Fresno Unified gets ‘game-changing’ $20 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott

Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson was poised to announce great news at a gala event this week: The district’s new foundation had successfully raised $200,000 in college scholarships, mainly from employees. Then he received an unsolicited and unexpected call that MacKenzie Scott, the former spouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is giving the foundation 100 times that amount – $20 million – no strings attached. The bank transfer arrived last Friday. Nelson, normally garrulous, didn’t know what to say. “I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this might be one of those times,” he said. Scott, whom Forbes listed as the 18th richest American in 2022 with a net worth of $38 billion, is a novelist turned philanthropist who appears in a hurry to meet her pledge to give most of her fortune away – and then some. Since 2019, she has donated $12 billion to more than 1,200 non-profit organizations. Fresno Unified apparently is the first school district in the United States to receive a grant.

Representatives of Scott are tight-lipped about her donations. They refer all inquiries to essays on the website Medium in which Scott lists all recipients and discusses her philosophy of giving.  No other school district was listed. The last entry was in March. Scott has given hundreds of millions of dollars each to big-name charities: YMCAs-YWCAs; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Planned Parenthood; United Ways; Second Harvest. Her education giving in California includes CSU Northridge and other California State University campuses, Long Beach City College and other community colleges, advocacy and research nonprofits, including Learning Policy Institute, NewSchools Venture Fund, Kingmakers of Oakland, which focuses on developing Black boys to reach their potential, College Track, and the parent empowerment organization The Oakland REACH.

Nelson doesn’t know why Fresno Unified, the state’s third largest school district with 76,000 students, was chosen. The word from Scott’s representative, Nelson said, was “We’ve heard through multiple venues that the work happening in Fresno is meaningful, worthwhile, and something that we want to support.” “It’s left to us to connect the dots,” Nelson said. One initiative that could have drawn attention, he said, is the district’s dual-enrollment partnership with Benedict College, a historically Black college in South Carolina, and discussions to locate an HBCU in the Central Valley. About 8% of Fresno Unified’s students are Black. Education equity in higher education has been a focus of Scott’s giving.

Or perhaps, he said, it was the district’s efforts to promote student mental health. In August, Gov. Gavin Newsom chose McLane High to promote a $4.7 billion effort to ensure mental health and substance abuse help for Californians to age 25. McLane High has established a mental health hub with a dedicated staff of psychologists and social workers and “is a model for what we hope to achieve,” Newsom said.

Or, he speculated, it was the district’s participation in the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network, a national initiative that involves Fresno. The city’s big nonprofits, hospitals, Fresno City College, Fresno State, Fresno Pacific University are working together to improve health and education outcomes for kids, particularly the proportion of kids pursuing a BA degree, Nelson said. One of the funders of StriveTogether is Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic organization whose chief investment and impact officer is Jim Shelton, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Scott is also a funder of Blue Meridian. “I suspect many of the grants are relationship-driven,” said Don Shalvey, former deputy director of K-12 education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who is now CEO of San Joaquin A+, a nonprofit working to improve education outcomes in Stockton “I am thrilled for Fresno; this is terrific for the Central Valley,” said Shalvey. “They are unique where they are located and how they are thinking about doing things differently to meet the needs of all students.”

A message about the Valley

Unlike most foundations, Scott’s giving is based on trust. She sets no specific demands for using the money and doesn’t require filing quarterly expense reports. The only requirement is to report back on how the money will benefit Fresno children, Nelson said. The $20 million will enable the new Foundation for Fresno Unified Schools to create an endowment, producing $800,000 to $1 million annually, said Nelson, who is on the foundation board. Initially at least, the grant will enable the foundation to more than quadruple college scholarships. “I’m sure other interests will surface, but fundamentally the idea is that this provides college opportunities for our youth,” Nelson said. But as important as the money, which Nelson calls “a game changer,” is the message the grant sends.

