BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Teachers and administrators from across the Sullivan County, Tennessee, school system, gathered at the Technical Education Complex at Northeast State Community College on Tuesday for the first-ever annual Teacher Industry Day.
Teachers from West Ridge High School, Sullivan East High School, and Sullivan East Middle School along with representatives from local industries shared a breakfast organized by Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES). During the breakfast, Jeff McCord, the president of NSCC, emphasized the importance of creating relationships between educators and industry professionals in order to tackle common issues.
“This is exactly the sort of thing we need to be doing, breaking bread or breaking eggs, whatever the case may be between industry and education, so we can learn from each other and help solve common issues and address common opportunities,” McCord said. “There is opportunity everywhere, and we need to connect the students to that opportunity.”
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In her remarks during the breakfast, Evelyn Rafalowski, the Sullivan County director of schools, highlighted how important days, such as Teacher Industry Day, are for teachers and their students as they figure out together what possible career paths are available to them once they finish school.
“These are the days that our teachers look forward to, and these are the days when they can grow and explore and be able to take that information back to our students and help them as they are looking to make their career choices,” Rafalowski said. “For decades, we have spent our time encouraging students and almost funneling students into one pathway, and that has changed dramatically over the past two years.”
After breakfast, teachers were paired with representatives from industries such as BTES, Bristol Metals, Mattern & Craig Engineering, Economy Beauty Supply, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Bristol Tennessee Fire Department and spent the day touring their facilities and learning about the various career opportunities they can offer interested students.
Emily Robinette and Amy Joyner, who both teach health sciences to students at West Ridge High School, were assigned to visit USAntibiotics, which is the United States only amoxicillin manufacturer in the United States and is based in Bristol, Tennessee. Robinette and Joyner met with the President of USAntibiotics Patrick Cashman who spoke to them about the complex history of the facility, which has changed hands multiple times over the years and highlighted the company’s mission, to provide quality antibiotics and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. He also highlighted USAntibiotic’s present need to hire and train new employees.
“We need a new generation here. We need to get new people here to whom we can transfer all this knowledge to before a lot of us retire and take over and keep this going. So, we love to try and get people interested at the high school level,” Cashman said. “We need mechanics, we need chemists, and we need people to run the manufacturing machines, facilities, and things like that.”
While there, Robinette and Joyner were given a tour by Jeff Gramm, the vice president of strategic initiatives at USAntibiotics, and Dedra Helbert, the company’s human resources manager, who answered questions about what skills they prioritize when they look at potential new employees, as well as what they would offer their young students in terms of their work culture.
“Math skills are critical, communication skills. You have to be able to communicate cross-functionally within your own team. You have to be a good team player. You have to be flexible,” Helbert said. “There are lots of things that people don’t think about that is critical to the success of an individual when they go to work.”
For their part, Robinette and Joyner left USAntibiotics impressed with what they saw and surprised by everything they learned, and they will try to convey that to their students about the antibiotics industry.
“I was very impressed with the way that they treated us and the way that they had everything set up and really put forth the effort. You can tell that they’re very proud of this place and what they do,” Robinette said.