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Gilbert execs help ASU students become workforce ready

Rudy Apodaca and Sarah Swinford
April 15, 2015

Sarah Swinford, a pre-med student in the College of Letters and Sciences, said she’d never given much thought to the business side of health care – until a career-shadowing program at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus connected her with Rudy Apodaca, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center's vice president for operations.

“Before beginning my shadowing experience with Rudy, I thought of hospitals mostly as facilities providing clinical care to patients in dire need,” said Swinford, who plans to become a neurologist.

“Rudy showed me how a hospital is developed, supported and how a medical facility gives back to the community by providing not only medical services, but also education,” she said. “Being able to sit in on a stroke conference and a joint commission meeting gave me insight into how a team of doctors not only communicate, but also work to ensure that patients receive the treatment they need.”

Swinford’s understanding of patient issues also grew.

“Hearing the upset and anger in patients’ voices who are frustrated with how their health insurance limits their ability to receive particular medications was difficult,” she noted. “It motivated me to one day be the doctor who could ease the frustration and take on issues of this nature.”

Swinford is one of eight ASU Polytechnic students to participate in the career-shadowing program that ASU piloted in spring 2015 in collaboration with the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce.

Open to majors across all five colleges represented at the Polytechnic campus, the students were matched with professionals in APS, Lockheed Martin, Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, the Higley Unified School District, the Town of Gilbert business development services and risk management offices, the Town of Gilbert Municipal Court and the criminology unit of the Gilbert Police Department.

Students and mentors committed to 15 hours of participation over two months. Their itineraries included a range of experiential opportunities – from attending professional meetings together to facility tours to career conversations over coffee – giving students a glimpse into day-to-day challenges and decisions in a number of career fields.

The students and their community mentors recently celebrated their participation in the program – and lessons learned – at a closing reception.

At the event, the student participants talked about their appreciation for the opportunities to learn additional life skills and critical thinking skills, and to really see what a typical day might be like.

Mentors talked about how their eyes were opened as well, for the program showcased the capabilities of ASU Polytechnic students.

“Mentors said they couldn’t believe the maturity level of the students, a number of whom were only sophomores,” said Stephanie Salazar, director of East Valley Community and Municipal Relations in ASU’s Office of University Affairs and coordinator of the program. “They were extremely impressed with how workforce-ready our students are.”

Salazar brought the idea for the job-shadowing program to the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce and its Partners in Progress Committee, whose work recognizes the vital link between business retention and an educated workforce.

“We used as a template the job shadowing program that Kevin Ellsworth developed in the College of Letters and Sciences in 2008-2009 with the City of Tempe,” said Salazar, who had a chance to work on that effort with Ellsworth, faculty head of Interdisciplinary and liberal studies. The program embedded students with mentors in various city government offices and evolved into a full-semester internship course for students."

“Through the Gilbert chamber's business retention efforts, business leaders recognized the importance of partnering with the education systems serving Gilbert to provide students with real-world experiences,” said Sarah Watts, the chamber’s communications and marketing director.

“The chamber was proud to partner with ASU to match students with some of today's leading experts in various professions. Not only did the students gain a valuable professional experience, but the mentors also gained a refreshing view of the youngest generation in the workforce,” Watts said about the collaboration. “The Gilbert chamber couldn't be more proud of this inaugural program or the participants involved.”