Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc., is working with regional leaders in the Indiana Uplands to develop strategies focused on connecting education and industry to create a workforce that is prepared for the demands of employers.

As part of this effort, ROI conducted an occupational needs assessment within the region, initially focused on key sectors in the Indiana Uplands: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and national security and defense. The results of the occupational needs assessment are informing a wide range of workforce and education initiatives that will be deployed over the coming months and years.

The following list represents some of the education and workforce initiatives launched by ROI:

Ready Schools Initiative

ROI funds and assists school districts in a yearlong development process to align P-12 curricular and programmatic offerings with the education and workforce needs of the Indiana Uplands region. Districts receive a development grant to employ a District Readiness Coordinator that guides the district through a design thinking process that engages educators, employers, students, parents, and community partners. Implementation grants are available upon completion of the year-long design and development process. Fifteen districts have received development grants, and 12 have received implementation grants for locally specific and regionally relevant strategies aligned with key industry sectors. Strategies include student-run businesses, fabrication labs, an automation and robotics academy, a future center, school-wide problem-based learning, and more. More information on Ready Schools.

STEM Fellows

ROI’s elementary school STEM Fellows Initiative aims to increase STEM integration in early education and build a cohort of qualified teacher leaders. The teachers, nominated by their principals, engage in professional development throughout the school year, focusing on topics relevant to STEM fields. Upon completing this program, Fellows have increased competency in teaching STEM, are prepared to be a STEM resource to colleagues, are an active part of a regional network of Fellows, and work within their communities to increase STEM engagement. Thirty-six educators have now completed a fellowship, and 32 are participating in the 2019-2020 school year.  More information on STEM Fellows.

Digital Fabrication Labs 

After extensive exploration, ROI is excited to launch a digital fabrication lab pilot in the Uplands region. Digital fabrication labs will provide schools and students with early and sustained experiential learning with state-of-the-art equipment and instructional processes that are connected to real-world problem-solving. Students will be immersed in the design thinking process, coding, and programming integrated with academic content. As a region of makers, we are positioned to embrace maker education with digital programming and automation to ensure our young adults are future ready. 

Advancing Out-of-School STEM Learning Grant

Out-of-School STEM Learning Grants provided funding to Indiana Uplands Community Foundations to support exceptional STEM programming or to develop new programs that offer young people the opportunity for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and math. The goal is to begin broadening interest and engagement in STEM-related skills development and careers in an environment outside of the traditional school setting. Twenty-eight unique programs have been funded across ten counties, including robotics teams, makerspaces, coding clubs, and other STEM-relevant extracurricular programming. Program partners include 4-H Clubs, WestGate Academy, Cub Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Purdue Extension, and public school systems.  More information on Out-of-School STEM Learning Grants.

Graduation and Career Coaches

Building upon ROI’s three-year graduation and career coaching initiative, ROI is part of an initiative new to Indiana. College Advising Corps is a national program brought to Indiana by the Office of Enrollment Management at Indiana University. The Indiana University Bloomington College Advising Corps (IUBCAC) places recent college graduates into underserved high schools to work as full-time college advisers. IUBCAC advisors work in partnership with principals, counselors, and teachers to ensure that students, regardless of their circumstances, have a postsecondary plan. IUBCAC advisors focus specifically on first-generation, underrepresented, and low-income students. ROI, IU’s Center for Rural Engagement, and Ivy Tech Bloomington are partnering with Indiana University to place advisors in Uplands high schools that serve a higher percentage of at-risk students and have historically low postsecondary enrollment and completion rates. More information on Graduation and Career Coaches.

Career Pathways 

In July 2017, ROI convened its first pathways institute to introduce and deepen a regional conversation about educational pathways. K-12 and postsecondary educators, along with industry partners, gathered for a three-day institute. This event attracted more than 70 stakeholders across the region representing nine counties, 11 school districts, one higher education institution, and 14 employers. The cross-sector and cross-region collaboration that developed at the institute continues to inform the work of pathway alignment and development across the region. At a second convening in the fall of 2018, the region agreed to focus on developing pathways in automation and robotics, engineering, life sciences, and computer science. Eight districts are taking the lead with ROI pathway development grants and will deploy Pre-K to career pathways in Fall 2020. 

Educator Boot Camp

Educator Boot Camp is a weeklong experience designed to expose teachers, counselors, and school leaders to the breadth of STEM-focused industry careers available in the Indiana Uplands region. K-12 and adult educators are immersed in local industries to learn about the quality jobs available and the skills needed to pursue meaningful careers with employers in our region. In the last three years, Educator Boot Camp has placed more than 100 educators, representing 15 school districts and nine counties, into four-day externships with employers from the life science, national security and defense, and advanced manufacturing sectors. More information on the Educator Boot Camp.

Work-Based Learning 

Building on the data from a regional landscape survey and further exploration of promising practices around the country, ROI is developing strategies that will engage high school students and adults in work-based learning programs that are regionally relevant and demand-driven. In addition, the development of student-run businesses in the region provides authentic work-based learning experience for students to gain the skills needed for jobs in the region and the necessary employability skills to be successful in their next steps in life. Student-run businesses also are a natural incubator for growing the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset in our students. 

Career Awareness Campaign 

Working closely with industry and sector partners, ROI is building a career awareness campaign that will focus on the jobs, skills, and occupations that exist within our region. The campaign includes 16 videos focusing on sectors, job exploration, and job shadowing. The target audience for the career awareness campaign will be Indiana Uplands students. However, teachers, counselors, parents, and career transition adults will also use the videos and campaign materials. A website will host career awareness information, including videos, worker profiles, job descriptors, pathway sequencing, and postsecondary programming. The website will also offer curricular resources for educators and counselors that align with key sector jobs.