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Empowering Minds

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Area Organizations Help Shape Future Workers, Entrepreneurs
and Business Leaders

Like a cog in a wheel, the connection between business and education has a tremendous impact on industry and the economy, shaping future workers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. In northwest Pennsylvania (NWPA), those inner workings are intricately linked.

“A key source of prosperity and rising standards of living is a dynamic and well-functioning economy,” explains Ken Louie, Ph.D., director of the Economic Research Institute of Erie (ERIE) at Penn State Behrend. “It is therefore essential that we educate our youth on the important elements of business, industry and the economy.”

According to Louie, programs such as these teach youth valuable skills that will empower them to contribute to the vitality of our regional economy as future business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. Furthermore, as technology continues to advance, local technical education programs will be an important source of well-trained individuals who can help us meet our workforce needs of the future.

“Perhaps equally important,” says Louie, “is the fact that these educational programs can help to channel the energy and talent of our local youth into productive endeavors and a lifetime of learning, all of which will contribute to improving the quality of life in our community and the betterment of our society.”

The Foundation for Free Enterprise Education has been a vital part of this educational landscape since 1979, providing high-quality, practical hands-on learning experiences to more than 97,000 young participants through three youth economic programs: Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week (PFEW), The Stock Market GameTM (SMG), and the Speaker Series. The programs provide a strong foundation upon which students build the knowledge, skills, experience, and relationships that ultimately strengthen Pennsylvania and the nation. Last year, more than 12,000 students were impacted by their participation in the Foundation’s programs and this year they are on track to educate even more.

“Our economic future depends on a well-educated, skilled workforce,” explains Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Musante. “PFEW, SMG and the Speaker Series provide participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to become quality employees, employers and leaders. The business community, our state and our nation face many challenges in the coming years. FFEE programs are a critical component of effective workforce development, financial literacy, and preparing our next great generation of business and community leaders.”

The Eagle’s Nest Leadership Corporation campus, located on Erie’s east side, focuses on doing whatever it takes to build up, encourage, support and protect Erie’s at-risk community. Eagle’s Nest has impacted the community by serving approximately 1,782 people since programming began in 2015 (e.g., Employability Initiative, School of Financial Literacy, African American Boys Academy, School of Academic Distinction, Group Daycare, Food Relief Program, COVID-19 Awareness campaign, and conferences/seminars/symposiums). This does not include the hundreds of people who enter the building yearly for quick service or have a quick need.

“Eagle’s Nest programs have steered economic and workforce developments by creating job opportunities, providing life and money management training, supporting local business with qualified staffing, and adding diversity to the workplace for a more culturally sound and culturally sensitive environment,” explains Eagle’s Nest Executive Director Onjanette Jackson, DBA. “It has provided the educational tools to assist people young and old so they can become more productive citizens. In addition, the entire Eagle’s Nest campus located on the east side has renovated and built multiple properties that increase the value of the neighborhood. Combined, these produce profitable communities throughout Erie and sustain neighborhoods while promoting and growing businesses.”

Erie Together, a countywide collective impact movement, is also doing its part to make the Erie region a community where everyone can learn, work and thrive. Among its priorities are two initiatives related to career exploration: the Erie County Career Pathways Alliance (ECCPA) and Career Street.

The ECCPA’s mission is to implement a countywide career pathways system that successfully prepares Erie County students for post-secondary education and training and future careers. Meanwhile, Career Street links employers with educators to execute high quality career exploration experiences. Currently, there are 61 schools, three career and technical centers in 13 different districts across four different counties and 270 employers engaged. Since its launch in 2014, Career Street has facilitated more than 46,000 student experiences benefiting K–12 students and employers across Erie County.

“Erie Together’s cross-sector ECCPA network brings all the partners together — schools, postsecondary providers, workforce developers and employers — to identify and address employer needs, influence educational offerings, and better prepare students for success,” explains Erie Together Director Mary Bula. “Career Street is the vehicle through which high quality career exploration experiences are carried out. Through these two initiatives we are providing employers opportunities to promote their business and help shape the future workforce, and helping students better prepare for future jobs.

McDowell Manufacturing, a student-run enterprise housed at McDowell Senior High School, is also leading the charge for real-world work experience. The program utilizes state-of-art art machining and quality equipment to produce real parts for real companies in Erie. The program is a partnership between the Millcreek Township School District and NWIRC (Northwest Industrial Resource Center) to help create solutions to fill the manufacturing future talent pipeline in the NWPA region.

According to McDowell Manufacturing teacher Kyle Bucholtz, the program has grown and has more than 60 students enrolled in the 2022–2023 school year. The program even received national attention from Industry Week magazine.

“Ensuring that the workforce of tomorrow is first off excited about manufacturing, and then also trained are the pillars of McDowell Manufacturing,” says Bucholtz. “Some of the same strategies that make high school sports so successful are implemented in the program to create a level of excitement and enthusiasm, which we believe hasn’t been seen in manufacturing education.”

At the co-educational, independent toddler through Grade 8 Erie Day School (EDS), inspiring future leaders is a proud part of its history. Dating back to 1929 and Erie industrialist Charles Strong, families have depended on Erie Day School to develop their children into confident, open-minded, innovative thinkers and communicators. Today, more than 25 of the most successful local business leaders trust Erie Day School with their legacy.

Leadership opportunities in service among groups such as the National Junior Honor Society, Student Council, National Junior Arts Honor Society, and “big buddies” are woven into daily schedules. Learners thrive with teamwork opportunities on the athletic field alongside academic leagues such as Lego Robotics, Math Counts, Model United Nations, and Speech/Debate/Civics experiences. Unsurprisingly, these opportunities, in tandem with academics, visual and performing arts, STEAM and physical education, play a crucial role in developing leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset.

According to EDS Development Director Christina Katen, “The future of NWPA business and industry starts by preparing today’s students to lead tomorrow.”

At the college level, The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, located on the Pennsylvania-New York border, has provided a learning environment where students can thrive. In recent years, the university has been cited by U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly as a top performer in social mobility. More than 40 percent of Pitt-Bradford’s student population are the first in their family to attend college.

In January, Pitt-Bradford opened a $24.5 million, 40,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building to support its existing computer information systems and technology program and two new engineering technology programs — energy engineering and mechanical engineering.

Matt Kropf, Ph.D., associate director of engineering technology, designed the
new programs with substantial input from manufacturers in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania and Southern Tier of New York, such as Zippo Manufacturing Co., American Refining Group (both in Bradford) and Napoleon Engineering Services of Olean, New York.

“Our students will know not only know how to design something, but they will also understand how it is manufactured and the machines that something is manufactured on,” Kropf says.

Jake Bryner, chief technology officer at Control Chief Corp. in Bradford, is looking forward to working with interns and graduates from the program. “Having students who have practical experience is what I want as an employer.”