Kenn Phillips is the Director of Education for Workforce Investments for the Economic Alliance for the San Fernando Valley, an economic development non-profit that serves as an umbrella of partnerships for community businesses, government, civic leadership and residents of the region. The Alliance is dedicated to conducting research, maintaining data, facilitating education and, most of all, sharing information.
What is the mission of the Economic Alliance for the San Fernando Valley?
The goal of the Alliance is to enhance the Valley’s quality of life, to attract and retain employers in the region, and to support prosperity in the community.
This Valley represents over 1.6 million people and 65,000 businesses. In our Education and Workforce Investment initiative we bring all the change agents together.
What kinds of resources do you offer?
The Alliance established an on-line network — BIGBEN (Business Education Network) — where educators or students can make requests or recommendations. Businesses can match their resources to these needs. To date, the on-line network has helped students locate mentors, educators find “externing” positions (Educators in Business) and provided business volunteers for rolling reading programs.
What else are you doing?
We have developed a program called the Manufacturing Technology Lab, which is housed in a 36-foot trailer. The purpose of the lab is to increase academic performance of college and non-college bound studentsthrough project-based “learning by doing.” Students integrate manufacturing technology with math, science, writing and research. In so doing, they become skilled and readily employable.
The program also helps students develop concepts of teamwork and entrepreneurial skills. All students are pre- and post-tested to validate their performance. This entire project is funded by business. Our goal at the Alliance is to have a mobile trailer for every industry cluster.
You have been helping public schools connect to business and industry for a long time. How did you come to this work?
I was with the Boeing Company in the San Fernando Valley for 17 years. This business segment of Boeing built the rocket engines for the Space Shuttle and the electrical power system for the International Space Station. (It was Rocket Science.)
While I was there, we developed numerous programs to help educators understand how businesses use math, science and technology in their daily work.
Should teachers encourage their students to think about careers?
Absolutely — and this applies to non-college and college bound students.
We want all kids to have the opportunity to go to college if that is something that they want to do. We want to produce a next generation of life-long learners that have a love for learning and the ability to answer the “Why?” questions.
What kinds of preparation do students need?
In any industry, you use a variety of different skills concurrently. As you are developing a spreadsheet, you might add in charts and a brief description of what the information says, along with your conclusion. In completing this assignment, you have used your skills in math, technology and scientific deduction.
In education we have to articulate subjects together in order to make a profound effect on every student. In addition, it’s critical to provide as many opportunities for students as we can.
Recently, I addressed a group of middle school students and asked them to tell me about the beach. In the San Fernando Valley, the beach is about half an hour away. I expected them to mention how the sand moves through your toes, maybe the smell of salted ocean, or maybe the seagulls flying over. After a little discussion, I found that over seventy percent of the students had never gone to the beach.
Sometimes we’re just providing education to help get the students through that test on Friday. We need to help them understand that education is really a lifelong journey. You have to embrace it and hold on tight, because it can be one hell of a ride.