Career Classroom: County vocational-technical schools celebrate industry teamwork with end-of-year honors

New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools have each named a 2023 Business Partner of the Year to highlight a company or professional helping to prepare a new generation for the workforce. Such partners are critical for ensuring career-focused curricula remain relevant and aligned with industry standards. They also are essential for providing access to work-based learning opportunities and experts who can share their own experiences and insights with students.

Industry experts enhance classroom learning

Google’s Diane Chaleff, an enterprise and productivity software employee, initially interacted with Bergen County Technical Schools as a guest speaker in the Academy of Technology and Computer Science classes. Over three years, her involvement has grown, and she now assists with students’ capstone projects.

For these projects, computer science seniors find an organization or business in need of programming solutions and brainstorm ways certain web-based applications can address the issues. Students then go through a project management process to build, test and refine their solutions. 

“Working with the student teams has been a really rewarding experience,” said Chaleff, who was named Bergen’s Business Partner of the Year for her ongoing commitment to the students’ development. “It is exciting to hear their raw ideas on solutions and help them learn how to leverage that creative energy in a way that achieves concrete outcomes towards a collaborative goal.” 

Chaleff has enlisted the help of colleagues to also work with teams to provide critical feedback, including candidly critiquing how well the students are following sound project management principles and technical aspects, such as the user interface. This project culminates in the spring, when the student teams present their solutions alongside their industry consultant. 

“Diane’s work with our school is a great example of what can be accomplished when teachers and industry representatives partner in the act of teaching,” said Rich Panicucci, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “The teacher’s innovative design of an authentic challenge, coupled with the dynamic interactions between students and industry experts using a consultant model, harnesses the collective strengths of all parties to deliver maximum benefit to our students.”

Partnership opens doors for training and first job offer

It is not uncommon for relationships between industry partners and schools to evolve to further strengthen students’ career preparation. In turn, the partners also realize benefits in helping transition highly engaged and well-trained talent into employee pipelines — sometimes right into their own organizations.

Monmouth County Vocational School District’s Business Partner of the Year, Seabrook Village in Tinton Falls, has hosted students in the culinary arts externship program for the past 15 years. Working within the community’s professional kitchen, students learn from seasoned professionals as they apply and refine their culinary skills and acquire crucial, real-world experience. 

Seabrook Village Executive Chef Talib Mohammed accepts the 2023 Business Partner of the Year Award from Monmouth County Vocational School District on behalf of the senior living community. (Monmouth County Vocational School District)

Seabrook Village’s commitment to MCVSD culinary students is further exemplified through its innovative $500 signing bonus. The incentive signals the confidence Seabrook Village has in MCVSD graduates who have combined classroom learning with real-world learning in the community. 

“The high number of graduates from the program who are now gainfully employed within our facility is a clear indicator of this success,” said Seabrook Village’s executive chef, Talib Mohammed

In recent years, Seabrook Village has extended its support to MCVSD’s health occupations and nursing program. This enables students to conduct clinical training at Seabrook Village. The experience helps students bridge the gap between classroom instruction and real patient care, preparing them for next steps in their educational and career journeys. 

Seabrook Village started a scholarship program for these future health care professionals, offering up to $15,000 for students to continue their post-secondary education in the field if, in turn, they commit to 2,000 hours of work at the senior community over two years. This scholarship underscores Seabrook Village’s dedication to MCVSD students by providing financial support, recognition for hard work and an entryway into a career in health care.

Medical center exec invests in education to boost countywide health care 

Atlantic County Institute of Technology honored Alan Beatty, vice president of human resources at Shore Memorial Center in Somers Point, as Business Partner of the Year. Beatty also has worked to introduce students to career opportunities in health care. His focus has been broad, providing exploratory options for high school and special services students through the Shore Medical Explorers Club and supporting instructors and students across adult, shared-time and comprehensive career programs in not only health sciences, but also hospitality and information technology.

Over his 20 years of working with ACIT, Beatty has consistently identified needs and worked to fulfill them. ACIT Superintendent Philip Guenther said Beatty’s progress has “positively impacted the future of health care in Atlantic County.”

Examples of Beatty’s efforts include forging relationships between the district and medical center to place students for job shadowing, internships and work-based learning experiences. Furthermore, he helped establish a nursing assistant training program, complete with a year of pharmacy technician training, and employment opportunities for graduating health sciences students and adult medical assisting students.

First-generation farmers hope to inspire industry’s future

Somerset County Vocational & Technical School District recognized Hillsborough-based Martenette Farms and owners Tony and Andrea Kennette with its Business Partner of the Year honor. By opening their doors to agriculture science students, they also aim to open minds to career possibilities in farming.

Hillsborough-based Martenette Farms owners Tony and Andrea Kennette, far right, are Somerset County Vocational & Technical School District’s standout 2023 Business Partner of the Year. ­(Somerset County Vocational & Technical School District)

“We’re first-generation farmers, and, so, traditionally, we didn’t grow up farming. You didn’t really even see that as an option or a pathway,” said Andrea Kennette. “By us working here and offering a different path, I think it also opens people up to think, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”

The Kennettes have been particularly helpful in facilitating hands-on learning opportunities that allow agricultural science students to gain experience in organic practices, sheep husbandry, mushroom cultivation and in-class incubation of chicken eggs.

In addition, they have been on the Program Advisory Committee for over five years, have served as the research project adviser to a senior agricultural science student and provided employment to a former SCVTHS student.

Tony Kennette summed up not just why he and his wife support career and technical education, but why all the 2023 Business Partners of the Year likely continue to partner with their county vocational-technical school: “It’s really all about impacting the future positively.”

Conversation Starter

Reach Bergen County Technical Schools at: or call 201-343-6000.

Reach Monmouth County Vocational School District at: or call 732-431-7942.

Reach Atlantic County Institute of Technology at: or call 609-625-2249.

Reach Somerset County Vocational & Technical School District at: or call 908-526-8900.

Interested in becoming a business partner?

Read about current and former Business Partners of the Year and how to partner with a county vocational-technical school by visiting