Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey Summer Institute program opens educators’ eyes

“Wait ’til you get there. It is going to be amazing.”

That was the statement special education teacher Megan Chipmenti got as feedback when she asked a colleague about what she should expect from the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey‘s Summer Institute for Educators program.  

Chipmenti said that, after immersing herself in the three-week program with the chamber, she understood why she was told that.  

“It really was an indescribable experience.”  

The same sentiment was felt by Michael Rodgers, who teaches U.S. history and civics to grades 7 and 8 at Howard M. Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken. 

Rodgers said that, from day one, the CCSNJ Summer Institute was a great process that gave him exposure to so many things.  

The chamber does a phenomenal job of teaching the teachers about the different types of businesses that are in South Jersey.  

Members of the CCSNJ Summer Institute 2022.

The three-week program brings educators together from from Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties to tour top companies in the region, participate in panel discussions and engage in activities exploring key economic concepts and business issues related to workplace readiness. Educators are then challenged to develop lesson plans to incorporate these issues into the classroom. 

Originally from Philadelphia, Rodgers has been in New Jersey for the last 20 years, but still didn’t know about all companies and businesses in the South Jersey area. He said the wealth of knowledge, of not just the family-owned businesses, but of the billion-dollar corporations that the chamber program exposed the educators to, was amazing. 

Chipmenti, who teaches at the Bancroft School in Mount Laurel, said she also walked away from the chamber program armed with a wealth of opportunities available for her students.  

“We are always working on their soft skills. And, as we toured all these companies, it was clear to see that these skills are valued,” Chipmenti said. “It really is an unbelievable experience. There are so many opportunities to learn about different fields that I never had an idea even existed.” 

Plus, there are so many great networking opportunities. From administrators to CEOs — the chamber made it possible for the select group of educators to exchange names and numbers with the probability of connecting their school to a company.  

Both Chipmenti and Rodgers were equally impressed with learning the number of different roles that exist within a corporation.  

“That exposure to all different areas has been really eye-opening,” Chipmenti said. 

Going through the chamber program was a real experience for the educators, who now see a variety of different doors that are open for their students. Doors that students don’t know exist because they had no one there to point them toward one. Until now.  

Rodgers said his teaching style is a “Mentor for Life” type — meaning that, if a student calls on him, he considers them his family and will help or mentor that student no matter what. He said the chamber program will go a long way in helping him be a better mentor, if nothing else. 

“There was plenty of exposure to opportunities that are there for students who maybe have no plan on going the college route. Opportunities that I was impressed with, and that I plan on being the energy that connects career and environment,” Rodgers said. “Because exposure alone can help turn a light on for these kids and start getting them thinking about other things, other than the normal doctor, lawyer or whatever.” 

Rodgers said he loves being a conduit for his students. He likes to offer them a focus, and he sees the CCSNJ program giving the educators just that.  

“By having educators go in and participate in this program, we can perhaps provide that focus because we are still part of that village. This has opened my eyes to how much I can offer to students in their future careers,” Rodgers said.  

“And employees with the right focus or direction are happier in their careers. A lot of these companies we visited have a happy employee base.”

Rodgers worked for a large corporation before he became a teacher and knows what it’s like to be in management, where he saw employees try and unionize.  

“I have the full spectrum of experience out in the world, so to speak. And that only helps me enhance my approach to my students even more.”  

Would he recommend the program to his colleagues?   

Teachers at the CCSNJ Summer Institute 2022 visited IUOE Local 25 training.

“I know like 10 teachers and counselors that need to go. I was lucky to have this opportunity to go through the program, and don’t want my eyes to be the only ones opened from it. My exposure will help expose my school to have a more career-minded setup for our students and start thinking about careers even from middle school level,” Rodgers said. 

While both Chipmenti and Rodgers said there were many lessons and ideas they will bring back to their classrooms, they both agreed their favorite activity during the program was working the backhoes and big machinery when they visited International Union of Operating Engineers Local 25 training.

“Apparently, I’m really good at using a backhoe,” said Chipmenti.

“It was definitely a very cool experience,” Rodgers said.