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Future partners collaborate at SWCC

Students show technology skills in conference with business leaders

Tomorrow’s employees, their teachers and local business leaders came together Tuesday at Southwestern Community College for the betterment of their futures and the vitality of the community.

Union County Development Association and Green Hills Area Education Agency co-sponsored “Partners in Innovation & Student Expo” that involved more than 150 students, educators and representatives of local businesses for a day-long conference.

Among those in attendance were participants in the UCDA’s “Lead UC,” a group of young local professionals who completed their business skills and leadership training by attending this event prior to their “graduation” Tuesday evening at The Lobby in uptown Creston.

Mindy Stalker, UCDA talent development director, said being a part of a collaboration of talented young students interested in technology and local business leaders was a perfect way to see how their training can enhance the futures of local young people.

“When we had our Future Ready Iowa Summit, we started to shift our focus toward workforce development and recruitment,” Stalker said. “On the governor’s bill, Future Ready Iowa, it’s all about how do we bring business and education partners together to collaborate and really showcase what career pathways are available in Union County or our region.”

By learning from these local employers, Stalker added, students can make decisions on what type of education or training they want to pursue after high school.

“Whether they go straight into a work career, a career and technical program, a two-year college like SWCC or go away to a university and end up coming home,” Stalker said, “we just want them to know at an early age what opportunities are available here.”

Officials from UCDA, Green Hills AEA and SWCC agreed the expo was a big success in beginning those networking alliances.

New mindset

Keynote speaker was Canadian educator and author George Couros. His book, “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity” suited the purpose of the event, Stalker said, because of its message about being open to new ways of learning in a rapidly changing technological economy.

“George talked about learning at a different level than we are now,” said Creston Community High School sophomore Cole Strider. “He said teachers have to be more open to the best way to learn today.”

Strider was the lead speaker for his school’s Communications and Service Technology program. His involvement has been primarily on a proposal to establish a store in uptown Creston that will sell Panther apparel marketed by Creston Activities Booster Club. The students are writing a grant for funding assistance.

“I just kind of talked about my experience in the CAST classroom and how learning is non-traditional there,” Strider said. “Also, how learning for tomorrow affects me beyond high school and the classroom.”

When he was a young boy, Strider often tagged along with his father, Brian, who was a color commentator for Panther football games with play-by-play announcer Gary Bucklin. It became a career ambition.

“I’d really like to get into sports broadcasting or something like that in journalism,” Strider said. “I used to follow my dad around to those events and I fell in love with it, the play by play aspect.”

Partnership examples

Students from Creston, Lenox and CAM (Cumberland-Anita-Massena) were in attendance who have collaborated with local radio stations such as KSIB in Creston and KJAN in Atlantic to live stream events and provide broadcasting.

Several other examples of partnerships with local businesses or organizations from student technological or marketing projects were on display for business representatives in attendance to observe and learn about preceding the morning and afternoon sessions. Examples are a video about a new walking trail in and around Lenox, a marketing video about the services of a local business, development of commercials on a local cable channel and a printing business started out of the CAST classroom.

The CAST class is constantly in search of new collaborative partners, facilitator Maggie Arnold said Tuesday.

“We like to use experiences like this as a networking opportunity to get more projects coming into our classroom from outside business partners,” Arnold said. “By setting up our (display) boards today and kind of showcasing those projects so people could go around and see those projects, we are looking forward to them coming to us and having something similar done for their business organization. There were a lot of local business people here earlier in the day.”

Near the end of the day, Green Hills AEA Regional Administrator Jason Plourde said the day’s events were just the beginning of growth and collaboration in the region with talented young people.

“There is a whole bunch of other students out there that need to have these types of experiences,” Plourde said. “Particularly to the business owners who are here, just pick on thing where you could say I could contribute a project. If you’re not sure at the moment, go back to your team and say what’s one thing that we could do so that we could have more students who are here today, OK?”

For information on a clearinghouse for work-based learning opportunities for students to develop technical knowledge, future job skills and community connections, contact project manager Jake Welchans by email at or call 515-281-5494.

Locally, business partners can reach out to Union County Development Association, telephone (641) 782-2003 or online at; or Maggie Arnold at Creston Community High School, email or telephone 641-782-2116.

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