Skip to main content

New Innovation-Focused Programs Emerge at Univ. of Houston

Published Apr 01, 2019 by Maggie Martin

As Houston continues growing as an innovation hub, higher education institutions, including the University of Houston, are implementing new ways to connect and foster students in that sector. 

According to InnovationMap, UH now has a major—and two minor—programs focused on innovation. “Undergraduate students now have the option to major or minor in Technology Leadership and Innovation Management or minor in Applied Innovation,” the online publication reports. “All three options begin in the fall semester of this year in the College of Technology.” UH also recently revamped Energy Research Park as the Technology Bridge, providing space and resources for early-stage, research-based startups.

The university is also developing a digital tech sales academy that offers students graduating with engineering and other technical degrees the opportunity to gain a strong sales and marketing skill set. The university’s award-winning Stagner Sales Excellence Institute piloted the program with a small cohort earlier this spring and is expected to launch a formal program later this year.

The new programs at UH fuse well with the broader effort being led by the Greater Houston Partnership and other organizations to expand the city’s innovation landscape.  The last 18 months have brought the formation of Houston Exponential, the launch of the HX Venture Fund, which had its first close of $25 million last fall, and the designation of an Innovation Corridor that stretches from the TMC and Rice to downtown. Rice University has also begun work to convert a former Sears building in Midtown into the centerpiece of the Innovation District dubbed The Ion. 

Broadening the scope of opportunities at area colleges and universities underscores one of the Greater Houston Partnership’s priorities encapsulated in Houston Next, the organization’s strategic initiative designed to advance Houston’s position as a great global city. As part of those efforts, the Partnership is committed to providing opportunity for all, which includes improving higher education in the region. 

The Partnership’s focus in higher education is guided by the organization’s Higher Education Committee. Members meet several times a year to discuss how to grow our regional institutions, strengthen coordination between institutions and industry and improve the quality and reputations of higher education institutions in the region. 

Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the  Partnership, spoke about the committee’s work in a presentation on higher education at the University of Houston last week. “The business community and others must play an active role in addressing the challenges and harnessing the opportunities that are before us, and that includes the state of higher education,” said Harvey. “Houston leads the top ten U.S. metros in attracting baccalaureate-degreed professionals from outside the metro, but we are last (per capita) in producing that same talent locally.”

The Partnership’s Higher Education Committee has laid out several goals for Houston, including increasing high-value, high-growth tech degree production and attracting more faculty and students to our region’s higher education institutions. 

