A Strong Fabric: How business partners boost student success
From Contact magazine, Winter 2014-15
If anything defines today’s college students, it’s their goal to graduate with a job, a career-track job. But a good job in a student’s field of interest doesn’t happen by accident. It requires a college curriculum that matches employers’ needs. It also helps if these same employers are involved in developing the job candidates they want to hire.
Luckily, Palm Beach State College students have more than 400 local business partners in their corner.
Business partners play a crucial role in many aspects of the College, but nowhere is their influence more hands-on than in their close working relationships with Palm Beach State’s 100-plus career programs and bachelor’s degrees. These professionals, volunteering as members of the College’s business partnership and program advisory councils, act as external eyes and ears that make the programs better – and better able to support workforce demands.
“Woven into successful programs is a very, very strong fabric of business advisors,” says Rick Reeder, associate dean for Palm Beach State’s Trade and Industry division. “They help you understand the kind of worker that they need. Then as you turn the graduates out into the workforce, they’re the ones that hire your graduates.”
Dr. Maria Vallejo, Lake Worth campus provost, oversees the collegewide operation of the councils. Each program’s council is comprised of at least five people who work in the profession. They provide long range planning, occupational forecasting, program advocacy and, perhaps most importantly, curriculum relevance. “When we sit around the table with them, we ask, ‘if you haven’t hired our students, what’s missing compared to the folks you are hiring?’” says Vallejo.
“Woven into successful programs is a very, very strong fabric of business advisors.”
– Rick Reeder
Dr. Jacqueline Rogers, Lake Worth campus dean of health sciences and public safety, concurs. “We want to be sure our students are learning what they’re going to need to know. We want to be sure there’s not a skills gap, and the best people to tell us that are the employers. We can always improve, so they help us refine our program goals and our curriculum.”
What do the council members get in return? The crux of the win-win proposition for business partners is the ability to shape future job applicants. “We have a number of companies that know the phone numbers to call and the times of the year to call, specifically looking for our graduates as they finish the different trade programs,” says Reeder.
Happily, business partners do hire Palm Beach State graduates. They also provide paid internships, clinical training sites, guest speakers, company tours, scholarships, mentoring and help in sourcing equipment for student labs, including outright donations.
In recognition of their extraordinary efforts, Vallejo has instituted annual “thank-you” events for the council members. “It’s imperative to let them know that they’re important and to let the community know, ‘hey look at the kind of partners we have here, and if you’re interested in joining, call this number!’”
Take a moment and meet a few of Palm Beach State’s valuable partners.
BUSINESS PARTNER PROFILES
“Now a good 80% of my department is provided by the College.” – Barbara O’Brien
Director of Imaging Services
Good Samaritan Medical Center | West Palm Beach
Member, Radiography Program Advisory Council
“Years ago when there was such a huge shortage of technologists, we were forced to hire through agencies,” says Barbara O’Brien. “Now a good 80 percent of my department is provided by the College.”
Career programs are born out of real need. That’s exactly how Palm Beach State’s Radiography program came into existence 25 years ago, when 10 hospitals actually funded the program’s startup. Today, these same hospitals continue to train students in clinical rotations, hire graduates and promote the program. They’ve also helped the College develop specialty medical imaging programs in sonography, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Many of the hospitals’ medical imaging supervisors, as well as Palm Beach State instructors, are graduates of these programs.
Students spend about three-quarters of the two-year Radiography Associate in Science degree program in clinical rotations at the local hospitals. O’Brien advises students to treat it as an extended job interview: “Depending on how well they do, if I have any positions open, that’s who I’ll choose, and that’s why I have such a fantastic team here. I’m very fussy.”
Praising the program, she credits Dr. Vicki Shaver, department chair and professor of medical imaging, and the rest of the program faculty. “The proof is in the pudding,” O’Brien adds. “The quality of technologists that I have here is superb, and that can’t happen unless they were educated as such.”
“We should grow our own talent.” – Lenny Chesal
Executive Vice President, Business Development & Chief Marketing Officer
Host.net | Boca Raton
Member, Business Partnership Council for Information Management B.A.S. degree
The power of connections cannot be underestimated, especially in the dynamic field of information technology. That’s why business partners like Lenny Chesal are so important to Palm Beach State’s Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Information Management.
An executive for Host.net, the Boca Raton-based colocation and managed services provider, Chesal is on a mission to see South Florida reach its IT potential. He was instrumental in bringing local IT industry heavyweights to the Lake Worth campus for a technology symposium last fall and has become a “go-to” source for everything from finding vendors to uncovering internship opportunities.
“As technology is changing, the curriculum has to change even faster because you’re teaching the workers of tomorrow,” says Chesal. “I think it is incumbent on us as the technology community to communicate to the colleges and universities what we need, so they can create exactly what’s necessary to help us achieve our workforce goal. We should grow our own talent.”
