In it together!

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STC uses grant to spearhead teamwork among educators, government, employers

More than 20 leaders from educational institutes, government entities, and healthcare facilities gathered March 21 at Knapp Medical Conference Center in Weslaco to discuss how they could work together to benefit all parties — and the Rio Grande Valley as a whole.

The meeting was notable because many of these groups classify as competitors. Texas A&M University, South Texas College, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley vie for student interest; Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, McAllen Medical Center, Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, Knapp Medical Center and Valley Baptist Medical Center treat the same patients. But leaders weren’t there to get a leg up on the competition. Instead, they mulled common goals and explored disconnects between schools and potential employers of their graduates.

“The big thing is getting people to the table,” said Valerie Gamez, director of the Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator at STC. “I am so excited to learn that they can and will work together.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.19.25 AMThe representatives met thanks to Gamez and STC’s efforts to organize cooperation among entities spanning industries and cities across the Valley. The initiative comes as a part of an $800,000 grant via Educate Texas, and is intended to stimulate education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math in the region.

“We focused on information technology and health care because research showed us that those areas show high potential for growth in the next 10 years,” Gamez said.

After STC received word about the grant in August 2015, Educate Texas made an additional proposal: sector partnerships. With these relationships, businesses — in this case, healthcare- and IT-related companies — act as a central hub, while economic development corporations, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, and other groups operate as spokes of the wheel. When they work together, the result can be highly effective, bolstering the level of achievement in schools and universities, as well as boosting the economy and workforce talent pool.

“We needed to have this conversation with industry, ‘what are you looking for in your employees, who do you need in the next 10 years?’ so that we can try to get curriculums aligned for that purpose and try to prepare the next generation of workers,” Gamez said.

 

The initial phase of the grant included training for Valley educators.

“We created what is called the RGV STEM Faculty Institute,” Gamez said. “Through that, we are training faculty from dual enrollment, we’ve got two-year colleges represented, four-year universities represented, a little bit of everyone from Brownsville to Rio Grande City.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 9.19.46 AMEducators who attended the workshops received a stipend from the grant, Gamez added. The sessions examined practical lessons for students, including how to work in groups, time management tips, and communication — the essentials to being successful in any workplace. Teachers also received an in-person look at the jobs their students might pursue.

“We’ve actually toured some industry locations — hospitals, banks, places that either use healthcare-intensive employees or IT-intensive workplaces,” Gamez said. “(Teachers) were just fascinated because many of them said they hadn’t really worked outside of education.”

And now with healthcare and IT chiefs speaking directly with educators and city leaders, everyone has a clearer idea for what it takes to ensure students are prepared to enter the workforce. The next steps for this partnership include forming action teams to achieve goals established in the meetings — in the case of the healthcare-focused discussions, taking on everything from a nursing shortage to doctor-student mentorships.

Though the grant officially ends May 2018, Gamez said she was certain its effects would be felt long after — for everyone involved.

“Now that they see it in action, I know they’re going to continue,” she said of the leaders’ meetings. “Too many good ‘aha’ moments.”

Read about South Texas College’s Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator at https://www.southtexascollege.edu/grants/trsda/.

Learn more about sector partnerships at http://www.nextgensectorpartnerships.com.