Learn more about the Partnership's Higher Education Committee here

Related News

Workforce Development

Community Based Organizations: Where Talent and Opportunity Meet

10/29/20
According to the new WorkingNation American Workers Survey, 56 percent of workers said they didn’t know whether there were local training programs nearby that could help them get the skills they need and into available jobs they might want. Workers who don’t know about these opportunities could be missing out on gaining the skills and credentials they need to grow their careers.  During an UpSkill Works Forum held in late October, leaders in three Houston area organizations that provide employment services, financial coaching and career readiness programs, along with an array of other services – Mary Silbert, Northwest Assistance Ministries learning center director; Samantha Sherman, Wesley Community Center chief program officer; and Eric Goodie, Houston Area Urban League area vice president of growth and sustainability – discussed how organizations such as theirs are uniquely equipped to help employers tap into talent and individuals follow pathways to good employment and greater economic opportunity. The session was hosted by Peter Beard, Partnership vice president of regional workforce development and leader of the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative. Northwest Assistance Ministries (NAM) offers an array of workforce development programs along with food, rent and housing assistance programs and family violence services as well as senior and pediatric health clinics. Wesley Community Center provides financial stability programs as well as family wraparound services ranging from an early childhood care center to food, rent and utilities services, to emergency financial assistance. Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), which is affiliated with the National Urban League, has a mission to empower African Americans and other minorities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights through education, housing, workforce development and training, and through health initiatives and entrepreneurship programs.  All three organizations are part of the United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE network, which helps families build stronger financial futures by acquiring skills and education, obtaining better jobs, developing good financial habits and building savings.   Organizations Focus on In-Demand Skill and Credentials Goodie, Silbert and Sherman shared how their organizations set up clients for success by providing career coaching and skills training.   HAUL runs an Urban Apprentice Jobs Program, designed to create apprenticeship pathways that connect underserved communities with nationally recognized credentials needed for high-growth, high-demand employment. Additionally, it operates an Urban Tech Jobs Program that provides certifications and instructs individuals how to use digital tools like Google Analytics, Amazon Web Service applications, CompTIA A+ Certification as well as National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) programs creating employment pathways in areas including construction, supply chain, petrochemical and manufacturing. Northwest Assistance Ministries offers training programs for administrative roles and health care roles, but, Silbert said, NAM emphasizes that individuals have to be lifelong learners and focus on their long-term goals, even if that means taking a job that may be in a field not directly connected with their immediate training program. Any experience or training will come in use in the future. “We have them constantly thinking about the next step, the next training, the next education. That's a conversation we have with clients from the very beginning,” Silbert said.   NAM programs also emphasize customer service as a key skill transferable across a number of positions and fields, she said. Goodie emphasized soft skills as a complement to occupational training insomuch as they will help individuals present themselves to employers in a virtual interview setting and help once someone is working for those employers remotely.   Relationships with Employers and Other Organizations Strengthen Coaching NAM, Wesley Community Center and HAUL have built relationships with employers that allow them to keep connected with changing employment or skill needs. The organizations use that intelligence to offer programs and services that align with employer demands.  These relationships have helped HAUL understand employers’ priority needs and whether their application processes have been streamlined. HAUL has also held specific recruitment events where employers and clients can speak specifically about opportunities and rigors of the roles on a very granular level. “It turns it into more of a career exploration, where the employer is really able to talk about their company, the career opportunities, opportunities for advancement [and answer] some specific granular questions about what the daily rigors of those jobs entail, and then, of course, how to apply,” Goodie said. The organizations have also built relationships throughout the larger ecosystem of organizations that provide essential services and support to individuals and families, allowing them to help clients solve or manage a variety of hurdles like finding childcare or obtaining transportation. “We have the relationships in the community to make it easier for our clients to access those resources and so find what they need now and to free up their time so they can do what's right in front of them today,” Sherman said. Client relationships do not end with employment, and the THRIVE network has helped organizations make referrals and continue supporting individuals. “Getting the job is not the end goal. It’s building the career, it’s building financial stability,” Sherman said. “It is staying with the client as they continue with the journey.”   COVID-19 Has Driven Coaching Adaptations Goodie, Sherman and Silbert shared how their organizations have adapted to meet the needs of clients and employers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Part of HAUL’s pivot included its shift to offering digital tool credentials, but it also incorporated mental wellness into its weekly employment orientation, Goodie said. The digital divide forced some programs to become hybrid ones and feature virtual components and physical textbooks. The pandemic forced Wesley Community Center and NAM to change how they assessed clients and their approach to coaching. Clients have had to adapt, too, Silbert said, like sharing computer equipment and resources with children and/or spouses.  “It’s rewarding to see our clients hang in with us and step up, and really continue with the programs and continue with training,” Silbert said.    Learn more about the UpSkill Houston initiative. View all past UpSkill Works Forums.
Read More
Education

Re-Imagining Education and Career-Connected Learning — How Junior Achievement is Driving Opportunity for All

