Education, Employability, Entrepreneurship

In late summer, eight visitors from Bangladesh, India, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, and Sri Lanka arrived in Pensacola as part of an U.S. State Department International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project titled Education, Employability, and Entrepreneurship. Its professional objectives for the national project included to “look at links between high schools, community colleges, and local businesses to see how education can lead directly to employability; to examine policies that support and regulate entrepreneurial efforts, focusing particularly on those policies and regulations that affect small businesses; to explore labor laws and the various regulations for the registration of businesses that directly affect entrepreneurship; and to provide insight into how NGOs work to help disenfranchised and at-risk groups get jobs, engage in entrepreneurship, and become self-sufficient.”

These objectives were approached through a variety of meetings and site visits and were complimented by cultural outings and hospitality measures. One evening, for example, the Young Professionals of the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council held a networking mixer for the group. On another, the visitors attended Bands on the Beach. Over the weekend, the visitors were invited for dinner to the homes of members Suzanne & Randle Carpenter, Becky & Gerard Kirsch, and Liz & Basil Yelverton where they shared the details of their IVLP and experienced American hospitality at its finest. They also took a Sunday tour of historic Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Continuing the hospitality, Pensacola City Council Executive Don Kraher welcomed the group to the region, shared an overview of the city’s history, and highlighted the functions of city government. At Visit Pensacola, the group explored coastal and beach tourism promotion with President Steve Hayes.

To highlight economic development services available to rural communities, the group headed to the Escambia County Extension Service and spoke with Director Nicholas Simmons. They then headed out for a farm visit with Agricultural Extension Agent Libby Johnson. The Extension Service provides practical, how to education, and technical assistance for rural communities based on research conducted by the University of Florida and was happy to answer IVLP participants’ questions.

The focus on workforce development partnerships began at Gulf Power with Workforce Development Coordinator Kristie Kelley who gave an industry perspective of workforce development partnerships between academic institutions and private businesses. This led to a school visit to Pine Forest High School and a discussion of the Escambia County School District Career Academies with Director of Workforce Education Dr. Michelle Taylor and Principal Laura Touchstone. Several academies are sponsored by local companies such as Gulf Power and prepare students for entry level positions and internship opportunities.

Following their time at Pine Forest High School, the group then met with Mike Sherrill, the Assistant Principal of the George Stone Technical Center, who provided insight into a program offering adult students the necessary skills to enter into the workforce. The school offers twenty-two programs and is a solution to individuals struggling to find their place in the job market.

To provide ample opportunity for unstructured interaction with locals, Seville Quarter opened its doors for a community coffee discussion. Among those attending were Rob Brooks, Mary Sue Brye, Donovan Chau, David Fries, Annie Gray, Steven Gray, Sheila Hodges, Laura Johnson, Kasey Jones, Bob Moulton, Jeremy Ochoa, Dr. Robert Perkins, Edward Posey, Terry Preston, Dr. Ed Ranelli, and Jim Sparks. This was followed by a meeting and volunteer activity with Outreach Manager Annie Gray of Manna Food Pantries, a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating hunger in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

To read one participant’s views of her time in town, follow this link to the Pensacola News Journal.

The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council thanks everyone who contributed towards the success of this project.