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Charleston Area Alliance builds bridge between education, industry

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It's an educator's duty to make sure students are prepared for the jobs that are available to them. But sometimes, the gap between what students learn and what industry expects is too wide.

However, the Charleston Area Alliance is trying to bridge that gap. The Educators/Industry Institute, part of the Alliance's Vision 2030 economic development strategy, provides a way for teachers at every level of education to meet with business leaders in a variety of industries. Cullen Naumoff, the project manager for Vision 2030, said the program works to address the gap and help teachers tailor their lesson plans to meet the needs of business.

"Industry was having a hard time getting into the schools," Naumoff said.

Because teachers must meet many standards and objectives set by their boards of education, they don't always have time for field trips or guest speakers. But the EII, which had its first class in July 2012, allows teachers to learn more about industry while networking with business leaders.

"We have more than 50 industry professionals involved," Naumoff said. "What we heard from educators, they were so thrilled to have met and networked with industry professionals. It does make sense. There are very few forums for educators to build relationships with industry professionals, which seems so counterintuitive."

The program is set up to run for two weeks, with educators meeting Monday through Thursday. Each day concentrates on a different sector, including health care, energy and chemicals. Educators meet at the Alliance's office on Smith Street in Charleston and sit through a short seminar where they learn about the industry. Then, educators embark on field trips where they tour sites and talk with industry leaders. Naumoff said the inaugural class, which included 12 educators, toured NGK Spark Plugs, Toyota, a strip mine, the West Virginia Regional Tech Park and CAMC, among other locations.

"This whole thing is meant to show diversity and a different perspective," she said.

The program also allowed teachers to see how innovation drives the economy. Naumoff said participants heard from the small business incubator at the Charleston Area Alliance about entrepreneurship and how to foster that in their classrooms.

The last two days of the program allowed educators to focus on creating lesson plans that included some of the information they had learned. Naumoff said the Alliance brought in lesson planning experts to help the educators better apply the information in a way that translated to their students.

Although the program focuses on the relationship between educators and industry, Naumoff said the relationship between the teachers blossomed as well.

"That kind of networking was phenomenal for the teachers," she said. "Our higher education institutions would look at CTCs and say I didn't know you had that program."

At the end of EII, educators and industry leaders reviewed the program. Naumoff said participants overwhelmingly liked the structure of the program, but suggested more industry sectors be added.

"We're going to add probably two more industry clusters to focus on," Naumoff said. "This came out of the review of last year's — tourism and the food industry — again, speaking to the development of local foods and how it intersects with entrepreneurship."

The EII is a big piece of the Vision 2030 initiative, Naumoff said. Education/work force is one of seven components of Vision 2030 and one that receives a lot of attention.

"I think this is a key piece," Naumoff said. ‘Without an educated workforce you cannot have a robust economy. That workforce has to be strategically educated. By connecting our industry professionals and our educators, our educators are better informed about what jobs are available and what skills are essential to communicate to their students so they can get a job and contribute to the economy. I learned a lot too through EII about the various jobs available."

EII 2013 will take place July 8-19 with a class maximum of 25. Naumoff said the Alliance will begin taking applications sometime in January, and participants will receive a $400 stipend.

For information, visit http://www.charlestonareaalliance.org/programs/educator-industry-institute/