pm, Thu Dec 19, 2013.

BY TONI THRASHER tthrasher@h-ponline.com

Huntington University and other area colleges will work to improve real-world education as part of a program created by a $375,000 Lilly Endowment grant awarded to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

The purpose of the grant is to help align coursework with the needs of area employers, according to a release from the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. The efforts will be carried out by the partnership’s Big Goal Collaborative, which aims to help more college graduates find gainful employment after college.

The grant will allow the collaborative’s College to Career Action Team to create an employer database to track the skills, education and training needs of local employers; build stronger connections between colleges and businesses and analyze educational programs for any gaps between what colleges are offering and what employers need, according to a release from the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.

Huntington University will receive no money, Ann McPherren, vice president for strategy at Huntington University, said. The school is working with other area colleges and the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership to discuss job education at the college level.

“We are working with the Regional Partnership … to create a map of combined higher education talent in Northeast Indiana,” she said. “That map will show employers that Northeast Indiana is the place to go for high-quality talent.”

Katie Silliman, vice president for regional initiatives for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, said the partnership has noticed some gaps between programs and employers’ needs.

One of the partnership’s central focuses is to prepare students for life beyond secondary and post-secondary education.

“It’s challenging, as a high school, middle school, college student, to know what you want to do beyond when you’re done with your schooling,” she said. “We think it’s the community and institutions’ responsibility to help give students an idea of the opportunities and possibilities for life beyond school. That’s really what we want to do with this grant, to look at ways to bring employers and industry together with higher education institutions.”

Part of the way the team is looking to bring employers and colleges together is through learning opportunities such as internships or job shadowing, Silliman said.

“We think that, in addition to creating those opportunities for students to get real job experience, we want to help strengthen the connection between employers and colleges so there’s communication between those educating and preparing tomorrow’s workforce with those who will be hiring those individuals,” she added.

One of the partnership’s goals for its Vision 2020 initiative is to increase the percentage of Hoosiers with high-quality degrees or certifications to 60 percent by 2025. To achieve that goal, Silliman said, the partnership is working to identify and correct roadblocks.

“It’s critically important for students to have an understanding of what their strengths are,” she said. “Once we’ve identified their strengths, how can we find mentors or coaches that can help these students? It’s a different twist from, ‘I’m good at math, so I should be an accountant.’”

The partnership is also working to help students develop their “soft skill strengths,” such as the ability to work with others and a strong work ethic.

“We understand that reaching academic milestones is critical,” Silliman said. “That’s the bare minimum of what you have to do. To truly be a successful individual in the workplace, and to hopefully keep those talented individuals here in the region, we have to help them understand their soft skills and how critical they are in the workplace.”

During her talk to the Huntington Optimist and Kiwanis clubs Thursday, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz talked about preparing younger students with the skills they need to succeed in a career.

“I deem it our responsibility to ensure that all kids have successful careers,” she said.

To achieve career readiness, it’s crucial for students to have access to a variety of classes, especially at the middle and high school levels.

“Currently kids earn a very scripted 40 credits (to graduate high school),” Ritz said. “They don’t have the diversity to pursue career options they may want to pursue. There’s no more ‘You’re going to college or you’re going into a vocation,’ because the two have caught up. The two are the same.”