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EdTalks Beckley connects business, industry and education

On Thursday, May 19, educators and members of industry gathered in WVU Tech’s Carter Hall on the Beckley campus for EdTalks Beckley. The topic of discussion: innovation in public education and strengthening the state’s workforce.

Hosted by the  Education Alliance, the EdTalks series connects education to industry throughout the state in presentations and networking events. Thursday’s event in Beckley brought together more than 60 attendees and featured speakers with corporate, community and higher education perspectives.

Tim O’Neal, ‘97, addresses attendees at EdTalks Beckley on Thursday, May 19.Tim O’Neal, ‘97, addresses attendees at EdTalks Beckley on Thursday, May 19.

Tim O’Neal, ‘97, Production Director at The Dow Chemical Company in Charleston and a graduate of WVU Tech’s chemical engineering program, was the first to speak. He said that industry can play a vital role in connecting education to the state’s economic future by simply showing students what they’re capable of.

O’Neal shared that he’d always been good at mathematics and science, but had no idea how he could apply those aptitudes to a career. With the help of a math teacher and a visiting engineer who explained what the profession holds in store, he found his calling.

“For me it was awareness. I’m firmly convinced that I would not have attended engineering school had it not been for a couple of those folks coming into the classroom,” he said. “We’ve got to invest early in our children. Industry has to be proactive. That’s really partnering with and supporting our youth in their career and educational choices and giving our teachers the tools as well.”

He urged attendees to take on that proactive mindset by volunteering as mentors, sending professionals into the classroom and supporting outreach programs and summer camps that allow young students to explore career options.

Phillip Ferrier, director of the James C. Justice National Scout Camp at The Summit Bechtel Reserve, shared a perspective on strengthening education based on key scouting values: adventure, leadership, sustainability and service.

He likened the successful educational environment to a campfire, where counselors sing silly songs, poke fun at themselves and create an atmosphere where scouts feel at ease.

“The values that we teach in scouting encourage kids to try new things and to step outside their comfort zone,” he said. “It’s important in our education system that we build a place where students can be comfortable. Where they can try different new things and make mistakes.”

Rochelle Goodwin, Senior Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Strategy at West Virginia University, wrapped up the event.

She said that today’s students are looking at careers with many more moves from job to job than in previous generations. For millennials, she said, the average job lasts less than three years.

“Our children will need to be prepared for a lifetime of career changes that may reach into the dozens. How do they navigate that? They’re going to compete globally. Borders will matter less. Technologies that we haven’t yet imagined will be part of their everyday future workplaces,” she said.

She suggested that instilling a stronger sense of self-determination in students and developing professional “soft skills” would better equip them to navigate this new ever-changing career landscape.

“More often than not, our best employees, teammates and leaders are those who have good soft skills. Communication, attitude, teamwork, social interactions, finding solutions and professionalism,” she said. “I think what’s really critical for the state is a sense of agency, embracing a sense of agency – that empowering idea that you are in control of your actions and can shape the future.”

In addition to the featured speakers, groups broke off during the event to discuss and share their own ideas for strengthening the connection between education and industry.

Thursday’s EdTalk was sponsored by Appalachian Power, City National Bank, Bowles Rice, Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia and West Virginia University. The Education Alliance’s next EdTalk will be hosted by Fairmont State University on Thursday, June 16.