Alex Hernandez spent much of his four years at Los Alamitos High School learning skills that will help him save lives.
As part of his school’s Emergency Medical Responders Pathway, Hernandez studied patient assessment, triage, first aid and emergency responsibilities. The training led him directly to a job as an emergency medical technician, or EMT, after he graduated high school. He was the youngest EMT in a company that employs more than 500 when he was hired this summer.
“The experience I gained through my pathway program was tremendously beneficial,” said Hernandez, who earned his EMT certification upon graduation. “I received all this training as part of my high school curriculum.”
Hernandez was among dozens of local students who shared their experiences during Tuesday’s OC Pathways Showcase, which celebrated the collaborative efforts of schools, colleges and businesses to forge career pathways and work-based learning opportunities for students in 15 industry sectors.
Based on the theme “Our Humanity, Our Technology, Our Future,” the fourth annual event featured student-led exhibits and drew about 200 guests to the ultramodern Starr Atrium at Edwards Lifesciences, an Irvine-based medical equipment company that produces artificial heart valves.
“In a lot of ways they embody what we’re preparing our students for,” said OCDE Chief Academic Officer Jeff Hittenberger, who served as the emcee.
Along with Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares, Edwards Lifesciences Vice President of Advanced Technology Jinny Lee and Executive Director of Global Corporate Giving Amanda Fowler served as featured speakers at the showcase and later took questions from a panel of local students.
Staying ahead of the curve
Lee’s presentation offered a glimpse of her own personal educational and career pathway, leading to the exploration of new innovations for Edwards Lifesciences.
“Our job is to see what’s coming,” she said.
As an example, she showed an animated video of a new technique for delivering heart values through a blood vessel in the leg. The procedure requires a small incision rather than invasive surgery with a more intense recovery.
“We know our patients very deeply,” said Lee, who joined the company in 2001. “More patients are out there that can be treated but cannot undergo surgery. So what do we do? We go ahead and disrupt ourselves, and it’s hard, but that’s what you need to do to stay ahead of the curve.”
Hitting on similar themes, County Superintendent Mijares kicked off the morning by discussing the critical need for K-12 schools to keep pace with the exponential growth of science and technology. But he also underscored the importance of the humanities as well as with “soft-skills,” including communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Above all, he said, education must prepare students to meet human needs, exemplified by the life-saving mission of Edwards Lifesciences.
“This is really transformational work,” Mijares said. “So we have to keep that in mind that what we do in education must coalesce in some form of meeting a human need, and I think that’s the imperative.”
A marriage of education and industry
OC Pathways was created in 2014 through a grant from the California Department of Education with a mission to connect educators and industry leaders to create navigable career paths and work-based learning opportunities for students.
Led by OCDE in partnership with the Orange County Regional Consortium of community colleges, the initiative now includes 27 school districts and nine community colleges, along with scores of universities, regional agencies and industry and community partners. Each year, these organizations gather to spotlight 21st-century career pathways — and the students who are traveling along them.
Ashley Clegg and Jessica Gomez, two seniors from Savanna High in Anaheim, talked with attendees on Tuesday about their school’s Health Sciences Pathway, where the two are training to become nurses.
Clegg said part of her training has included drawing blood from classmates and giving vitamin shots. She’s also earned her CPR certification and has interned at a senior care facility.
“When I graduate from high school and begin college, I will be almost two years ahead of most of the other nursing students,” she said.
The jobs of tomorrow
Tustin High students Mark Gleeson and Angelica Pelcastre brought to the showcase their EVZ, a battery powered go-cart built by students in the school’s T-Tech Academy, where students learn skills in engineering, product design and computer science.
Gleeson said the EVZ project is helping students learn how to create vehicles that are more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.
“What we’re learning today is helping prepare us for the jobs of tomorrow,” he said.
During the presentation, a handful of companies were honored with the Exemplary Partners Award after being nominated by their local regional occupational program partners.
They included Fletcher Jones Motorcars, Hoag Hospital Presbyterian, Haas Automation, Inc., Kaiser Permanente, CPR Cell Phone Repair, UC Irvine Health, Knott’s Berry Farm and Good Samaritan Medical Clinic.