According to Chesal, the fastest growing areas locally are “cloud computing, big data and big data analytics, cybersecurity, anything mobile, anything medical, and the combination of mobile and medical.” In addition, “the whole startup community in South Florida has exploded.” Chesal is happy to support the College in creating “good matches” between local tech companies and graduates. “I think it’s a great cause and worth the time and effort.”
“It’s been a fantastic partnership.” – Barry O’Connell
Vice President of Business Development and Engineering
Logus Microwave Corp. | West Palm Beach
Chairperson, Machining Technology Business Partnership Council
Meeting industry standards
Addressing local needs is one part of the picture, but so is making sure that students get what they need to succeed anywhere. Palm Beach State College’s Machining Technology students owe their mobility, in no small part, to Barry O’Connell.
“We were involved before the first brick was laid over there, before the first machine,” says O’Connell. That was 10 years ago. Today, the majority of his machine shop employees are graduates of PBSC. “They’re doing very well. It’s been a fantastic partnership.”
Machinists produce precision parts for products, such as the microwave switching devices for telecommunication systems that are designed and manufactured by Logus Microwave. The work is done using computer numerical control (CNC) hardware and software, and the College followed the advice of O’Connell and other partners to get state-of-the-art Haas machines. “We’ve got Haas machines here,” says O’Connell, “and when the graduates come out, they’re very familiar with the controls, the language and the programming.”
O’Connell also encouraged the College to pursue accreditation from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, which sets the skill standards for the industry. Now Logus and fellow business partner Kreiger Machine Company devote quality control hours to inspecting the parts students create, in order to help them earn nationally recognized NIMS credentials. “Nothing slides, and if there’s anything found that is noncompliant to the drawing, we’ll send it back,” says O’Connell. Most students pass the first time around.
“I love to work with the students.” – Sharon Masiarczyk
Territory Representative, South Florida
Chairperson, Program Advisory Council for Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene
On the inside track
When you visit at least 10 dental practices a day, and have done so for more than 15 years, you acquire plenty of insider knowledge. That’s why Sharon Masiarczyk’s lecture, “The 10 Do’s and Don’ts in a Dental Office,” is an annual event for Palm Beach State’s dental assisting and dental hygiene students.
Since 1998, Masiarczyk has been the College’s vendor for dental equipment and supplies. While she’s always gone out of her way to support the Dental Health programs, two years ago, she joined the advisory council and has recently accepted the chairperson role.
“It’s a real eye-opener for me to see, not only the standards that are set by the College, but how high those standards are set,” says Masiarczyk. “The dental programs are by far the best programs out there.” Of course, she tells potential students, as well as dentists looking to hire, to contact Palm Beach State.
“I love to work with the students,” says Masiarczyk, and as a distributor, she has resources to share. She invites both faculty and students to seminars and continuing education courses, and generously provides speakers for student club meetings and special events, such as the dental programs’ 50th anniversary celebration in 2014.
Once a dental assistant herself, Masiarczyk brings her well-informed perspective to every council meeting, reporting recently that “it’s amazing how digitized the dental business is becoming.” That’s the kind of feedback every program needs.
“The student wins and Sikorsky Aircraft wins—it’s the perfect relationship.” – John Fischetti
General Manager, Development Flight Center
Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation | Jupiter
Member, Business Partnership Council for Electrical Power Technology A.S. degree
Creating perfect pathways
The Sikorsky name has been synonymous with helicopters since 1910. Now this creator of the famed U.S. Army Black Hawk has opened up two internship positions and hired at least a half dozen graduates of PBSC’s Electrical Power Technology A.S. degree program. Evidently, when there are opportunities for hiring, John Fischetti has found an ideal workforce development partner.
Collaborating with Associate Professor Oleg Andric, Fischetti saw a match between the curriculum and his need for technicians to work in his division, which tests aircraft prior to customer delivery. “Oleg does a wonderful job of grooming these students for industry.”
Fischetti also promotes a pathway for students interested in becoming engineers for Sikorsky. Program graduates can start as technicians, earn a good wage, and at the same time, go back to school with the help of the company’s education reimbursement program.
“As they work toward their bachelor’s degree in engineering, they’re actually getting hands-on experience in the environment in which they’ll be designing, which makes them extremely valuable to me,” Fischetti says. “Who better to design the next generation product than the people who’ve been handling the previous generation product?”
What’s next? In 2015, Fischetti will identify projects that students may choose for their required senior projects. These students will gain access to Sikorsky labs and receive mentoring from staff engineers.
“So here’s another win-win,” he adds. “The students get a focused senior project that comes with a big support structure, and Sikorsky gets more bandwidth to pursue technology ideas. The student wins and Sikorsky Aircraft wins—it’s the perfect relationship.”
For more information about Business Partnership Councils
For more information about PBSC programs