McALLEN - South Texas College (STC) is fostering engagement among IT and healthcare professionals for industry growth in the Rio Grande Valley.

On Nov. 15, 2016, the South Texas Information Technology Partnership in collaboration with STC’s Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator (TRSDSA) held its first meeting to begin determining priorities for collective action among professionals in Information Technology.

The meeting began with employers identifying the most important opportunities or drivers of growth for Information Technology intensive sectors in the region—such as growing markets, advancing technologies, policy catalysts, and other forces.

Next, participants focused on the most important requirements to capitalize on the opportunities—such as talent, image/career awareness, infrastructure, and other needs.

The meeting concluded with employers in strong agreement that their most important requirement is access to quality talent. Without people possessing the right mix of skills, their operations cannot be sustained and/or grow in the region.

“It’s about collaborating with other IT professionals. Even though they may be competitors in one sense, their foundation is IT,” said Valerie Gamez, Project Director for TRSDA at South Texas College.

“It’s about getting them together and asking what their needs are, what their growth plan is, and what it is going to take to achieve their goals,” Gamez said. “Of course, one of the answers will be talent and an educated workforce; but that’s not the only goal. We want them to start talking to each other and saying, “Ok, what is going to make it better for us here in the Valley so that our businesses can stay and prosper?” Is it a better widget? Is it more efficient broadband? There is strength in numbers and together we can find solutions.”

TRSDA is the name of the program at STC created to provide the pathway between champions of industry and the students who will one day lead the region into 21st century STEM-related careers.

In the middle are the faculty who are being exposed to new concepts in STEM education through highly specialized training being provided by staff from STC.

TRSDA was created as a result of a grant by Educate Texas, which awarded STC an $800,000 grant to help support the training of approximately 200 (67 per year) K-12, college and university faculty over the next three years. The goal of the initiative is to align curriculum between K-12 and higher education institutions in an effort to increase interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and help students successfully complete a STEM-focused program of study, specifically in either healthcare or computer information.

Through the program, the mission will be to provide training, as well as community and industry collaboration to benefit more than 200 RGV-area faculty and more than 40,000 STEM students across the Rio Grande Valley. STC will serve as the catalyst, urging students to move forward with their completion of certificates, associates and bachelor’s degrees over the term of the TRSDA and beyond.

“One of the initiatives of the grant, the TRSDA, is to encourage or foster industry engagement as part of the pathway for students,” Gamez said. “So, the idea is to get industry engaged in this process not just in an advisory position as far as what students need to take, but to get industry leadership to start working with each other and seeing the bigger picture across the region.”

The Information Technology meeting held on Nov. 15 serves as an extension to TRSDA’s STEM Faculty Institute, which brings together faculty from school districts across the Valley for an intensive 7-day training over the course of three months with the intent to enrich students’ learning experience in STEM-related fields.

“It’s an extension of that really because we brought people from different segments of the IT industry together for a panel discussion with faculty members and educators not just on the importance of technical skills, but soft skills as well,” Gamez said. “Some employees may not know how to communicate with a customer or compose an email. Some may not have time management skills. Those are soft skills that most people need to be taught. It was a great conversation with faculty to get them to make that mental connection and realize they’re not only teaching students technical skills, they’re training them to go out into the world and become a productive member of society. This will make our region thrive.”

The South Texas Information Technology Partnership will meet again in January 2017 to refine the outcomes and strategies in these two priority areas for action. STC also looks ahead to productive meetings with leaders in the healthcare industry. That meeting will take place on Jan. 24, 2017.