An international network of leaders in business, education and government challenged an audience spanning 17 time zones at the CFES Brilliant Pathways Conference “Leading the Way: The New College and Career Readiness Paradigm” to build more inclusive, tech-based learning models designed to close an opportunity gap blown open by the pandemic.

“There is a huge gap between the haves and have nots and it screams for the work we all do,” said CFES President Rick Dalton, adding that community college enrollment is down 11 percent while some top universities are up 100 percent. “We’re not headed back to normal; we’re already in the next normal. It’s a new paradigm that requires hybrid learning models, flexible employee-driven workplaces, and Essential Skills like agility.”

The 30th annual conference was hybrid for the first time with over 3,000 participants joining in-person at the Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing, NY, and virtually. Speakers included college presidents, corporate leaders, and K-12 educators with breakout sessions focused on the new CCR paradigm as it relates to higher education, mentoring, financial aid, the workplace, social emotional learning (SEL), STEM and the importance of the Essential Skills.

“The big sectoral shifts that have happened in our space affirm the value of having kids with the fundamental Essential Skills that CFES prioritizes,” said Dean Garfield, Vice President of Public Policy at Netflix. “We need people who collaborate well, are incredibly adaptable, who persevere, and are strong leaders. I would ask you to double-down on these fundamental skills because they are equally resonant and relevant today – and I suspect will be – five years from now as well as 50 years from now.”

Students participated virtually in live sessions led by faculty and cadets from the Center for Leadership and Diversity in STEM at the United States Military Academy on cryptography, how to encrypt and decrypt messages, and cyber-hygiene. They also talked about Essential Skills such as leadership and perseverance and how students can develop and use them to get through difficult times like the pandemic.

“We’re facing an incredibly amazing time when this generation of students—who have been through the Covid-19 pandemic and have developed agility and perseverance they didn’t have before—is entering the workforce,” said Amanda Ryan, president of G3 Life Sciences Division, part of G3 Translate, a specialized provider of inclusive language solutions and communications services. “They are bringing these qualities into the workplace…and the workplace will be better for it.”

A consistent message throughout the conference was the importance of mastering new forms of virtual and hybrid teaching models to reach underserved students who fell behind during the pandemic. Equally important, according to Paul Luna, President & CEO of the Helios Education Foundation, is getting students to believe in the importance of education by connecting it to their future success like his father did for him.

“From a technology standpoint, students are ready and prepared to engage,” said Luna. “How we provide the encouragement they need to understand the value of education and how important it is to their lifelong success is one aspect we need to figure out in a virtual environment.”
Luna’s father drove that point home by taking Paul to the copper mine where he worked for over 40 years. “He said you have two choices: come here and do some good honest hard work or go to college and do other things. I’ll help you get to college, but the choice is yours.”

Educators also learned about trends shaping the future of education backed by the latest data and practices for how to overcome a lack of internet connectivity, take advantage of virtual college tours, mental health issues and best practices working in CFES schools.

Participants signed up students, teachers and staff for upcoming CFES-College and Career Readiness Trainings to help increase postsecondary success and receive professional development hours from the University of Vermont certified training.