With 90% of students qualifying for subsidized school meals, Fresno is the poorest large urban area in the state. It is not a place high on people’s list of places to move to. “I mean, as a Californian, Fresno’s the last pick for kickball on most occasions, right?” “From a very personal point of view, it’s just incredibly gratifying because I’ve been on this journey of constantly saying, ‘Really good things are happening here. Really wonderful people live here. The diversity of the valley, the agricultural roots of the valley, there’s so much good that’s here,’ “Nelson said. “Now there’s a philanthropist who is well known nationally saying, ‘Fresno, we really believe in the work you’re doing.’ That’s probably worth $20 million easily. The amount of perceptual change that can be generated by a gift such as this to the Valley – it’s almost immeasurable,” he said.

Fresno State awarded a $2.9M grant to support future health professionals

The California Department of Health Care Access and Information announced $40.8 million in grant awards to 20 organizations that support and encourage students from underrepresented regions and backgrounds to pursue healthcare careers, including Fresno State.

Fresno State will receive a $2.9 million award over five years, to be issued through the Health Professions Pathways Program. Other California State Universities awarded include California State University, Dominguez Hills ($3.3 million), San Diego State University ($2.5 million), and California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt’s Sponsored Programs Foundation ($498,000).

“The Health Professions Pathways Program will strengthen preexisting relationships and support building new partnerships,” said Lilia DeLaCerda, the principal investigator on the project and director of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at Fresno State.

UC Davis unveils plans for new agricultural research ‘hub’ funded by $50 million gift

The University of California, Davis, will build a $40 million agricultural innovation center later this decade, a “transformative” expansion to the school’s food science and sustainability programs, after the university on Thursday announced its largest gift ever bestowed by individual donors.

Billionaire philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick are giving $50 million to UC Davis: $40 million toward the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Center for Agricultural Innovation, a 40,000-square-foot, LEED-certified “hub” that will include classrooms and research space; plus $10 million for competitive research grants in the field of agriculture. “This gift will extend our efforts to lead field-level research, analyze big data, rapidly breed plant varieties that can adapt to our changing climate and fine-tune existing crop varieties,” UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May said at an event Thursday morning, unveiling the donation at the Mondavi Center.  “We’ll do this by educating and training these future generations to help us meet the demands for feeding communities in a swiftly changing environment.”

University leaders said the innovation center will focus on five main research areas: solutions for agricultural byproducts; water and energy efficiency; technology development; crop resiliency and sustainability in the face of climate change; and expanding access to nutritious food. “It will serve as an anchor for new ideas, bringing together experts from across disciplines at UC Davis to focus research on California’s iconic specialty crops, such as pistachios, almonds and pomegranates,” the chancellor said.

To that end, the Beverly Hills-based Resnicks are founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, which produces pomegranates, pistachios and more. Stewart and Lynda Resnick are among the most successful and powerful agribusiness tycoons in California. “We share a passion for progress at the intersection of agriculture, science and sustainability,” Andy Anzaldo, the Wonderful Co. chief operating officer of philanthropy, said Thursday.

Anzaldo spoke on behalf of the Resnicks, who had been slated to appear at Thursday’s announcement but were unable to make it after President Joe Biden’s arrival in Los Angeles disrupted air traffic, delaying flights out of Southern California. “Working together through research and its practical application in our fields, we are racing to make crops more productive, using fewer resources and feeding the world,” Anzaldo said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m proud this new center will be the hub for the best researchers in the world to help agriculture be part of the solution.”

Design for what May called a “cutting-edge” research center will begin later this year with construction estimated to be complete by 2026. It will be built near the school’s current plant sciences building. The Resnicks’ donation comes amid the university’s “Expect Greater” initiative – a fundraising campaign launched in 2020 aiming to raise at least $2 billion toward “student support, health, climate change and more” by 2024. UC Davis is on track to exceed that goal, already past $1.7 billion after raising $323 million during the 2021-22 fiscal year. Founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, Forbes magazine estimates the Resnicks’ net worth at $8 billion.

Through their farming operations, the couple is also one of the largest consumers of water in California, if not the largest. Forbes has estimated that the Wonderful farms, which sprawl across thousands of acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley, use as much water in a year as the city of San Francisco consumes in a decade. The UC Davis donation is not the Resnicks’ first major gift to a California higher-ed campus. Caltech recently broke ground on an environmental sustainability research center bankrolled by a $750 million pledge from the couple. Stewart Resnick is also a member of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Board of Advisors, a group of nearly two dozen influential figures including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.

