Workforce Readiness & Makerspace Team from Oregon Brings Community Partners to Impact Collaborative Summit, Wins Seed-Funding Grant for Western Region

“The Impact Collaborative provided an ideal space for the Malheur Workforce Readiness team to work through a structured process that challenged their thinking and assisted them with building a strong, informed, foundation. It equipped them with critical insights on how to best evaluate their program and the potential impact, and better communicate and engage with their partners moving forward” – Anita Azarenko, Interim Vice President – Outreach and Extension, Extension Director, Oregon State University. 

Malheur Workforce Readiness is a project from Oregon that is a grassroots collaborative effort co-led by Barbara Brody, Extension Faculty, Oregon State University Extension and Nickie Shira, STEM & Innovation Coordinator, Frontier STEM Hub – Malheur Education Service District.The team also includes Erin Carpenter, Project Director, Eastern Oregon Workforce Board; Melodie Wilson, Education Technology & STEM Specialist, Frontier STEM Hub – Malheur Education Service District and Jerry Peacock, Eastern Oregon Career Technical Education Regional Coordinator. 

This is a workforce readiness program for underserved youth that connects the learning needs of youth to the talent needs of industry resulting in a more inclusive and vibrant local economy. They do this by equipping youth with job-ready skills breaking the cycle of poverty, unlike traditional career-technical education programs that end when students graduate from high school. According to Shira, “we have two components to our project…the overarching project is workforce readiness and we are combining that with the makerspace to provide opportunities for students at the schools with internships and connecting them to local career and job opportunities. The project seeks to narrow the opportunity gap that so many of our students face…”

In 2020, the team partnered with the eXtension Foundation through its Impact Collaborative program at the Impact Collaborative Summit. Teams that participated in the Summit were provided one-on-one coaching by the Impact Collaborative’s network of Innovation Facilitators, including twenty six coaches. Twenty-five Key Informants from across Extension and other external organizations assisted teams on a range of topics, including catalyzation, innovation, program development and evaluation; community partnerships; communications, marketing and digital engagement; diversity, equity, and inclusion; educational technology and instructional design; visualization; and more.

The team leveraged the opportunity to participate in the Impact Collaborative program as a way of formalizing their work together and equipping the team with new skills and tools. “Bringing all of us together and identifying what our roles are and those needs makes us more successful…This opportunity helped us with our skill sets and gave us some other tools to move us forward…We had never been through a training like this as community partners. In my opinion, it really helped,” said Brody. 

The Impact Collaborative trains Cooperative Extension professionals in its Innovation Skill-Building methodology to provide a new way of looking at program development and innovation to assist local teams develop projects or programs more quickly, and strengthen program design. Trained individuals are referred to as Innovation Facilitators and there are currently 151 trained through the Impact Collaborative. At the Summit, Innovation Facilitators serve as coaches with teams to help identify gaps in project and program planning. For the Malheur Workforce Readiness team, their coach was David Keto, Communications & Technology Manager, University of Wyoming. 

“The whole coaching model worked really well for me; David was alongside us wanting us to succeed. It’s hard in a rural community to have resources like this, even in my Extension office, so having the coach was great and his connections had a ripple effect that expanded our capacity,” Brody said about her experience having a coach assigned to her team. Regarding the Key Informants, she shared “when the Key Informants asked us difficult questions and identified our gaps…that was a huge area of growth for me. It enabled us to put together an evaluation matrix for our team. Lastly, it was reassuring that what we were trying to say about our project was able to get across.”

As part of the Summit, teams were invited to apply for $5000 seed-funding grants funded by the Impact Collaborative. One grant was awarded to one team from each Cooperative Extension region that applied. The Malheur Workforce Readiness team received the award for the Western Region. When asked about their next steps and how they plan to leverage these funds, Shira stated “we received additional funding from the Oregon Community Foundation, the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board, and the Eastern Oregon Workforce Board to support this initiative. We are looking to hire an internship coordinator and we have funding for a two-year position to build a solid foundation for the program. With the seed-funding grant, we’ll be able to use that to focus on the evaluation piece. It will be really beneficial for us to make sure that we know the best way to move the needle forward, and how we’re going to evaluate it as we go through the process of implementation to have good measurements. It will also really help us communicate with our partners moving forward.”

Reflecting on the team’s experience and the value of participation, Brody shared that “it was hard work, but it was done extremely well…I liked the remote opportunity and I honestly don’t know if we could have participated because of the cost of travel. I don’t know how the Impact Collaborative matched the coaches with the teams, but David was a great fit for us because he understands rural remote and the environment we work in… I’ve gone back to the Impact Collaborative workbook and tools numerous times…I’ve never had an opportunity like this…it was refreshing to get this learning experience and it’s a comfort knowing that I can email, and someone will help connect us to what we need.”

eXtension’s Impact Collaborative program is available to eXtension Foundation members. The Impact Collaborative fosters the incubation of innovative ideas and provides a unique, structured, and supported process that enables Extension to work with community partners to find and implement the kinds of solutions that will result in the greatest local impact. eXtension Foundation members can learn more about upcoming opportunities with the Impact Collaborative program at extension.org or by joining Connect Extension at connect.extension.org.