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Lorain County Community College Continues to Inspire Students with FlexFactor® Online

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By: Christina Moore, Workforce Development Manager, NextFlex

Recently we had the opportunity to catch up with Deanna Strauss Hersko, M. Ed, the FlexFactor Program Director at Lorain County Community College (LCCC). Deanna manages LCCC’s Career Technical Pathways and Programs in addition to leading the local implementation of NextFlex’s FlexFactor program. With passion and creativity, Deanna and her team have grown FlexFactor from one small pilot of 18 high school students in the Spring of 2018 to a widespread, high-demand program that serves over 600 students each academic year.

While FlexFactor in Elyria, OH follows the same project-based learning structure as it does in Santa Clara County, CA, Deanna has added elements and activities that ensures the program is responsive to the unique needs of the local community and highlights the range of opportunities at LCCC. This semester, Deanna leveraged her experience implementing and adapting FlexFactor for Lorain County to tailor the program to the new distance learning environment.

While distance learning has a reputation for broadcasted lectures, solitary assignments, and rote memorization, Deanna and her team have proven that it also provides the opportunity for transformative, team-based learning that opens students’ minds to opportunities within and beyond their community borders. Using a range of new program modules that promote active learning and encourage curiosity, Deanna and her team have reached students in new and impactful ways.

Read our interview below to learn more about how LCCC is leveraging FlexFactor to support local high schools and ensure students have the support and knowledge they need to pursue higher education opportunities.

What is exciting about implementing the virtual version of FlexFactor?

With the virtual delivery, we’ve been able to create a classroom full of resources for students to access! Our virtual canvas classroom connects students not only to the tools they need to successfully complete FlexFactor, it connects them to additional resources around advanced technologies and manufacturing that students otherwise wouldn’t have seen. We connect them to the Manufacturing USA institutes, the Regional IT Engagement (RITE) of Greater Cleveland Partnership, and career videos from Creators Wanted. We’re providing students who want to go deeper into this learning experience the ability to do so, and that’s exciting.

Industry’s role is critical to the success of FlexFactor. How are you working with your industry partners to bring advanced manufacturing to life for students in a virtual environment?

Figuring out how to replicate getting a student into an industry partner facility so that they can see manufacturing in action has been the most challenging part of going virtual. That said, we are working with our local Lorain County Manufacturing Sector Partnership and the Workforce Connect IT Sector Partnership to create a video that showcases local industry partners and the educational pathways that lead to these in-demand, high-wage, high-skill careers.

In the meantime, we’ve created a reflection exercise that challenges students to research an industry partner that interests them. Students then write a piece about the company as if they are the “Director of Marketing.”  Additionally, industry partners are making virtual guest appearances to hear student team project ideas and to provide feedback that helps students further develop their conceptualized product!

LCCC offers an incredible college tour that highlights your amazing facilities. How are you transferring this to a virtual experience?

We maintain the traditional college day experience in our virtual program. The importance of helping students understand how they can use education as a tool to achieve their career goals is the foundation of our FlexFactor program. Due to strong, collaborative partnerships the transition to a virtual delivery was almost seamless. We assembled student engagement kits that are mailed to students at the start of the program, complete with LCCC swag and College Day workshop materials. Students love it!

Speaking of College Day, we’re continuing to engage students virtually!  LCCC’s Campana Center for Ideation & Invention (CCII) team is delivering a Design Thinking workshop, developed by Stanford University, to students shortly after the FlexFactor kickoff. Combining technology and art, our CCII staff lead students through the design of their conceptualized product, while challenging them to effectively communicate and establish vision and goals for their final product. During the Business Model Development workshop, LCCC’s NEO LaunchNET office engages students by connecting the principles of entrepreneurship to pop culture influencers and launching competitive challenges that reinforce workshop learning and deliver personalized mentoring for each student team. To make sure students remain engaged, we provide an Oreo cookie break (but there’s a learning activity tied to that too!).

While we can’t get students gowned up and into a state-of-the-art clean room for a tour, we are doing something that might be even cooler. LCCC’s MEMS Professor Johnny Vanderford created a hands-on workshop that helps students grasp the concept of sensors and processors, the” brains” of their conceptualized product. In the MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) workshop, through instructional videos, students, learn how to assemble their own printed circuit board from home, complete with a working flexible sensor and LED lights.

How does FlexFactor benefit the community?

We help students close the technology skills gap by teaching them about advanced technologies. This program energizes our local talent pipeline with students who are prepared with the skills needed to succeed in the future workforce. Post program student surveys show that not only are they more prepared for careers in manufacturing and technology industries, but that they are developing much needed 21st century skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, creative reasoning and problem solving.

Lorain County Community College has strong relationships with local K12 education, and we are honored to bring FlexFactor to these students at no cost to these districts. FlexFactor serves as a bridge into career-technical education programs or dual-enrollment programs, helping students be ready for college and ready for careers! Most importantly, this program opens students’ minds to new career pathways, identify elective classes they are passionate about and connects them to industry professionals through mentoring.  Additionally, we partner with Junior Achievement of Greater Cleveland to deliver robust career-readiness workshops focused on personal branding and professional networking, and with the Young Entrepreneurs Institute to identify a pathway for students to earn the Ohio Means Jobs Readiness Seal on their high school diploma.

Any final thoughts?

The virtual FLexFactor kickoff was highly successful with Lorain High School instructor Teodor Marti commenting, “As a returning FlexFactor partner, I am so excited to bring this program to students at Lorain High School through our partnership with LCCC! It was incredibly rewarding to witness student excitement during their FlexFactor Final Pitch last year. This program is transformative for student understanding of business, entrepreneurship and the engineering design process. After kickoff today, over 75% of students shared that they are most excited about solving problems with FHE technology. What a great opportunity for the real-world application of classroom learning and the development of 21st century skills!”

Deanna and the LCCC team have highlighted what a powerful tool FlexFactor can be to engage students with new pathways and local resources. Through their efforts, LCCC is demonstrating the importance of Community Colleges in recruiting, educating, and training the next generation STEM-based workforce. For more information contact NextFlex at www.nextflex.us.

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