On a cool December morning, in a historic airplane hangar at the Orange County Great Park, some of the region’s top educators and business leaders gathered for a very special birthday party.
OC Pathways, an initiative that brings together schools, colleges and businesses to create new career paths in targeted industry sectors, was celebrating its first year — and what a year it’s been.
Over the past 12 months, more than 8,600 high school students have enrolled in OC Pathways programs, receiving career preparation in the fields of health care, biotechnology, engineering, advanced manufacturing, information technology and digital media. In our community colleges, more than 12,500 students have participated in OC Pathways coursework, earning roughly 600 certificates and 85 degrees.
Led by the Orange County Department of Education and Saddleback College, OC Pathways was launched in 2014 through a California Department of Education grant. Along with its efforts to partner schools and colleges with industry leaders, the project creates work-based learning opportunities for students — these include internships and mentorship — and empowers educators with innovative teaching strategies.
In just the first year of this initiative, more than 2,500 students participated in one or more work-based learning experiences, and we have seen a 13 percent increase in the number of articulation agreements that allow high school students to receive community college credit for taking career technical education courses.
Moreover, OC Pathways has established 53 additional businesses partnerships that will help strengthen the 21st-century workforce.
On Dec. 2, the leaders of many of these businesses were among the 300 or so who gathered in the Great Park’s Hangar 244 for a morning showcase that featured incredible displays from local schools, colleges and businesses, as well as video profiles of students who are on successful career tracks thanks to OC Pathways.
NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who made two trips aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, was riveting as our keynote speaker at the end. I was also honored to say a few words, joining Saddleback College President Dr. Tod A. Burnett, OC STEM Executive Director Dr. Linda Christopher, Orange County United Way president and CEO Max Gardner, and four very impressive high school and college students.
Thanks to the unparalleled levels of collaboration between Orange County’s secondary and postsecondary partners, OC Pathways has already racked up more achievements than can be listed in this column, and we’re just getting started.
Just think of what can be accomplished in year two.