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HBCU Co-Op Pilot Program Connects Alabama Students to Workforce

As the home to 14 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – the most in the country – the state of Alabama is creating an opportunity for HBCU students to gain experiential work experience with public and private industries.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced the creation of the Alabama HBCU Co-Op Pilot Program at an event hosted by the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs (GOMA) and the White House Initiative on HBCUs this week. The pilot year of the co-op program will initially recruit students studying in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or technical STEM areas.

Several HBCUs in the state say they already plan to participate in the program once applications become available in early 2019.

“We applaud the governor for this initiative and are definitely interested in participating and having our students seize those opportunities,” said Yvette Clayton, director of career development services at Alabama A&M University (AAMU). “It’s critical for our students, especially those in the STEM space, to get workplace experience before they graduate.”

Established under GOMA’s Alabama HBCU Initiative, the HBCU Co-Op Program is a three-way partnership between the HBCUs, GOMA and state employers. The program will address underrepresentation of minorities in STEM careers, in addition to addressing the skills and needs gap of employers in public and private sectors, said Nichelle Williams Nix, director of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs.

“Eventually after the pilot year has ended, the idea is to expand the areas of study,” Nix said, adding that the overall vision is to place minority students in key leadership roles in various sectors. “It’s a very intentional program.”

Selected students will be required to complete three work semesters to ensure professional competency. They will receive an hour salary and complete a final project at the culmination of their co-op program.

AAMU’s Clayton said that having the opportunity to participate in a program through which students get three co-op experiences “really helps the students to learn about the workplace, it gives employers an opportunity to see our students and, hopefully, it will create some career opportunities even upon graduation.”

Tuskegee University looks forward to participating in the HBCU Co-Op Program for two primary reasons, said Dr. Charlotte P. Morris, former interim president and current senior executive management adviser to the president at Tuskegee.

“First, our founder Booker T. Washington believed in educating the hands as well as the head and the heart,” she said. “That continues to mean not just learning for learning’s sake, but being trained in a vocation.”

The university’s newly established quality enhancement plan “Road from Early Achievement to a Career High” (REACH) has also taken a holistic approach to integrating career themes and concepts into academics, career development, student life and alumni relations programs, Morris added.

Through connections with business and industry partners, students at Tuskegee and other Alabama HBCUs “will leave school not only with their desired degrees, but with invaluable experience in their chosen career fields,” Morris said.

And at Talladega College, spokeswoman Mary Sood said the college is “definitely participating” in the program.

Seddrick Hill, Sr., Talladega’s vice president for institutional advancement, added that the level of energy, excitement and enthusiasm for Gov. Ivey’s initiative has been “tremendous” across the campus.

“Strengthening the pathway between education and employment is a key priority at Talladega, and we know that the Alabama HBCU Co-Op Pilot Program will open doors of opportunity for our students,” Hill said. “The governor’s program will also complement our ongoing efforts to promote academic excellence, professional development and career readiness.”

Recently, the college was chosen by the Council of Independent Colleges, in partnership with the Association of College and University Educators, to join the national Consortium for Instructional Excellence and Career Guidance. The opportunity will train a cohort of instructors with the tools needed to promote student success while embedding career guidance into existing courses, Hill added.

In announcing the HBCU Co-Op Program, Ivey said that HBCUs are important to the community and the state’s economy. Alabama’s HBCUs have a $1.5 billion total economic impact, according to a United Negro College Fund study.

“We must do all we can to support their success, especially as we work to build a highly skilled workforce,” Ivey said.

Brittany L. Mosby, director of HBCU Success for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said GOMA’s program can serve as a model for other states to “connect the dots” for students on college completion and career readiness.

Focusing on completion also means giving students a “road map” to where they will end up post-graduation, Mosby said, noting that the Alabama HBCU Co-Op Program provides a “pathway to the workforce.”

“I certainly will be watching excitedly,” she added about the development of the co-op program.

Alabama Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs will distribute applications to liaisons at the 14 HBCUs, who will then nominate students for the co-op program, Nix said. Students will have the chance to work with industry partners including HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Southern Research, ARD Logistics, LogiCore, Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation, General Dynamics, Acclinate Genetics and more.

GOMA is planning to have students in place at their co-op by summer 2019.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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