Central Valley Ag launches 2023 Scholarship Program

YORK — Central Valley Ag (CVA) launches its annual scholarship program for students pursuing higher education in an agriculturally related field. CVA will award 20 $1,000 scholarships.

“CVA is committed to improving, encouraging and enabling the healthy development of youth throughout the region,” said Chad Carlson, SVP of Talent at CVA. “And by helping our youth pursue their agricultural career, we ensure that the agricultural industry continues to grow.”

This scholarship program enables youth to continue their education on a collegiate level. Based on academic achievement, service to local communities, and knowledge of the cooperative system, the CVA Scholarship Committee will select the winners of each scholarship.

California is giving millions of kids up to $1,500 for college or career training. Here’s how to get it.

Millions of kids in California can now claim at least $50 to put toward post-high school education, thanks to a new state program that launched earlier this month. The so-called Cal KIDS program’s launch comes amid rising concern about college costs in California. It’s the result of a policy effort led by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D–North Hollywood), who has been working on related legislation since 2014, and invests seed funding into a college savings plan for newborns and eligible public-school students.

He compares Cal KIDS to Social Security. “We’ve put into place the safety net when you’re aging, but we haven’t really necessarily made the appropriate investments for the youth who are just now starting in life,” he said. The program officially got approved in 2019, when Assembly Bill 15 passed, but was expanded last year via Assembly Bill 132. AB15 established the universal college savings plan for newborns, while AB132 allotted additional one-time and ongoing funding to provide more for low-income public-school students, foster youth and homeless children.

Max Vargas, the vice president of economic justice at the Latino Community Foundation, says the program is a great example of policy driven by equity: It has both a universal approach, and a targeted one. Latinos are the majority racial group in the California population, and they are also the group that reports the most financial need at state public universities, according to a 2021 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Vargas said he hopes the state continues to think about how to reach communities with the highest need for the program. “Where the need is highest, that often, sometimes, is where the trust might be lowest,” he said. “One number that jumps to mind for me is that 43% of Latino households are unbanked or underbanked — that’s not just because they didn’t hear about a bank, it’s also because they didn’t trust in some of those programs.” He said to build that trust, the state needs to reach out to partners on the ground who are able to connect with communities in both linguistically and culturally relevant ways.

Julio Martinez is the executive director of the ScholarShare board, which manages the Cal KIDS program. He said some of the state’s current partners are the California’s Department of Education and organizations that work with parents of newborns, like United Ways of California and First 5 California.

CalKIDS has a sign-up form for interested partners on its website open to public agencies and community-based organizations. “Just like with newborns, every single [eligible] public school student and their families will get a letter in the mail as well to notify them of this program,” he said. Here are answers to how you can access the money, eligibility requirements and more.

Who is eligible for the program?

All kids born in California from July 1, 2022, onwards and low-income public-school students in grades 1 through 12. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible, which Nazarian said has always been his intention for the program. “It does not matter who you are, what your family standing is — if you were born in California, or if at some point you’re a student in California who moved in by the time you’re in first grade, you will be able to take advantage of this program,” he said. “The goal is to tell everyone, every California resident, you have an opportunity to be invested in.”

There is an eligibility tool public school students and guardians can use to figure out if they have a CalKIDS account. The CalKIDS website translates into 16 different languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Tagalog, Farsi, Vietnamese and simplified Chinese. You’ll need your Statewide Student Identifier, which you can see on your report cards or get via asking your school or school district directly.

How much money is available through the program?

Kids born on or after July 1, 2022, have a baseline deposit of $25 into their CalKIDS account, upped automatically to $50 once parents create an account online. The state has 90 days to receive birth data and create an account, so there may be a lag before a newborn’s account is created. If parents or guardians link a new or existing ScholarShare 529 account to their newborn’s CalKIDS account, they get an additional $50 deposit. Eligible low-income public-school students in grades 1 through 12 have a baseline deposit of $500 into their CalKIDS account. An additional $500 is deposited into the account for foster youth and homeless students.