10/27/20
Career exploration and the skills to succeed have become a part of K-12 education across Texas over the last several years, but a new educational model within Houston Independent School District’s Stephen F. Austin High School is re-engineering high school education to make it more career relevant for students and increase their economic opportunity and prosperity. This school year, 3DE by Junior Achievement, an instructional model that utilizes competency-based case method to drive student engagement and academic performance, was launched within the school, expanding for students access and exposure to local employers and equipping them with knowledge and foundational skills for success in the business world. The 3DE model embeds career exploration and skills into educational curricula. Junior Achievement’s purpose is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in the global economy, and the 3DE model engages the business community in a very deep way, said Joseph Burke, president of Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas and member of the UpSkill Houston executive committee. “Kids are more poised to be able to transition into the workforce when they’ve been engaged [with the business world],” Burke said. The model builds student-centric education around project-based learning in which students work throughout the school year on a series of real-world questions presented by sponsor companies, like whether to host an event at a certain venue or how to effectively communicate in a digital environment. Students work on the cases in teams, are coached by company employees (who volunteer as mentors) and present their answers to their teachers. The top four teams pitch their cases to a panel of company representatives who judge them and select a winning team. In the 3DE model, students also typically complete rotations with the sponsor company to learn about different careers and the industry. During their senior year of high school, students will complete an internship or consultancies. Students not only learn about the wealth of local employment options, but they also learn about business culture. This model can help address a disturbing finding in the recent WorkingNation American Workers Survey conducted by Frank Luntz and his company FIL on behalf of WorkingNation: Nearly one in three adult workers (31 percent) polled said they had never spoken about their future careers with a teacher or a parent. The 3DE model draws out the authenticity of learning, putting it in context of higher order thinking skills, Burke said. Case study work is not just tacked on to regular school curricula, but rather, it is woven into language arts, social studies, science and math lessons for an interdisciplinary approach to learning.  In this way, the 3DE lead teacher and case study work are supported by other high school teachers, according to Andrea Aguilera, 3DE partnership director at Stephen F. Austin High School. “Students don’t have exposure to business title terminology like what is a CEO, a CFO, or COO. Our biology teacher made this case vocabulary relevant by aligning it to her TEKS and created a lesson on cells. The vocabulary is then aligned with cells, tissue, organs, and how they work as a team. For example, the nucleus acts like a CEO,” she said, adding that a social studies teacher is instructing students on how to create PowerPoint presentations, which the students will need to use for their presentations in the next 3DE judging. “By having other teachers create lessons that touch on aspects of the case challenge, students are seeing commonalities of our strategies, themes, and tools being used in every single one of their courses, and its being constantly reinforced,” Aguilera said. 3DE launched in Fulton County Schools’ Benjamin Banneker High School, just outside of Atlanta, in 2015. In the years since, the school has seen significant gains in student performance and future opportunity including a 47 percent increase in its four-year graduation rate (to 92 percent), according to Junior Achievement. Students in 3DE cohorts across multiple schools have improved attendance. They are chronically absent about 38 percent less of the time than their host school peers, according to the organization. The 3DE model is now operating within 23 schools across the country. It was the success seen at Banneker High School in terms of student achievement, reduced absenteeism and greater teacher retention that made Jeff Miers support bringing the model to Houston. Miers was a Junior Achievement board member and an Accenture managing director at the time and recognized how the model fit with the consulting company’s “Skills to Succeed” commitment to empower people to change their lives. He also saw it as an exciting opportunity to transform the way Houston students learn. Accenture, Deloitte and Quanta Services are among the local employers that are sponsoring 3DE case studies. About 170 ninth graders at Austin High School (or, roughly 36 percent of the entire ninth grade class) make up the first 3DE cohort. The cohort purposefully mirrors the wider school demographics in terms of ethnic or racial makeup, background and academic achievement to about 5 percent, according to Burke. This helps gauge model effectiveness but also opens the door for students who lack the social networks or connections that can open doors to employment and opportunity. “The opportunity to interact and understand what companies are doing and working on real business problems opens the window into professions that underprivileged students might not otherwise see,” Miers said. The business coaches and judges represent a diverse population, come from different backgrounds and followed different pathways into their careers, Aguilera said. In short: they look like the students. “Sometimes for students the business world appears so far away and can seem unattainable and so what these business professionals are doing is showing students, ‘we were once where you were and you can also get here,’” Aguilera said.  Partnering to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace is more critical than ever, Burke said. “If we want to make diversity and inclusion gains then we have to begin with our education, and it needs to begin with the public schools,” he said. Learn more about 3DE by Junior Achievement.
Read More

Related Events

Economic Development

State of the City: A Conversation with Mayor Sylvester Turner

Join the Partnership for a special continuation of the annual State of the City event. The Honorable City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will sit down with Partnership Chair, Bobby Tudor, for a fireside…

Learn More
Learn More
Executive Partners