Awards Recognize Mayor-Led Efforts to Enhance College Completion and Career Readiness

Miami Beach, FL – Albuquerque, NM Mayor Richard Berry; Birmingham, AL Mayor William Bell, Sr.; and West Sacramento, CA Mayor Christopher Cabaldon have won the 2017 U.S. Conference of Mayors/Strada Education Network 2017 National Education Pathways with a Purpose Grant Awards. The awards were announced during the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ (USCM) 85th Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, FL.

The awards are sponsored by USCM and Strada Education Network, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the college-to-career pathway by investing in strategic philanthropy, research and insights, and innovative solutions. During the past three years the partnership has awarded $385,000 to recognize mayor-supported initiatives that enhance student success in education leading to rewarding careers. The initiative has generated more than 200 submissions from mayors nationwide of best practice education-to-employment programs.

This year’s winning cities were selected by an independent panel of former mayors, educators, and workforce development professionals. The winning cities will share a total of $200,000 in grants awarded to recognize mayor-led programs that provide a more purposeful path for students to and through college and on to rewarding careers and successful lives.

“For the nation’s mayors, among their most critical priorities are supporting economic growth and preparing a skilled workforce poised to meet the challenges of an ever-changing global marketplace,” said U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran. “With the growing complexity of the world and the increasing demands on the 21st century workforce, it is crucial that all students graduate from high school fully prepared for college AND careers. Our partnership with Strada Education Network, focused on college and career readiness, highlights the ongoing and excellent work to ensure that America’s students are prepared to succeed in and complete college, and that our career pathways seamlessly lead to higher education and the global workforce.”

“These awards recognize the many innovative approaches that local communities are taking to enhance the educational attainment levels and career readiness of their citizens to promote economic growth and prosperity,” said William D. Hansen, Strada Education Network President and CEO. “By partnering with USCM to highlight best practice models that improve student outcomes and strengthen communities, we hope to encourage other cities and towns to adopt similar practices that build a more purposeful path through education to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives.”

“The United States is leading an innovation revolution, transforming the world’s products and how we make them,” said current U.S. Conference of Mayors President and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “We also have the world’s most productive workforce, with abundant energy and unparalleled capability. Yet as our nation strives to create new jobs and put people to work in new and burgeoning industries, the growing skills gap in the country — a lack of trained workers — leaves many employers scrambling for talent. This skills gap is a drag on the economy, and as a result, we continually look for new ways to make strategic investments in education and training to close that gap. The U.S. Conference of Mayors/Strada Education Network National Pathways with a Purpose Grants Awards Program helps us to do this by lifting up great examples of ways for mayors to design programs and/or schools to help every young person be successful and ready to pursue postsecondary education or a career in the 21st century. The awards provide a great showcase for successful mayoral leadership and engagement in this arena for their colleagues to emulate and replicate.”


Albuquerque, NM (Large City – Population Greater Than 500,000 –  Winner): Running Start for Careers

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has long been an active advocate for college and career readiness initiatives. During his tenure as a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives, Mayor Berry launched the Running Start for Careers (Running Start) initiative in 2011, and the program has seen great success since its inception. Focused around close collaboration between high schools/colleges and employers, the program has reached over 1,240 students across 70 schools since 2011, and participation is growing each year. Further, under Mayor Berry’s leadership, graduation rates have risen between 4-12% among Albuquerque schools participating in Running Start. The program also focuses specifically on aiding the disadvantaged, and works to actively close the gap between low-income youth and their more privileged peers by offering students access to high quality career technical training programs that also serve as dual credit for high school and college courses. Through the program, students choose among 12 industries as paths of study, and earn cooperating industry recognized certificates and vital career skills training that pushes young people toward lucrative and beneficial occupations in the future. While the program is on track to place 60 students in internships in 2018, with around 50 internship partners, the program hopes to eventually place as many as 250 students in internships from 15 industry pathways, with over 75 internship partners in the coming years.

“The success of this program proves that mayoral leadership does matter!” said former Hartford Mayor and grant program judge Pedro Segarra of Mayor Berry’s passionate advocacy for this initiative.