What do I need to claim my CalKIDS account?

To claim the account, you’ll need to register online. There are three pieces of information the system asks for; no social security or taxpayer identification number is needed to access the money.

For an account linked to a newborn, you’ll need:

  • The name of the county where the child’s birth was registered
  • The child’s date of birth
  • Registration code, which can be either the local registration number located on the birth certificate or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families

For an account linked to an eligible 1st through 12th grade student, you’ll need:

  • The name of the county where the student was enrolled in public school as of Oct. 6, 2021 (the Fall Academic Census Day 2021)
  • The student’s date of birth
  • Registration code, which can be either the Statewide Student Identifier (SSID, check student report cards or contact the school or school district to get this information) or the unique CalKIDS code included in the letter sent out to eligible families

What else do I need to know about the money?

The money from the account can’t be retrieved and used until a student turns at least 17 and is ready to enroll at an institution of higher education, Martinez said. For parents or guardians to directly contribute to a college savings account, they’ll have to open a separate ScholarShare 529 plan. A ScholarShare 529 plan offers parents 17 different investment options, with the most common one being an “age-based portfolio.”

That age-based mode of investing is what happens to the money allotted through the CalKIDS program. The money isn’t taxed as long as it’s used for tuition, room and board, books, supplies or computer equipment at a qualified higher education institution, which can include community college, trade school or a four-year university.  To opt out of the CalKIDS account for any reason, you’ll need to print out and mail a completed opt-out form, available in English and in Spanish, to the ScholarShare Investment board.

Fresno Program Steers Eager Workers to Good Paying Trucker Jobs

Corina Hernandez is going trucking to build a better life for herself and her 15-year-old son. “I hope that I will be able to buy a home for me and my son,” she said. Hernandez is one of 24 students at the John Lawson Trucking School, newly reopened in a JD Food facility near Fresno. Funded by federal dollars through the Fresno Economic Development Corporation, the school held a ribbon cutting Thursday.

Lee Ann Eager with Fresno EDC says the school wants to double the number of students with funds from the Good Jobs Challenge grant, part of its Welfare to Work program. Fresno EDC pays the training costs, estimated at $3,000 per student. “We’re hoping, with our new grant, to be able to double that and hire new teachers, new trainers, and really be able to do maybe 50 students in a cohort get some more trucks,” Eager said.

For Hernandez, she left the medical field as a certified nursing assistant for better pay. “I realized that that wasn’t for me. And I have family and friends that work in the trucking industry, and they kind of told me some of the benefits. And it is a growing industry for female truckers,” Hernandez, 32 of Fresno, said. She is halfway through the 12-week truck driving course. The Fresno County Department of Social Services helped steer her in the direction of the school. “Women can do it just as much as men. And it’s a great job opportunity,” she said.

JD Food: We Need a Lot of Truck Drivers

More truckers could not come at a better time. Mark Ford, president of JD Food, wants to hire more truckers to deliver food and industrial supplies throughout California. “It’s a lot of miles covered,” Ford said. “We need a lot of truck drivers. We send trucks into L.A. every day. We send trucks into the Bay Area every day, too.” JD Food employs 32 drivers, but Ford wants to expand. He says there are 80,000 openings nationwide. “We’re always looking for truck drivers. Our fleet is growing. Our drivers are always growing. And it’s just a great career, too,” Ford said.

Ford says a shortage due to the pandemic is easing. Their best recruitment tool is word of mouth — employees can earn bonuses for referrals. A driver could earn $60,000 a year. JD Food bought its facility on Central Avenue at Minnewawa in 2021 to accommodate expansion. But it was too much space. “I saw the need (for more truckers). I reached out to (Fresno EDC) and said, we have a pretty nice office that we’re not using at all. Would that be something that you’d be able to use? And so, they looked at it. They thought it was great,” Ford said.

Electric Trucks Coming, But When?

