By Emily McGrath, Deputy Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex
NextFlex recently achieved several significant milestones since FlexFactor’s inception. In the program’s second year, NextFlex developed targeted versions to attract a wide variety of students to learn about career possibilities in advanced manufacturing industries that are just emerging and expanded our reach geographically. FlexFactor – a collaborative technology and entrepreneurship program, brings students in elementary, middle, or high school together with higher education, industry, and government, to inform, inspire, attract, and recruit the 21st century workforce. FlexFactor is based on three pillars: exposure to cutting-edge technologies, principals of entrepreneurship, and direct engagement with the education and career pathways leading to the advanced manufacturing sector. And, it’s fun! Students enjoy FlexFactor because it challenges them in new ways and opens their minds to new possibilities.
Students work in small teams to identify a real-world problem, conceptualize a technology-based hardware device that addresses the problem, build a business model for the product and pitch the concept to a panel of representatives in a “shark tank-style” setting. To inform product concepts and business models, students visit a local industry partner to see first-hand what it means to work in advanced manufacturing. Next, they spend a day at a local college or university where they enroll, receive entrepreneurship instruction, and tour the campus. High school students who successfully complete the program earn college credit thereby seeing themselves already successful at making the transition from high school to college or university. For some students, this completely changes the trajectory of their lives.
FlexFactor transcends the typical academic experience by introducing multi-step problems that lack predefined solutions thus inspiring creative thought, critical reasoning, and problem solving. FlexFactor’s curriculum encourages students to own their education by focusing on problem areas that are interesting and meaningful to them, while honing critical skills such as thesis development, research, and oral presentation. They accomplish this while becoming familiar with key technological components of advanced, functional products.
FlexFactor is a complementary alternative to traditional STEM-based education programs due to its course-agnostic approach, meaning, it works as well with Biology students as it does with an English class. This way, we engage with a diverse range of students, many of whom had not previously considered STEM pathways in their future. The program’s structured and strategic engagement with colleges and universities ensures that newly-inspired students have clear next steps on the horizon, catalyzing and orienting a diverse group of future talent. And, the inclusion of industry engagement allows companies to actively participate in the recruitment and development of the next-generation of qualified talent they so desperately need.
During the 2017-2018 academic year, FlexFactor engaged with 18 schools in eight Silicon Valley school districts, completing 46 distinct program iterations, for a total of 1,216 students. This is amazing growth when compared to the 7 iterations completed during FlexFactor’s inaugural 2016-2017 academic year. Highlights of the most recent school year include the launch of versions of FlexFactor for elementary and middle schools in partnership with the Union School District in San Jose, Calif. This version of FlexFactor was designed to capture the passion and creative instincts of younger students while fostering a mindset that encouraged them to innovate, take risks, and grow into leadership roles. NextFlex also established a special version for English Language Development students at Lincoln High School in San Jose that used FlexFactor as a medium to help students improve English reading comprehension, writing, and speaking skills. All these special FlexFactor versions remained true to the core imperatives of exposing students to the scope of opportunity available to them in the advanced manufacturing sector and engaging them with the educational pathways that can take them there.
FlexFactor also went national this year. The first adoption of FlexFactor at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, successfully completed its pilot in April. There, the student teams’ incredible final product pitches demonstrated the scalability of FlexFactor’s approach to curriculum and instruction, as well as the ease with which the program can be adapted to a wide spectrum of students, subjects, ages, interests, abilities, and geographies.
Through the continued expansion of the FlexFactor, NextFlex aims to recruit world class talent into the education and career pathways leading to the advanced manufacturing and technology sector. “As we close out the school year, we’re extremely pleased with how well the program engages young people with this advanced technology,” says Brynt Parmeter, Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex. “We’re also amazed by this program’s versatility for a variety of target audiences and how easy it scales regionally and nationally. Here’s to another great year and thousands more students who give us an incredible faith in the future.”
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