Fellow panelist Steve Corona commented, “Bravo to Mayor Berry!  I salute his longtime commitment to young people and their futures.  Ensuring a high-skilled workforce and meeting employer needs will position Albuquerque for future success.”

Birmingham, AL (Medium City – Population 200,000-500,000 – Winner): Innovate Birmingham

The Innovate Birmingham Workforce Development Council is a consortium of public and private leaders that was created in conjunction with Birmingham’s designation as a TechHire city by the White House in Fall 2015 and the rapid growth of IT job demand (24% over previous five years) in Birmingham in early 2016. Under Mayor Bell’s leadership, Innovate Birmingham provides local citizens, primarily disadvantaged youth, with the tools necessary to receive high quality job training and gain opportunities for employment in high-performing jobs, creating a talented young workforce and, in turn, making Birmingham an appealing location for new businesses. Through its partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Innovate Birmingham established the Depot/U program, geared toward training participants for increased IT career readiness with a 100% career practical curriculum. The program is housed within Innovation Depot, one of the nation’s leading business incubation facilities. There, full-time staff, hired by Innovate Birmingham, prepare students for successful work in the fields of computer science and software engineering. The first Depot/U class of 19 students (out of 21 that began the program) graduated on April 28, 2017, and has seen an average salary increase of 41%. Because the Depot/U program lost 2 students due to transportation and childcare barriers, the program hopes to bolster the retention rate of Depot/U to 100% and prevent barriers to completion from inhibiting student success in the future. Through the creation of a pipeline for young citizens to find high-earning, in-demand jobs in the IT field, Innovate Birmingham sets the stage for the city to have a diverse and talented workforce, and provides opportunities for eager, hardworking young people who may not have the opportunity to attain a four-year degree, to obtain and sustain a gainful career path.

“Innovate Birmingham is extremely important,” said Dr. Loretta Moore, Professor of Computer Science at Jackson State University and judging panelist. “The recent worldwide computer attack revealed the need for the work they’re doing in computer science and cyber security – it’s key so that supply can meet demand.  They also have impressive partners from the university and community college to ensure that everyone is engaged.”

Steve Partridge, Vice President of Workforce Development at Northern Virginia Community College, added, “Innovate Birmingham creates pathways from education to in-demand IT careers for disconnected youth.  This provides citizens with employment opportunities in high-performing jobs and creates a talented workforce, which will help them recruit new business to Birmingham.”

West Sacramento, CA (Small City – Population Less Than 200,000 – Winner): Kids’ Home Run

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon has been a champion of high-quality education for the children of his city since the beginning of his tenure as mayor in 2004 with the inception of the Universal Preschool Task Force, which led to the establishment of UP4WS, or Universal Preschool for West Sacramento, in 2005. Since then, UP4WS has seen great success, and was recognized by the Obama Administration as a national model at the White House Summit on Early Education in December 2014. In 2016, Kids’ Home Run was established as a “cradle-to-career” initiative that would see the youth of West Sacramento all the way through schooling and on to successful careers. Kids Home Run was created by incorporating elements of UP4WS with other education programs that Mayor Cabaldon spearheaded, such as FutureReady, a program centered around preparing high school students for postsecondary education. Since its creation, the programs that make up Kids’ Home Run have seen great results. UP4WS has increased the amount of preschool spaces in the city from 210 to 780, and quality rating scales consistently place UP4WS classrooms at between 6 and 7 on a 7-point scale. Additionally, the program as a whole has ensured that every West Sacramento student graduating from high school and directly enrolling full-time in a program of study at the Sacramento City College Campus will enroll tuition-free, and have access to points-based scholarships of up to $1,000. The integration of digital badging as a part of the program has also improved how employers select new employees and is a way for students to display their skills and abilities to potential employers. The Kids’ Run Home initiative’s innovative programs and techniques have led to several students receiving quality job training in their specified field of choice, making connections to potential employers, and receiving grant-subsidized paid internships that lead to bright futures in the workforce.

“This program is notable for its comprehensive nature that focuses on children’s success at multiple touch points” said former Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.

Karen Sitnick, former Director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development in Baltimore City, MD, added, “This program is a data-driven, overarching cradle-to-career initiative that provides a series of program supports to children.  The mayor is to be commended for his comprehensive continuum of services from cradle-to-career.”