Students practice driving skills on two diesel trucks. Eager says the next truck the school purchases will be either electric or hydrogen powered. “We expect to have everything, the electric or hydrogen by 2035. So obviously we need to be planning for that. And there are incentives for trucking companies to look at electric trucks,” Eager said. Eager is also chairwoman of the California Transportation Commission. “We know what (switching to electric) means for all of us. So as the transportation commission, we are looking at what are those ways that we can ensure that the people of the Central Valley can breathe good air. And I’m certainly supportive of how we get to that place. And getting people into zero-emission vehicles is a priority,” Eager said.

She says if ZEV are manufactured in California, that could reduce costs. Ford is hesitant to add non-diesel trucks to his fleet. “We’re pausing and waiting right now. The technology is not there to meet our needs because we go such a distance and the distance that we travel would not accommodate the needs of the electric power vehicles,” Ford said. “As the technology develops, we’re definitely going to be a part of that.”

Fresno State ranks atop CSU; amongst highest in West in national university rankings

Fresno State – with a mission to educate and empower students for success – ranked No. 36 in Washington Monthly’s 2022 National University Rankings of colleges and universities that best serve the country in the areas of social mobility, research and public service.

The University also ranked No. 22 in the Best Bang for the Buck: West category, published Monday, for how well it helps non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices. Washington Monthly, known for its annual rankings of American colleges and universities, has published its list of top schools for the past 18 years with what it calls “a different kind of college ranking,” calling attention to colleges based on their contribution to the public good, not prestige or wealth.

This is the seventh straight year Fresno State has ranked among the top 50 national universities among 442 total – and the seventh straight year Fresno State has been the highest-ranked campus in the California State University system.

At No. 36, Fresno State ranks alongside notable Pac 12 Conference institutions, including No. 1 Stanford, No. 9 University of California, Berkeley; No. 19 Washington; and No. 21 UCLA. Fresno State set a record-high in research grants for the 2020-21 academic year, receiving 356 grants for $48.2 million. The University recently earned R2 designation as a “Doctoral University – High Research Activity” by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, highlighting a significant commitment to growing research activities. Fresno State awarded 76 doctoral degrees in the past academic year. The University offers doctoral degrees in nursing, physical therapy and educational leadership.

Students, faculty and staff continued their long-standing culture of service by providing more than 1 million hours of service to community organizations for the 13th year in a row. The Central Valley, which is represented by the green V featured on Fresno State’s Bulldog logo, spans from Bakersfield in the south to Sacramento in the north – an area roughly the size of the state of Tennessee. As the only major city in the U.S. within an hour’s drive of three national parks, Fresno is the hub of the most productive agricultural region in the world.

Fresno State continues to show its commitment to education and the community in various ways, including:

  • Three faculty and one student earned Fulbright research awards this year. Sydney Fox, a biochemistry major who graduated this past spring, earned the Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to conduct research at Reykjavik University in Iceland. Dr. Benjamin Boone (music) will study musical pedagogy and create and record new music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. Dr. Melanie Ram (political science) will research sub-regional intergovernmental organizations that emerged in Europe since the end of the Cold War in Trieste, Italy, at the University of Zagreb and the University of Bucharest. Dr. Devendra Sharma (communication) will research swang-nautanki, a folk opera tradition in Northern India, and its traditional akhārās, the swang-nautanki community performance groups.
  • The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology received $18.75 million in one-time funding from the state to provide infrastructure needed to build programs that prepare future generations for regenerative agriculture practices. This will build long-term stability for food and agricultural systems in the face of changing climate patterns.
  • Sociology Professor Dr. Amber Crowell received a $350,000 National Science Foundation grant to analyze long-term patterns and trends of residential segregation in urban areas, connecting present-day segregation patterns to their historical roots in a project called “Mapping the Origins of Segregation using GIS Resources.”

Fresno State is also among the nation’s best colleges when it comes to quality, affordability and outcomes ranking No. 29 in Money’s 2022 Best Colleges list announced May 16.

Fresno EDC Awarded $23M Grant for Regional Four County Workforce Training Program

An ambitious workforce program to place 2,500 Central Valley residents into high-demand jobs received a $23 million infusion from the federal government this week. The program is called Central Valley Built 4 Scale and will be administered by the Fresno County Economic Development Corp. It is one of 32 projects in the U.S. receiving grants form a pool of 509 applicants as part of the American Rescue Plan’s $500 million Good Jobs Challenge.

