'How do you train for a lifetime?'

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 12/06/2018

Washington state education leaders discuss innovation

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How do you train for a lifetime?

At the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Washington state higher education leaders spoke about efforts to align what students learn with skills that employers need.

Representatives from WSU, SU, UW and Seattle Central College shared what’s working, what’s ahead and challenges they face in redeveloping and identifying programs, partnerships and purpose. 

Highlights from Dec. 4:

  • Vikram Jandhyala, Vice President, Innovation Strategy at University of Washington

Higher education is not purely a business, Vikram said. It’s growing people to be successful in their lifetimes. Education should be personalized, and technological advancements, including virtual reality and artificial intelligence, will allow for optimization in this respect.

A question leaders are trying to answer: How, as a system of higher education, can we provide a lifelong, personalized education in a world that is changing so quickly? And, perhaps most urgently: How do you train for a lifetime?

Vikram discussed changing technology and globalization. He noted that a challenge in higher education is developing skills that do not become obsolete – unlike certain skill sets, which do in shifting work landscapes.

Vikram also highlighted the University of Washington’s high ranking against other institutions in innovation. He agreed with other speakers about the significance of developing creative problem-solving skills in students.

Development and encouragement of empathy in students is not enough, he noted. Empathy is also a great way to hoodwink and exploit people. You can’t stop at empathy. You have to move forward – to compassion.


  • Colleen Kerr, J.D., Vice President, Office of External Affairs and Government Relations at Washington State University

Colleen noted that that the higher education system doesn’t have to start from scratch when it comes to best serving students – it has good bones.

A challenge is how to connect the bones better and flesh out offerings into a seamless menu for students.

She spoke about Drive to 25 at WSU, which is the university's goal to become a top 25 public research university by 2030, and talked about how adequately providing for the chance to attend college also means providing complete student services.

Colleen also highlighted the State Need Grant and Career Connect Washington, a program that works to accelerate career connected learning and is led in part by Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Much attention was given during the disdcussion to career connected learning, which includes job shadowing, apprenticeships, internships and business leaders getting engaged in higher education classrooms.

Colleen also said the conversation around taking out school loans shouldn’t be primarily negative, noting that some school debt translates, in monthly payment, to buying a car – but higher education is a significant investment that greatly appreciates over time.

Lastly, while STEM learning interest continues to grow and is very valuable, she noted that liberal arts are important for teaching students how best to approach, prioritize and understand the world.


  • Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, President at Seattle Central College

"Every student in Seattle needs to have access to training that makes them ready for the jobs in our region,” Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange said.

She talked about how Seattle Central College is an open-access institution and how the institution serves the needs of many students who are coming from personal barriers to education.

As such, the college values and relies on important partnerships to provide wraparound services for individuals coming from trauma, severe mental illness, prison, homelessness and food insecurity.

She talked about how community colleges have the largest number of homeless and food insecure students, and how partnerships with community organizations like Goodwill Seattle help serve students.

Dr. Lange said she wished every educational course would be required to offer a service learning component.

Service learning increases student learning by connecting their education with real world experiences – and grants opportunities to learn more about workforce fields.

As an example, she highlighted co-located training with a local dental clinic, partnering with Delta Dental and Neighborcare.

Through this special training, students work alongside trained professionals in the clinic and help provide broader access to dental care.


  • Dr. Joe Phillips, Dean of Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University

Joe discussed the importance of wraparound services to not only grant college access to students – but also to keep and help them succeed there.

He highlighted the Costco Scholarship program, Seattle University Youth Initiative and the Fostering Scholars program, which was established in 2006 with wraparound services for children leaving foster care.

Joe also discussed Seattle University’s use of advisory boards across the campus.

Insight from advisory boards help education leaders ensure curriculum is relevant – and helps open opportunities for internships and networking events that ultimately connect students with careers.

He advised interested business leaders to email the Dean of the school they’re interested in at Seattle University if curious about board service opportunities.

Of the role liberal arts has on the intellectual, interpersonal and emotional development of students, he noted that liberal arts requirements are often foundational to core curriculum. Joe said he’s also noticed strategic tweaking of liberal arts degrees – to promote employability.

Few people can afford education for the sake of education these days, he said. Higher costs are driving students to ask what the end game is.

Educational paths must have clear, career-oriented outcomes.

  • Jill Wakefield, Chancellor Emeritus at Seattle Community Colleges 

Jill discussed the multi-faceted promise of higher education: To improve the quality of life through the application of knowledge -- building better lives through better careers.

Higher education institutions have made headway in preparing students to work: Jill shared that according to self-reported data, students, on average, feel more prepared for the workforce exiting college than they did three years ago. 

However, higher education faces massive change and disruption as technology spreads nearly faster than our ability to adapt it. Business has changed dramatically over the last decade: Jobs that did not exist now do, such as data scientists and social media managers. In five years, there will be new roles that don’t exist now, she predicted.

To prepare for this, there is opportunity for improved communication between employers and education leaders. Jill also noted that as educational leaders work to prepare students, with accelerating changes to technology and the workforce, they are not sure what they exact positions (ones that don’t exist yet), they are preparing them for.

More than ever, this means developing skills in creative problem-solving, adaptation, leadership and team work become critically important.

New technology has also changed how institutions operate. For example, she discussed the integration of Amazon Alexa on campuses to grant educators faster access to data and to personalize students’ educational experiences.


The Chamber’s Executive Speaker Series showcases the many business sectors that make up the economic engine driving the Seattle metropolitan region. Each event focuses on a unique industry and features top business leaders who discuss the successes, challenges and opportunities facing their sector. Learn more and see upcoming events in this series.