IALR and the Academy for Engineering and Technology (AET) held the first ever virtual Next generation Of Work (NOW) program in April. Modeled after the District C program in North Carolina, NOW pairs student teams with area companies who pose a problem for the students to solve. Twenty-five local AET juniors participated, and three local companies, including Dewberry, Kyocera and Tyton BioSciences, served as the business partners.
“It’s a really unique way to provide students with a real life, work-based learning experience to solve complex problems in diverse teams,” said Jessie Vernon, IALR Program Coordinator. In addition to student benefits, the program also assists local businesses. It is a minimal time investment of up to five hours, and they receive viable solutions to their problem. The N.C. District C program reports that 93 percent of their business partners have implemented or plan to implement at least part of the solutions the students provided.
Students were first coached on the mindsets and tools needed to work collaboratively to solve their business problem. Students then met with their business partner to learn about their problem. From there, they had roughly four weeks to research, brainstorm and develop their plan, and received feedback from their business partner at the halfway point. Vernon, John Hatchett, AET Coordinator, and Dana Silicki, IALR Program Coordinator, who each completed 60+ hours of training with District C, served as team coaches and provided more frequent support to students. The final event consisted of a 10-minute presentation to the business partner highlighting their solution to the problem, followed by 15 minutes of discussion. Business partners provided real feedback to the students, and the students were also graded on their participation.
Students are taught four principal mindsets: Analytical, Design, Collective and Self-Aware. They are also taught how to use 12 different tools within these mindsets. “This is a very student-driven process,” Vernon said. “After being coached at the program launch on the four mindsets and most of the tools, the students set their own agendas and ideate on their own.”
IALR plans to run various implementations of the program moving forward. This is the first District C-modeled, partner program to be run outside of North Carolina.
“The pleasure and honor of this project was all mine. It is inspiring to see young people critically think like that,” said Jason Wells of Kyocera. “I found the time invested very worthwhile.”