Competing in today’s global economy requires a combination of academic knowledge and technical skills. To respond to this need, educational institutions are putting more emphasis on applied learning.

As a result, the integration of knowledge and skills has emerged as a growing nationwide trend in secondary and higher education in the last few years. In the South Sound, educational institutions have been partnering with the private sector to provide those kinds of opportunities to local students.

“Each of the three universities in Pierce County are engaged in different ways, but they’re all responding to the local community,” says Pacific Lutheran University President Thomas Krise. “At PLU, the continual education and graduate programs are specifically tied to the region and its economy and businesses.”

One example is PLU’s maritime management certificate program launched this year. Introduced in response to high demand for trained management specialists at the Port of Tacoma and other shipping and logistics businesses, the continuing-education program is geared toward working professionals looking to advance their careers in the industry.

“The jobs generated by the Port of Tacoma are diverse, attracting people with and without postsecondary degrees. It’s wonderful to see universities, like PLU, recognize these valuable jobs with such opportunities as the maritime management certificate program,” says Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe, a 1987 PLU alum.

Wolfe says that the Port encourages educational opportunities that give young people who grow up in South Sound a path to remain in their local community and find meaningful work.

“The South Sound is blessed with a bounty of excellent colleges and universities, both public and private, that provide students of all ages with technical, professional and liberal arts certificates and degrees.”

Learning Skills from the Pros

At Bates Technical College, students interested in a career in broadcasting and audio-visual production can learn on the job while receiving college credit — thanks to a six-year partnership with the Tacoma Rainiers. Through an internship program, broadcasting and video production students assist with the broadcasting and radio simulcasting of every game for the baseball team.

This year, 15 students are involved in these hands-on activities, which range from staffing the video board and LED control room at Cheney Stadium, to providing post-production work and creating animations.

Anthony Phinney, technical coordinator for Tacoma Rainiers who oversees the internship, says the program offers a great opportunity for students to learn production skills in a professional environment.

“There are not a lot of places in the South Sound where students can work in these kinds of positions,” says Phinney, a 2013 Bates grad who participated in the program as a student and was later hired as full-time staff. “It’s on-the-job training, and they learn every aspect of production.”

Encouraging STEM Pathways

South Sound high school students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can both explore career opportunities in these fields and get an introduction to the college environment through the Math and Science Leadership Program at University of Washington Tacoma. In partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound and Tacoma Public School, UW-T brings students in seventh through 12th grades to the campus every summer for three weeks of hands-on projects.

The free program, which is focused on youth whose demographic profiles are underrepresented in the STEM field, is supported by community sponsors such as WorkForce Central. Students engage in activities such as learning basic programming, testing DNA samples in salmon served at local restaurants and exploring cybersecurity and online privacy.

“The support we receive from our partners and generous donors ensure that the youth in our region who are least likely to access college and the jobs of the future receive the best possible supports to ensure their future success and the success of our region,” says Amanda Figueroa, director of student transition programs at UW-T and the manager for the summer program.

Benefitting the Community

The enterprise-learning partnerships benefit not only the students but also the local community. One example is PLU’s Health Outreach Service Projects initiative that’s part of the family nurse practitioner curriculum. The initiative serves both to give students clinical hours and to meet health promotion and disease prevention needs in the community.

In collaboration with other healthcare organizations, the program gives students the opportunity to conduct health screenings, fall-risk assessments and counseling, especially for marginalized populations such as individuals fighting drug addiction.

Starting out in 2013 with a few students on a volunteer basis at just a few sites, the program has grown to 16 sites and is now a required activity. Since inception, 38 students have served more than 600 patients, together with School of Nursing faculty members giving more than 1,000 hours to these activities.

“These types of activities are a win-win for all parties involved,” says School of Nursing assistant professor Lorena Guerrero, PhD, ARNP. “Patients get accurate education and/or screenings, students get one-on-one mentoring and faculty fulfill their love for teaching and improving the health of a community, one patient at a time.”

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