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NextFlex’s FlexFactor Concludes an Active Semester

By Mikayla Ridi, NextFlex Workforce Development Project Manager

In early December NextFlex co-hosted the FlexFactor Finals: Silicon Valley events with San Jose City College (SJCC) and Evergreen Valley College (EVC) in San Jose, CA. The events featured judging panel representatives from each college, industry partners Jabil, DuPont, and 219 Design, and NextFlex. Participating teams represented high schools from San José Unified School District, Santa Clara Unified School District, East Side Union High School District, and Campbell Union High School District, including a variety of classes ranging from engineering design to entrepreneurship, and students from freshman to seniors.

Each FlexFactor team was challenged to identify a real-world problem, conceptualize an advanced hardware device to solve that problem, build a business model around it, and pitch it to a panel of mentors. Teams focused on a wide variety of problems, from the extended recovery time bones require to heal in the elderly to flat bicycle tires. Watched by a supportive crowd that included teachers, principals, counselors, parents, friends, college faculty, local nonprofits, and industry representatives, students presented their product concepts and fielded questions from panelists during the Finals program.

Top finishers at the SJCC event were: Branham High School for their Alzheimer’s (Anaphora) product in third place, Wilcox High School for their Sleep Savvy product in second place, and Leigh High School for their Epi-Patch product in first place. Winners at the EVC event were: Santa Teresa High School for their anxiety relief Patch (LHBA) in third place, Santa Teresa High School for their Smart Sheets in second place, and Santa Teresa High School for their epilepsy-monitoring headband (Flexilepsy) in first place.

FlexFactor industry partners Jabil, DuPont, and 219 Design played a critical role in helping the program achieve its goal of connecting students to life beyond school. By providing facility tours and engaging students with the research, design, and manufacturing of advanced technologies, paneling final pitches, and mentoring teams, each of these companies provides first-hand experience that illuminates the true potential of this field for students.

“I thought working in a manufacturing career involved working in a cold, dark factory on an assembly line,” explained San Jose High School senior and FlexFactor alumna Alexandra Masegian. “The most impactful part of the FlexFactor program was the exposure to manufacturing careers. Before I got to tour Jabil’s Blue Sky Center, I thought manufacturing was boring. After I went to Jabil and we saw all the products they make, it really opened my eyes, and the eyes of all my classmates, to a career we hadn’t considered before but now most of us want to go into.”

FlexFactor Partners SJCC and EVC provided students with the next piece of the puzzle — the education pathways that lead to the jobs Ms. Masegian and her classmates are now pursuing. Each of the students who completed FlexFactor last fall were automatically enrolled at SJCC or EVC and earned credit for their participation. During their College Day field trip, counselors helped students identify strengths and interests and provided information on the range of education certificates, degrees, and pathways to help them achieve their career goals.

By immersing students in emerging technologies and entrepreneurial thinking, and blending structured and unstructured activities, the multi-week FlexFactor program helps students understand how life can work after graduation. “Through experiential learning, mentorship, and freedom to choose topics of personal interest, FlexFactor capitalizes on the creativity, passion, and fearlessness of youth. Empowering students to lead and innovate as they progress through FlexFactor illuminates not only the career potential of this advanced manufacturing sector, but builds the motivation and confidence students need to take the next steps on their journey,” said NextFlex executive director Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson.