A dynamic and unique mentoring program led by the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Partnership, the Bridge Partnership Mentoring Program inspires economically diverse high school students to explore in-demand careers. It piques their interest by providing hands-on, real-world work simulations led by relatable young business leaders. The industry specific projects are hosted efficiently within the students’ classroom, stressing the crucial career-readiness skills necessary for their future success.
The goal of the Program is to provide a “bridge” of understanding between the corporate community and the educational systems preparing our future workforce.
The unique features of the Bridge Partnership Program are its:
- Business imprint on curricular development
- Focus on career-readiness skills to break through economic barriers
- Young business leader "near peer" impact between mentors and mentees
- Hands-on, work-related activities that engage students
- Young professional leadership opportunities
- Program-ready toolkit for replication in new communities
- Continuous improvement based upon pre and post-program surveys
Program Inception and Unique Structure
Guidance for the Program’s inception and design was led by the Greater Oak Brook Chamber’s Economic Development Partnership’s Talented Workforce Committee of human resources leaders, co-chaired by BCS Financial's Chief Talent Officer Susan Lindquist and DuPage Regional Office of Education's Dr. Mary Biniewicz. These leaders and Steering Committee members brought the perspectives of the business community and educational systems together to build a solid bridge of understanding in creating stronger futures for students.
In Spring 2017 two initial pilot projects were selected from Chamber young business leaders’ submissions and matched with curriculum at Willowbrook High School (WHS). WHS was selected for the deep economic and cultural diversity of its student body and enthusiastic support of its administration.
Prior to the start of the projects, all young business leader mentors and their high school teachers are provided training aligned to the standards of the National Mentoring Partnership. Students completed pre-project assessments to determine their understanding of specific careers as well as the impact of career-readiness skills to their future success. Post-project surveys were conducted to observe progress as well as opportunities for continuous improvement.
Based upon the recommendations of U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, specific key skills of communication, teamwork, professionalism and critical thinking are the basis of in-class competition judging by the mentors in their meetings with the students. Through the sharing of the mentor’s own workplace experiences, students learn that success and failures were very dependent on these non-technical career-readiness skills.
In October 2018, Program leadership was invited to present its outcomes at the Governor’s Summit on Work-Based Learning, a statewide convening of experts from the corporate, training and educational communities.
The Program was also awarded a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce for its 2018-19 session under the Workforce Innovation Program with the outcome to provide an online toolkit for other organizations to build out similar talent pipeline.
Spring 2017 & 2018
Forty students from Willowbrook High School participated in hands-on simulations of actual work projects with young professionals. The projects were embedded in existing high school classes to provide guided facilitation for the mentors and open access for the students.
- Learn more about the 2017 Math in Marketing project here.
- Learn more about the 2017 Architecture/Engineering program here.
The Program scaled its scope to multiple high schools, sponsoring three projects and enhanced professional development curriculum for the participants. The 2019 project corporate partners were Chamberlain Group (engineering), Weber Grill Restaurants (hospitality management) and Ace Hardware (marketing). Students participated in interactive workshops in effective workplace communication styles as well as advanced presentation training and interviewing skills. Each group uniquely celebrated the culmination of their 2019 Spring Semester eight-week projects in a capstone exercise.
- York High School/Weber Grill Restaurants-Based upon the guidance of the leadership of Weber Grill, York’s hospitality student teams created cost efficient, iconic burgers with associated social media marketing plans. Their burgers were reproduced by the students during a Top Chef cook-off at Weber Grill in Lombard, IL and presented to a panel of industry judges with the winning burger being featured on Weber’s May menu.
- Willowbrook High School/Ace Hardware-Under the guidance of members of Ace’s product category review team, WHS marketing students designed their own grocery Plan-O-Gram displays for BBQ sauces and seasonings and presented the marketing plans for their designs to the Ace team. The group also benefitted from an intimate convening with the founder of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, who shared the story behind his marketing successes.
- Willowbrook High School/Chamberlain Group (CGI)-Under the guidance of a core group of CGI’s engineers, young engineering students formed teams to develop, build and present an at-home invention to appeal to CGI’s future design team. The projects culminated with a Shark Tank simulation, judged by senior CGI leaders at their Oak Brook headquarters, where each high school team demonstrated their invention and vied for the winning selection from the judges.
In reviewing the students’ 2019 pre- and post-project survey responses, solid advances were recorded across the projects in the students’ perceptions of the relevance of their coursework to the world of work and also in their own perceived development of strengths within essential career-readiness skills.
For more information about the Bridge Partnership please contact Tamryn Hennessy, Program Director at 708-557-8676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.