Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.
Evergreen Valley College. Photo courtesy of San-Jose Evergreen Community College District.

    I recently had the distinct honor and pleasure of participating in Joint Venture Silicon Valley‘s State of the Valley Conference, which brings together leaders from across multiple sectors to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Silicon Valley.

    My participation included a panel discussion led by Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, during which I and the other panelists discussed factors stressing residents of Silicon Valley. Interestingly, despite the disparate affiliations represented on the panel—municipal government, nonprofit, philanthropy, technology and higher education—there was much agreement regarding the most pressing challenges facing our region.

    One of the great benefits of events such as this one comes from the connections that can be made by getting leaders from across industries and sectors together in the same room. While we can all positively impact the Valley in our own areas, through partnering with one another and identifying creative solutions to existing problems, we have the opportunity to increase that impact beyond what we could achieve individually.

    One way that institutions of higher education and organizations from other sectors can partner and leverage existing programs and services to better serve the entire community—and provide new and better opportunities for the region—is through partnerships that result in new and expanded internship programs.

    Modern internships, which are often paid, provide benefits for students and employers alike. Students benefit by not only receiving college credit, but also by getting hands-on, real world experience in a career field they are likely interested in pursuing. The internships supplement the curriculum being offered in programs of study, with experience in the workplace that provides many students with their first look at work culture. An internship also offers students an opportunity to develop strong work ethic and get a sense for the expectations they will face on the job before officially entering the workforce.

    Meanwhile, employers benefit by gaining access to a diverse pipeline of local students already pursuing the degrees necessary for employment who are interested in pursuing careers with the companies with which they intern.

    Examples of creative ways these mutually beneficial partnerships are helping students, employers and entire communities abound. One such example is a new program at Evergreen Valley College in partnership with NASA that offers paid learning for students currently studying and interested in careers in STEM fields, including physics and astronomy.

    Classroom instruction and academic study remain vital elements of preparation for most careers, but learning by doing can provide invaluable experience that simply cannot be gained in the classroom. We must do more to ensure that students in our region have more opportunities for this type of training.

    To this end, California has recently invested $500 million into a state-funded work-study program dubbed the Learning Aligned Employment Program. While traditional work-study programs are part of a student’s financial aid package and typically include on-campus jobs in bookstores, libraries, food services and other positions that aren’t necessarily tied to a student’s career goals, this new program would connect work-study positions—and funding—to jobs in fields such as medicine, technology, research and more. This program is still in its infancy, but nearly all of the state’s public colleges and universities have signed on to participate.

    It’s incumbent upon higher education institutions and their leaders to build these programs and reach out to potential partners in the private sector and among nonprofits and government agencies, but it’s equally as important that these entreaties are met with open doors and open minds. There is much to gain for our students, our employers and our communities if we all commit to working together to create new partnerships and pathways.

    San José Spotlight columnist Raúl Rodríguez is Interim Chancellor of San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, which operates San Jose City College, Evergreen Valley College, the Milpitas College Extension and the Community College Center for Economic Mobility. His columns appear every first Wednesday of the month. He can be reached at [email protected]

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