Workforce Education Innovation Splits Between Two Colleges at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The functions of the former Youngstown State University Division of Workforce Education Innovation have been split between the STEM and Sokolov Honors colleges.

At an April Youngstown Rotary meeting, YSU President Bill Johnson said the university is retooling workforce education and innovation.

“We’re refocusing that, making it more seamlessly integrated with the colleges … the STEM college, our honors college,” he says. “And making it more seamlessly integrated with the businesses and the industries out there. We want it to be more highly performing so that is a work in progress. But we’re making good progress on that.”

The Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork was moved under the honors college. The other functions of the Workforce division – the Excellence Training Center in Kohli Hall, the IT Workforce Accelerator, the data mine, Williamson Innovation Park, Online Skills Accelerator and the FoxConn Electric Vehicle Academy — are part of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Wim F. Steelant, dean of the YSU STEM College, says the mission of workforce education innovation involves K-12 outreach as well as workforce development.

Some of the departments must be self-sustaining, or generate money to cover their costs, including personnel.

The data mine, for example, is a YSU class where companies pay to have students analyze their data.

Tressel Institute

The Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork, or TILT, works with YSU students but plans call for it to branch both into kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and to business and industry.

Amy Cossentino, associate provost for strategy, leadership and engagement and dean of the YSU Sokolov Honors College, says when the institute began, honors college students seemed like a good inaugural group.

“It seemed like it was a good fit to begin with,” she says. “We decided to let that serve as a pilot and then figure out how to expand.”

The associate director of TILT, Jenna Binsley, says that in addition to the honors college, TILT also piloted with YSU athletics and the diversity, equity and inclusion department. That was in the 2022-23 academic year.

“Predominantly, our program is being aimed at those freshmen, sophomores as they’re starting their college journey … ,” she says. But with the badges through the institute, they’re refining how it fits with the capstone course.

TILT offers five badges: My Personal Journey, My Commitment to All, My Healthy Habits for Life, My Career Path and My Financial Game Plan. The personal journey badge is about helping students figure out who they are, Binsley says.

“My commitment to all is community-service focused. Career path aims at helping students learn about different career options and determine their direction. Healthy habits focuses on physical and mental health and the financial game plan is financial literacy,” she elaborates.

Institute personnel are now evaluating the work to determine scalability, Binsley says. For the financial game plan badge, the institute is developing a level one program for first-year students and a level two for later in students’ college careers.

Cossentino says assessment and evaluation are an ongoing part of the process. That involves engaging with students, getting their feedback and gathering input from faculty.

Teaching assistants work as peer coaches, incorporating the peer perspective.

“This is really to create that relationship, develop that sense of belonging, so part of what the undergraduate/peer coaches are doing is working with the students in goal-setting,” Cossentino says. “That’s another unique part of this leadership teamwork experience, having those students interact with incoming students, setting the goals so that they can get some directions in getting these five badges.”

Widening the Reach

The idea is for the Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork to reach beyond campus, too. Last fall, it completed a pilot with a school.

“We are in discussion right now with a local business that will serve as the pilot for business … ,” Cossentino says. “Our hope is with our first pilot partner in the business community, we’re going to learn what the needs are from their perspective and then we can tailor content in the curriculum to meet their needs. That’s how we’re going to work collaboratively with each other.”

Those needs may include workforce, leadership building or something else.

“I don’t think we want to be narrow minded in our focus at this point,” Cossentino says. “We want to make this a premier quality experience.”

Binsley agrees.

“We want to be the place that not only local companies but nationally turn to for that leadership,” she says.

Serving More with STEM

The Williamson Innovation Park, now part of the STEM College, will have multiple uses. The 162-acre property on Tippecanoe Road in Canfield is an outdoor educational space donated to YSU by the late Warren “Bud” Williamson III.

Wim F. Steelant is dean of the Youngstown State University College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Most of the functions of the former YSU Division of Workforce Education Innovation are now part of the STEM college.

“I want to bring 2,500 K-12 students to do cool stuff,” Steelant says.

There’s a building at the site and YSU is constructing classrooms.

“We’re developing the curriculum for all the ongoing, hands-on, cool stuff. That’s one thing,” the dean says. “Two, we’re going to do certifications out there: police academy, ROTC-Army, first responders. We want to do drone certification, FAA. Bud Williamson was all about small aircraft.”

The park will also be used for research. The property includes wetlands that are useful for environmental science studies. The lab that’s on campus will move to the Williamson Innovation Park, Steelant says.

IT Training

The IT Accelerator provides 5G readiness training. People have been trained in the theory. Now they have to learn to climb poles and connect the equipment.

“Williamson property,” Steelant begins. “He [Williamson] was the one who had the patents on telecommunication. He was the first one on the cellphone towers … We’re going to build poles out there so we can continue the training for 5G.”

The HAM radio station also will be moved to the innovation park.

With electric vehicle sales stalling, the EV academy is on hold. FoxConn sent some employees to the Excellence Training Center, paying for industrial maintenance training, though.

“The Online Skills Accelerator is nonacademic, noncredit bearing trainings that we do,” Steelant says. That includes industry-recognized credentials, OSHA-training.

YSU has worked to train 75 jail inmates over the last few years. Steelant wants to work more with companies to get people looking for work who are trained in the skills companies need.

Early Stages

The Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork is still in its early years but Cossentino and Binsley say plans call for it to serve more people.

Cossentino says TILT shared the badge curriculum with an area business, unsure of what the reaction would be. The company was enthusiastic. It has younger employees coming in as well as midcareer workers and those entering retirement age. They want to address the needs of all of those groups.

“There’s so much opportunity that’s available to really enhance the learning, not just of our local people but beyond,” Cossentino says. “I think this is a great concept that’s being put into action.”

It won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

“I think when we started our first goal was how do we serve our YSU community here at home and then spread out from there as we get our footing, strengthen our programs, and then go out from there,” Binsley says.

They hope for big things.

“I think if we have this upcoming year to really build out the content, evaluate what our [high school] pilot was, engage the pilot school with, here’s what we’re proposing. We think we can roll out for probably a couple of schools by ’25-’26. I think that’s doable,” Cossentino says.

They hope to launch the business pilot early next year and roll it out to more businesses the following academic year.

“I think we’re getting to a point where the team is together and we can really start moving this outside of the university and into the community,” Cossentino says.

Pictured at top: Jenna Binsley, associate director of the Tressel Institute for Leadership and Teamwork, and Amy Cossentino, associate provost for strategy, leadership and engagement and dean of the Youngstown State University Sokolov Honors College, pose inside Fok Hall at YSU. The Tressel Institute is now part of the honors college.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.