Built 4 Scale will leverage the resources of local organizations and employers to create apprenticeship opportunities, bootcamp-style and individualized training programs and career placement services to match 2,500-plus residents in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties with jobs in sectors including financial services, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, construction and more.

The program is unique in that these are jobs just waiting to be filled by qualified candidates. The Fresno EDC already has firm hiring commitments from more than 50 local employers to hire more than 900 of those employees. “This announcement is a big deal for our Valley! Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we are accelerating America’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Rep Jim Costa. “This $23 million grant will bolster our regional economy by creating new, good-paying jobs in construction, financial services, and manufacturing industries. I am proud to have advocated for this project and voted to provide the funding that made it possible. This will help build a stronger, more resilient economy for the people of the San Joaquin Valley.”

Finding a qualified, educated workforce has been a top challenge for local employers, with forecasts that the Central Valley will need more than 10,000 new employees in those target sectors by 2026. The Fresno EDC has extensive experience in job-training programs through administering the Fresno County-funded welfare-to-work program, which has provided $12.6 million in subsidized wages, enrolled 280 businesses and supported nearly 1,900 job placements since 2014. The Good Jobs Challenge awards are expected to help place more than 50,000 Americans in “quality jobs” — exceeding the local prevailing wage for an industry in the region and including basic benefits.

The Fresno EDC is one of only two California projects funded. The other is $21.4 million for the Foundation for California Community Colleges to launch a forestry workforce training program. “This funding will launch quality workforce training programs and opportunities to help workers develop new skills, address workforce needs and connect people with good-paying jobs in the Central Valley,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I thank the Biden Administration for investing in our efforts to support businesses and workers throughout California.”

California Distributes $108.6 Million to Create Regional Education-to-Career Pipelines

California’s ground-breaking K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program will provide new pathways to career opportunities for students in their local communities, addressing longstanding equity challenges in higher education and workforce participation

SACRAMENTO – The Department of General Services (DGS), Office of Public School Construction, and the Foundation for California Community Colleges announced the first six awards – totaling $108.6 million – for the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program, as part of a $250 million investment in the 2021 Budget Act. This program is a key component of a statewide strategy for cultivating regional economies, strengthening education-to-career pathways, and ensuring that education, vocational, and workforce programs work in partnership to provide broader access for all to education and employment opportunities. “We’re creating new regional pipelines – K-12 schools to higher education to the workforce – for California’s students that will prepare our kids for the jobs of the future in their communities. This essential collaboration will help bridge equity gaps and provide more resources to help our students achieve their career goals right in their own communities,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. As communities across the state work to transform our public education system from cradle to career – scaling universal transitional kindergarten, expanding after-school programs, improving college access and affordability, and more – the regional collaboratives will serve to marshal action and promote implementation. Along with priorities such as the Community Economic Resilience Fund and Cradle-to-Career Data System, California is building partnerships and structures to ensure policies translate to on-the-ground improvements. “The Department of General Services is proud to be of assistance in administering this innovative program that will bring together regional partners to better serve all the learners of California, ensuring equitable pathways to meaningful careers,” said DGS Director Ana Lasso. “As the business manager of the state, DGS is excited to see the collaboration, system changes and enhancements that result from timely investment.” The first six awards of approximately $18.1 million each, for a total of $108.6 million, will be going to the following collaboratives (summaries of each collaborative can be found on the Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program website):

