Leading Ladies in BusinessSeptember 2023
St. Nicholas Center Celebrates 15 Years of Service and OutreachSeptember 2023
by Angie Kay Dilmore
Local industries and our community work hand in hand to make Southwest Louisiana a great place to live. Corporations rely on the community for its workforce, and the community depends on these businesses for its vibrant livelihood and economy. This symbiotic relationship is particularly evident in the education sector. “Supporting our local educators, from kindergarten through higher education, is important to local industries,” explains Jim Rock, executive director of LAIA. “It facilitates a continuous flow of qualified potential employees in a variety of careers, in everything from accounting and human resources to operators, welders, engineers and managers. In turn, local industries encourage their employees to volunteer with a variety of education-related activities to enhance the community.”
Shannon LaFargue, Calcasieu Parish School Superintendent, says, “We prepare our students to transition seamlessly into the higher education environment and have the necessary skillsets to prosper and ultimately succeed in the workforce and hopefully remain in Southwest Louisiana.” To enhance that effort, LAIA industry members support over 30 local schools through the Partners in Education program. These businesses provide financial and volunteer resources in a variety of ways.
This short list highlights a few examples of their contributions:
Petro/chemical companies have a vested interest in fostering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education, and indeed, most LAIA member companies support and volunteer with local math and robotics programs/competitions at several schools. The Region V STEM Center exemplifies their commitment.
“Our kids are exposed to so many things we never had before,” says LaFargue. “The Region V Stem Center hosts many events each year, such as robotics camps, even underwater robotics, energy camps, engineering camps, and a NASA Astro-Camp, where students spoke with astronauts on the International Space Station.”
This month, in conjunction with the American Chemistry Council National Chemistry Week, LAIA hosts their annual Chem Expo. Over 2,000 area 7th graders participate with over 400 volunteers from LAIA member companies, along with teachers and students from McNeese State University, SOWELA Technical Community College and area high school chemistry classes.
Several LAIA industries work together to host the Engineering Job Shadowing Luncheon, in conjunction with Junior Achievement. Students participate in science experiments, robotic demonstrations, and a Q&A panel discussion with industry engineers.
The CITGO Innovation Academy is designed to provide students at their Partner schools with STEM-enhanced curriculum through hands-on interactions and tools to learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Phillips 66 has partnered with the Coastal Conservation Association to develop and enhance fishery habitats with the help of students from their Partner schools. Phillips 66 also sponsors a unique ST Math program.
Several industries, including Sasol, fund special curriculums such as “Project Lead the Way.” And as a unique incentive to encourage employee involvement, Sasol offers a one-to-one match for employee contributions to educational organizations of their choice.
LAIA members also support their Partner schools’ teachers. The Alliance sponsored their inaugural Educators’ Institute, a two-day professional development conference that offers teachers industry facility tours and the tools they need to help prepare their students for potential careers in the field.
Westlake Corporation is partnered with 11 schools in Calcasieu Parish. From academics to sports, this company is involved. “Education is near and dear to our hearts,” says Joe Andrepont, Principal – Community and Governmental Affairs for Westlake Corporation. “It’s a priority and a privilege for us. It brightens our day to see the excitement on the kids’ faces and the teachers’ appreciation when we show up,” says Andrepont.
LAIA member industries also both support and benefit from their partnerships with higher education institutions, specifically SOWELA Technical Community College and McNeese State University, through their many financial donations, scholarship programs, internships and apprenticeships, career fairs, and participation on advisory boards.
Andrepont adds, “Ultimately, we know the students we support at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, as well as those at SOWELA and McNeese may one day be our employees.”