Education is the organic process of learning. It is a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It is not a systematic memorization of facts that will be quickly forgotten. Consequently, the best educational system consists of putting classroom theory into practice. In Orange County, Vital Link is the company that actively assists students in making the connection between academic interests and career choice, as well as putting classroom theory into practice. The company’s objective is providing educational and career-related resources to Orange County students at the high school, community college and university levels.
Founded in 1989, in Tustin, California, Vital Link set out with the intent to enhance the skills of recent high school graduates, to better their chances of succeeding in local and global economies. Recent national studies indicate American high school graduates are astoundingly underprepared and ill-equipped to make sound career choices. Within the last decade, Vital Link’s original programs have flourished into career exploration programs.
With the main focus on preparing students to be career ready, new focuses include valuable real world application, hands-on experiences and an expanded network of willing business mentors. Vital Link’s programs serve 47,000 students annually, representing 18% Orange County students. Opportunities are available to a whopping 87 middle schools, 65 high schools, nine community colleges, and growing. Vital Link doesn’t discriminate, as 40-60% of participants are low to moderate income, at-risk, or special education students.
On May 21, 2016, Vital Link organized the UCI Energy Invitational and the Race 4 Your Future car show on UC Irvine’s campus.
“The objective of the program is to bring real world experiences into the classroom, and to get students at high school level and university level to be better prepared to get into the workforce,” says Kathy Johnson, President/CEO of Vital Link. “School is traditionally about turning in a project, getting it graded, walking away, and you are done. This program is not like that. The students do a performance engineering model, and this model consists of actually building the project–tested, improved, tested and improved again and again until it is done.”
The Race 4 Your Future program is six years old, and this year is its second time at UCI. During a time period of one year or more, students work under very specific criteria to create their performance engineering model, always under the supervision of a professor or teacher. The specific criteria consists of how far and how fast in one hour and on one-dollar worth of energy. The projects can be based in any type of energy–compressed gas, electric, solar, gasoline, etc. The only differentiator among the categories is the weight of the car: over 500 pounds or 500 pounds or less. The grade level of the student is irrelevant.
Ed Hernandez, Director of The Technology & Engineering Academy and teacher at Tustin High School, shared some successful stories of the program. So far, out of this program, Tustin High School has placed five graduated students into the engineering programs at UC Berkley and one at Michigan State University.
UCI Professor, J. Michael McCarthy, who teaches 3rd and 4th year engineering at UCI, says his efforts have been futile in trying to place students in the job market, due to companies not hiring at entry level, but he is a believer in Vital Link.
“It is not a fun project. It is real engineering, and so it is a real career experience, challenging students to learn to design, build, test and make a vehicle reliable. It also teaches the students how to work together and meet a schedule. The project is literally on-the-job training, because training like this at local companies does not exist anymore. Therefore, our students can now leave the university with a real experience in engineering and step right into the job opportunities.”
Out of this program, UCI is graduating students with experience that the industry is requiring but not recognizing. The alignment of UCI, the OC Department of Education and Vital Link represents the first initiative to adapt the educational system to the changes in the marketplace and to real industry demands. Every year, organizers struggle to economically sustain the program and ultimately it needs greater support from the industry.
The program also has a very positive social impact, functioning as a preventative measure to keep kids out of trouble. They can focus on a specific task, along with career discovery and exploration. For more information, call Vital Link at 949.645.2510 or email Kathy@VitalLinkOC.org