South Jersey Chamber’s Summer Institute empowers and energizes educators

The South Jersey Summer Institute for Educators, a three- week program organized by the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey returned in 2022 once again as way to help the education community keep pace with the changes that occur in the business community – “teaching the teachers how to better prepare the future workforce.”

The program, from many participants’ and sponsors’ perspectives, is indescribable. It’s a chance to bond, be better informed and be more educated because individuals are empowered and filled with a new energy that they can then bring back to their classrooms, according to one of the class’ participants.

This year the Summer Institute is marked its 30th anniversary. The program started in 1991 as the brainchild of an executive at the former Mobil refinery in Paulsboro. The South Jersey Chamber took it over a few years later and has been running it ever since.

The goal of the program is to build a link between the business and education communities by: familiarizing teachers with key economic, business and public policy issues that impact business and industry; providing teachers with a better understanding of the skills and characteristics their students will need to be successful in the workforce; and, involving participants in team projects to develop curriculum that incorporates the lessons of the Institute in the classroom.

The group visited with many of the major players in the region from a variety of sectors, including Radwell International, Coperion/K-Tron, First Harvest Credit Union, Jefferson Health, Five Below, Subaru, Campbell Soup, Rowan University, among others. They also met with various economic development groups.

And the sponsors, all businesses in the region, appear to like the program as much as the teachers.

Brian Sweeney president and chief operating officer of Jefferson Health said this is the second year the hospital system has sponsored the program because it was so successful its first time around – and all those who participated loved what they got out of it.

Brian Sweeney.

“We’re a community-based organization and we’re always like looking to make connections with others in the community, like the Chamber of Commerce or teachers in schools We saw it as an opportunity to work closely with the teachers and to make sure that they were aware of all the different career options that people have in the health care organization,” Sweeney said.

The program has so many important aspects of the program, Sweeney said, but two in particular stood out to him as having high importance: building a strong relationship with the educators in the community, and  making sure that teachers are fully informed of all the different career choices that are available to their students.

“A lot of times, people think about the obvious career paths, doctors nurses, lab technicians. But there’s so much more involved in a hospital’s workforce. We have accountants, dieticians, radiologists, food service workers, researchers and engineers. Plus so much more,” Sweeney stated. “Teachers aren’t aware of the fact that health care organizations like ours have a lot of different career opportunities. So we really saw the program as an opportunity to showcase the work that we do in the community and also to make sure that they’re well informed so that they can give guidance to their students about career opportunities.”

According to Sweeney, getting closer to the educational organizations is part of the hospital’s strategy to build a better workforce for the future.

“When you look at practical changes since the pandemic,” he said, “retail has just exploded. If you drive around the state, you see these huge warehouses for e-commerce,  Walmart and Amazon. A lot of potential entry-level work for us is at risk of going to those retail operators, A dynamic part of what we are trying to do is to make sure that young people realize that health care organizations offer a career.”

M&T Bank another sponsor of the Chamber program said it takes part because the financial institution really likes to understand and invest in the communities in which we all live and work.

Denise Monahan, group vice president at M&T Bank said the program is an experiential opportunity to personally and professionally to be together with a diverse group of like minded educators from across the region where they get to bond around a common goal.

That common goal, according to Monahan, is to gain insight into the South Jersey business community.

Denise Monahan.

“As these participants see life through the lens of the business community, they take that knowledge back into the classroom to better inform and educate our students,” Monahan stated.

It’s through that that these students learn more about all of the professional opportunities available to them and the necessary skills and knowledge they need to keep learning and developing as they progress through their academic career to look forward to their future.

Monahan, whose formal degree is teaching said that  when you really look at the daily life of a classroom teacher today, it has truly become more demanding and there’s a lot to do.

“Sometimes you don’t always have that much time, quite frankly to think. And I think that this program provides an opportunity for like-minded practitioners to come together to not only learn, but to bond with one another and invest in themselves. Which I believe not only is based in knowledge but in  energy that they bring back to the classroom.”