STEM Bridge Partnership

In fulfillment of its mission to attract and retain a talented area workforce and in service to its community, the Greater Oak Brook Economic Development Partnership (EDP) developed the Bridge Partnership Program in 2016. The goal of the Program is to provide a “bridge” of appreciation and understanding of the needs of both the corporate community and the educational systems preparing our future workforce.

A unique “near peer” mentoring program led by some of the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce’s most dynamic young business leaders, the program inspires culturally and economically diverse high school students to explore in-demand careers. It peaks their interest by providing hands-on, real-world work simulations within the classroom, while also stressing the importance of both technical and career-readiness skills for the students’ future success. The unique features of the Bridge Partnership Program are its:

- Corporate perspective and impact on curricular development

- Focus on career-readiness skills

- "Near peer" impact between mentors and mentees

- Hands-on, work-related activities to inspire students

- Young professional leadership opportunities

- Young students as future community ambassadors

Guidance for  the Program’s Steering Committee, sourced from the EDP’s Talented Workforce Committee of human resources and training leaders, was provided by co-chairs BCS Financial's Chief Talent Officer Susan Lindquist and DuPage Regional Office of Education's Dr. Mary Biniewicz. Two initial pilot projects were selected from submissions from Chamber young business leaders in Spring 2017 and matched with curriculum at Willowbrook High School. All young business leader mentors and their high school teachers were then provided training aligned to the standards of the National Mentoring Partnership.

Prior to the onset of the program, students completed pre-project assessments to determine their understanding of and interests in pursuing 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 (NACE), each week skills such as communication, teamwork, professionalism and critical thinking were stressed by our “near-peer” mentors in their meetings with the students. Through the mentors continuously sharing personal stories from the workplace, students learned that success and failures were very dependent on non-technical career-readiness skills.

The narrow age gap between the mentors and the high schoolers makes them more relatable, providing a bridge to increase the impact in their lessons. Student responses post-program indicated significant improvement in appreciation for the four identified career readiness skills that will be necessary for their own professional success.

In Spring 2017 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.

In October 2018, the EDP was invited to present its Program and 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.

During the 2018-19 school year, the Program expanded its scope into two high schools, sponsoring three projects and enhanced career readiness curriculum for the participants. The 2019 project corporate partners were Chamberlain Group (engineering), Weber Grill Restaurants (hospitality management) and Ace Hardware (marketing). Students were exposed to professional development 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 individual guidance of young executives and chefs from Weber Grill, hospitality student teams created cost efficient, iconic burgers with associated social media marketing plans. Their burgers were reproduced by the students at 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, marketing students designed their own Plan-O-Gram displays for sauces and seasonings and presented the economics and 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 that might appeal to CGI’s future design team. The projects culminated with a Shark Tank simulation, headed by senior management 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 all of the participating 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 real-world of work and also in their own perceived progress in developing strengths within essential career-readiness skills.

After presenting the results of its 2019 projects to its Steering Committee, the Bridge Partnership under the direction of the EDP will continue to seek future funding and opportunities to spread its scalable programming broadly throughout both the business and educational communities.

To learn more, read the STEM Bridge Partnership Program Case Study: Inspiring Students Through Structured Business Engagement

For more information about the STEM Bridge Partnership please contact Tamryn Hennessy, Program Director at 708-557-8676 or thennessy@obchamber.com.

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