Day 4 – St David’s Day in Seattle


Waking up this morning in this great city, our initial thoughts turned to the close encounter we had last night with its resident vermin. Luckily, the closeness of this now well-bonded group got us through this traumatic experience.

Sadly, Chris from the British Council has left us to go and meet Carwyn Jones (The First Minister) in Washington. He will be sorely missed but we still have Jenna who is guiding us through the week with a calm, steadying hand and organisational perfection.

We had a slightly later (well received) start to St David’s Day. A brisk walk along the waterfront for some shopping and then back to meet the group to pick up our Uber taxi to Redmond which is in the North East of Seattle. We were visiting the Digipen Institute of Technology, a private training provider that specialises in high tech training. It was great to see a huge red dragon in the foyer on this special day and the wow factor of large plasma screens, creativity, artwork and awards the company and its students have won.

We were met at Digipen by Raymond Yan, Senior Vice President. A charismatic, kind and generous man with a real passion for delivering a future for young people. A phrase we heard previously in the week of “Leadership and Execution” sprung to mind. His positive, inclusive, can-do attitude provides a set of beliefs and values that the business is built on and has led to expansion in Singapore and Bilbao. In Digipen, there are currently 1100 graduates studying a mixture of  Computer science and Art programmes. These degrees service the digital interactive industry and are focused on employment. There is a cohesive and collaborative approach to studying for the degrees with each discipline challenged to work together to replicate industrial standards and needs. It’s not surprising that their progression rate to employment is high. Exposure to this high tec and demanding industry at this level prepares students well for the real world, even though they are paying $26000 a year for the privilege. Resources are privately funded and cutting edge. Support for learners is clear and the philosophy or ‘spirit’ as Ray put it is one of challenge and support in all its various guises. Students are encouraged to strive for excellence at all levels. There is even a long standing programme of training for high school students who complete college level work at the company on a weekly basis. It seems a great place to study and has an ambience of success seeping from its walls. Having degree programmes on an industrial site seems to make the whole setup more professional and being closer to industry itself gives the programmes more purpose for learners to succeed.

In contrast to the private funding of Digipen our next stop was to the Lake Washington Institute of Technology. It was friendly and welcoming and more like the FE Colleges in Wales. The community and technical colleges in Washington State have the aim of preparing students for work. There is open access admission with some selected admissions based on previous performance. A national recognised IBEST programme moves hard to reach students further and faster, providing career contextualised training for underserved population in reading, writing and maths. This has improved completion for these students from 25% to 75%. Under legislation, all programmes have to have an advisory body consisting of a range of stakeholders from industry. This ensures that programmes meet their needs and provides students with the best chances of job security in the future. In some instances, the college use the Dacum process which helps them establish a new curriculum from initial ideas. These are initiatives that we can learn from. The College is also currently developing an initial entry test based on student self selection from their initial essay performance. This is in stark contrast to the prescriptive WEST testing in Wales.

The inclusive nature of the College and its determination to provide a “human touch” for its students reminds me of so many colleges in Wales.

Later on in the early evening we had the privilege of attending their open day. This was very similar to what we have in Wales but it is evident that the College specialise in certain disciplines; in this case good examples are dental hygienists and funeral directors! Perhaps Colleges in Wales are trying to maintain a curriculum that is too broad? Would colleges be better specialising in different fields of the curriculum depending on their specialism, forming centres of excellence?

Prior to attending the College we were not sure of the link between the college and industry. After our visit however, we were convinced of the hard work and dedication college staff had invested to ensure progression into industrial jobs for young people.

The two visits today were of stark contrast; highlighting the difference between both private and public sector education. Both were illuminating and similarities included their passion to provide young people with opportunities to establish their careers, albeit in different financial circumstances.

In terms of our group, we were back to full quota after a period of illness and it was great to see everyone learning from these experiences. Roll on Starbucks tomorrow, there seems to one of these coffee shops every 100 yards in Seattle!

Day 4 – Team #InnovateFE


About Claire Roberts

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