Ignited Fellowships: Fostering Innovation Through Industry Collaboration
By: Kathrine Dela
In the ever-evolving workforce development landscape, where unlocking students’ potential is critical, the Ignited Summer Fellowship Program shines as a hub for collaboration between educators and industry professionals. As a nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between industry and education, Ignited provides unique workforce development experiences that empower teachers to cultivate students’ skill sets and equip them with the currency they’ll need to navigate the dynamic career needs of tomorrow.
Recognizing teachers’ profound impact on students’ career paths, Ignited offers educators opportunities to broaden their exposure to work outside educational settings. Ignited’s Summer Fellowship Program places teachers in eight week paid fellowships at leading STEM-based companies, where they directly experience how STEM weaves into and across various industry sectors.
This program not only enhances teachers’ awareness of the skills needed for student success in the rapidly changing workplace but also better equips them to illustrate the real-world applications of the subjects they teach. According to Kenny Contreras, a math teacher at Wilcox High School, “Like so many of my colleagues, I went into teaching right out of college. Because of my fellowships, I’ve been able to connect the math I teach with examples of how it is used in companies like Lockheed Martin and Cisco, which has a huge impact on my students.”
Ignited Fellowships cultivate deep relationships between teachers and industry professionals, with a profound impact on students at the core. Illustrating this impact are two recent cybersecurity fellows: Instructional Technology Specialist Mark Loundy, an elementary school educator who completed a summer fellowship with Palo Alto Networks, and Middle School Math and Computer Applications Teacher Jayme Vanderwege, a fellow with Stanford University. Both collaborated on cybersecurity projects scoped by their host teams. Mark contributed to a Palo Alto Networks project to increase awareness of cybersecurity practices through gamification, and Jayme researched and developed information-sharing practices around cybersecurity vulnerabilities for a white paper with her professor, Dr. Herb Lin.
Jayme, a proponent of project-based learning, finds the topics covered in her fellowship highly relevant to the classes she teaches. “I believe that students learn best when actively engaged, and the fellowship experience enhanced my ability to foster a collaborative and interactive classroom environment,” said Jayme.
Mark echoes this sentiment, stating, “The level of authenticity is incomparable. If we are serious about preparing students for life after school, experiences like this should be mandatory for all educators.” These testimonials underscore the transformative nature of Ignited fellowships, shaping educators who, in turn, shape the educational journey of their students.
Fellowship mentors also experience profound rewards within the program, finding it equally beneficial and rewarding. They not only enhance their leadership skills through mentorship but also draw inspiration from the fresh perspectives and innovative ideas introduced by teachers. This dynamic interplay invigorates workplace dynamics, creating a powerful ripple effect that resonates in classrooms and boardrooms alike.
“Participation in the Ignited Summer Fellowship Program gave me a chance to better understand and better relate to educators and the various challenges they’re currently facing, while also giving me a valuable opportunity to enhance my team management skills,” said Anthony Tuttle, Social Impact Project Manager at Palo Alto Networks, who worked with Mark during summer 2023. “For our organization, participation in the Ignited Summer Fellowship Program was a great way to ingest fresh ideas and perspectives that helped push some of our cybersecurity education initiatives forward.”
Leading companies such as Genentech, Meta, and Amazon have also embraced this collaborative spirit, recognizing teachers as valuable consultants. They leverage educators’ insights to develop new employees while boosting team morale. This collaborative exchange between educators and industry mentors goes beyond the individual, offering mentors the opportunity to directly impact students’ lives and guide them along pathways to meaningful careers.
With a rich history of over 3,800 fellowships granted through partnerships with more than 400 companies, Ignited has influenced the lives of 3.96 million students.
Ignited’s Summer Fellowship Program spans eight weeks during the summer. Each year, Ignited starts by actively working with companies from December to April to define summer projects, which run from June to August. Mentors review teacher resumes, select two to three teachers to interview, and offer the position to the candidate that best fits their project goals.
Past projects have included fellows working with Amazon to translate QA manuals into Chinese, developing onboarding materials for new team members at Pixar, and testing temperature swings on lithium-ion batteries in smart glasses for Meta. Paired with experienced curriculum coaches, fellows develop lesson plans that reflect real-world experiences. The program’s success solidifies throughout the school year, leaving a substantial impact on the education quality each fellow imparts to the 150 students they reach.
Igniting Sparks for Generations
The fellowship program serves as a testament to the power of collaboration between education and industry, paving the way for a future where students are not just prepared for life after school but are inspired to lead and innovate in a rapidly evolving world. As we celebrate the success stories of Mark, Jayme, and countless other fellows, it is clear that Ignited Fellowships are igniting a spark that has the potential to transform education and industry collaboration for generations to come.