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Silicon Valley Works to Improve Career Pathways for Community College Students

Friday, November 30, 2012

[Cross-posted from Homeroom, the Department of Education's blog]

Joe Barison is the Director of Communications and Outreach for ED's San Francisco Regional Office.

With a putting green, 18 cafeterias, gardens and even a giant statue of a dinosaur, one may not associate Google's massive headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as a place where Department of Education officials, educators and business leaders come together to discuss career pathways for community college students.

Yet during a recent stop by U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, the novelty of Google's complex were the last thing on the mind as leaders from Google, Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin—Space Systems and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group came together for a panel discussion on innovative strategies to improve career pathways for community college students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The 90-minute discussion—in front of a large audience comprised of regional industry leaders, community college presidents, K-12 educators, local policymakers and students—included Kanter's detailed description of the Obama Administration's support of STEM education at community colleges, highlighting the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant program that funds the pairing of community colleges with workforce partners to ensure that graduates are career-ready with the knowledge and skills that employers need.

After the formal program and a Q-and-A session ended, many of the participants stayed to continue the discussion. Dennis Cima, senior vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an association of 380 Silicon Valley employers, talked about the value of linking K-12 schools, community colleges and businesses.

"We know how important it is to create connections between education and industry," Cima said. "Because once those connections are made, then industry has the ability to really help education fill its own needs. This was an opportunity to open people’s eyes about how important those public-private partnerships are."

Google’s director of education and university relations, Maggie Johnson, who was a panelist, said that she found the session to be a good start because it brought the right people together.

"I really liked the part that came out around how there are very many different sectors that need to come together and coordinate in order to really make something happen," Johnson said. "We got the community colleges in the room; we have industry; we have government. So at least we got everybody in the room. Where it goes from here, we’ll have to see."

Kanter's assessment of the value was similar to Johnson's. "I think it was the beginning of what I hope will become a call to action, so the different sectors of education, business, philanthropy, government, labor, and community partners can come together to say, 'How can these stakeholders—working together across sectors—architect a plan for this region to lead the way, through innovation, to make sure that every student gets the best possible education and is prepared, college-and-career ready, for the jobs now and for the future?'"

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