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FlexFactor®: Virtual College and Career Day Panel Roll Out

by Jordan Tachibana, FlexFactor Project Coordinator, NextFlex

As one of the safety measures implemented in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, schools shifted to distance learning. The abrupt transition to online education was challenging for teachers, students, and parents alike. Curriculum and lesson plans based on face-to-face instruction and hands-on learning had to be translated to web-based platforms, and teachers accustomed to connecting with students in the real world had to figure out how to continue inspiring and teaching from video screens.

To assist our education partners with the formidable task of keeping students engaged, NextFlex quickly adapted our flagship outreach program, FlexFactor, to virtual delivery. FlexFactor is a project-based learning program designed to introduce high school students to a variety of advanced manufacturing-related education and career pathways and foundational entrepreneurship skills. During the program teams of students are challenged to conceptualize a hardware device that tackles real world problems and build a business model and presentation around their concept. At the end of the program students pitch their idea to a panel of representatives from industry, government, and education.

Over the course of the Spring 2020 semester, 137 students from six schools participated in the virtual FlexFactor program. The program’s high-impact touchpoints, which range from classroom workshops with mentors to live tours of advanced manufacturing facilities, were translated into web-based experiences. Using virtual activities like mentoring sessions, panels, and rehearsals, student teams learned about emerging technologies and manufacturing environments, important professional skills, and educational options.

For example, the FlexFactor College Day field trip was converted to a virtual College and Career Panel with a presentation on education pathways and critical resources available to students. After the presentation, panelists answered questions on what they wished they had known before applying to college, insights about choosing a career, and then took questions from the students. Chris Powell, an AP Biology teacher at Willow Glen High School in San Jose, explained how impactful the virtual FlexFactor program was for his students:

“The program really helped me keep my students focused and connected this spring. The isolation of lockdown caused a lot of anxiety and confusion for students, and teachers were really challenged by how to create relevant learning experiences that kept students occupied, productive and connected. Additionally, students struggled with a lot of uncertainty regarding college—this is a confusing process even under normal circumstances, and the FlexFactor College & Career Panel provided really good information students don’t normally get about this process. Hearing about how to choose a college or degree program, and how to think about financial aid and college debt from recent graduates was particularly helpful. This program not only provided students with support and guidance, but it gave my students hope. I cannot tell you how much that fact alone means to me as a teacher.”

The first ever Virtual FlexFactor Finals was held this week to showcase the incredible talent and hard work we found in the participating students this semester. Students presented their ideas to a panel of industry, government, and academic representatives on problems ranging from public health to environmental monitoring. We look forward to sharing this virtual adaptation of FlexFactor with our national FlexFactor adopters to ensure schools and communities have access to critical real-world educational experiences regardless of how learning takes place next semester.