  • Central San Joaquin Valley: Central San Joaquin Valley K16 Partnership (Fresno-Madera Collaborative & Tulare-Kings Collaborative). The Partnership brings together the Fresno-Madera Collaborative and Tulare-Kings College & Career Collaborative – with partners including the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, State Center Community College District, Fresno State, and UC Merced – to develop four education to work pathways in health care, education, business management, and engineering / computing, with goals to increase the number of graduates with postsecondary degrees and certifications in these high wage disciplines, close equity gaps and economic disparities, and improve graduation rates and time-to-degree across all institutions.
  • North State: North State Together (Shasta Tehama Trinity Joint Community College District). North State Together (NST) brings together partners across the region – including the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Joint Community College District, Shasta County Office of Education, CSU Chico, and UC Davis – to expand educational access, regional support networks, and cross-sector partnerships. They plan to increase college and career readiness, create occupational pathway programs in health care and education, and streamline transitions between educational institutions and the workforce.
  • Kern County: Kern Regional K16 Education Collaborative (Kern County Superintendent of Schools). The Kern K16 Regional Education Collaborative seeks to prepare students for the global economy by dismantling long-standing social and economic inequities in the region, removing barriers to student success, and improving educational outcomes. The collaborative brings together partners – including the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Kern Community College District, CSU Bakersfield, and UC Merced – to develop pathways in health care, education, and engineering/computing with a focus on fostering inclusive institutions to better serve historically underrepresented students, streamline pathways to degrees and facilitate student transitions, and increase access to resources supporting basic, digital, and financial needs.
  • Redwood Coast: Redwood Coast K16 Education Collaborative (California State Polytechnic University Humboldt). The Redwood Coast Collaborative brings together partners across the region – California State Polytechnic University Humboldt, Sonoma State University, the Humboldt County Office of Education, Redwoods Community College District, UC Davis, and ProjectAttain! – to develop a robust college-going culture in the region by building career pathways for education and health care, specifically focused on increasing participation in and completion of A-G courses and improving retention rates in higher education, especially for Native American and socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the region.
  • Orange County: OC Pathways to and Through College and Career (Orange County Department of Education). OC Pathways aims to promote career and college readiness for students in the Orange County region by developing and expanding career education opportunities. This project brings together partners – the Orange County Department of Education, Rancho Santiago Community College District, Coast Community College District, South Orange County Community College District, North Orange County Community College District, CSU Fullerton, UC Irvine and Chapman University – to implement high-quality programs in education, health care, business management, and engineering/computing that offer career preparation and college credit attainment by leveraging regional work partnerships, decreasing institutional barriers, providing rigorous and relevant Career Technical Education courses, and college credit opportunities for all students.
  • Sacramento: Sacramento K16 Collaborative (Los Rios Community College District). The Sacramento Collaborative brings together partners throughout the region – including Los Rios Community College District, CSU Sacramento, UC Davis, and the Sacramento County Office of Education – to develop and expand career pathways for students in health care and engineering. They plan to invest in structures supporting preparation for college and transitions between educational institutions, develop a regional data sharing system, and provide targeted support to historically underserved students.

The program provides funding to enhance or create collaborative efforts between the University of California system, the California State University system, Community Colleges, K-12 School Districts, and workforce partners. Collaboratives participating in the program commit to creating two occupational pathways from the following sectors:

  • Health care
  • Education
  • Business management
  • Engineering or computing

Collaboratives must also commit to implementing four of seven recommendations pulled from the Recovery with Equity report to promote student success. The seven recommendations are:

  • Improve faculty, staff, and administrator diversity
  • Cultivate inclusive, engaging, and equity-oriented learning environment
  • Retain students through inclusive support
  • Provide high-tech, high-touch advising
  • Support college preparation and early credit
  • Subsidize internet access for eligible students
  • Improve college affordability

The program offers two phases for application submittal with the goal to award one grant within each of the 13 Community Economic Resilience Fund or CERF regions. The Department of General Services also intends to work with three other regions that submitted applications in this first funding phase to solicit supplemental information for a revised application with the hope to select a single, strong grantee for each region. There is also a second phase of funding available to regions that require additional time and planning to establish collaborative partners or to determine their program goals.

Bitwise Industries opens in downtown Merced, offering ‘life-changing opportunities in tech’

Bitwise Industries, a Central Valley technology company geared toward giving low-income residents an opportunity to get a tech-based education, opened the doors of its downtown Merced business hub this week. Bitwise Industries, which was founded in 2013 in Fresno, offers workspace for its members and leases out office suites. It also offers workforce training classes and tech consulting for local businesses. The new business hub is located at 1635 M St., on the corner of M Street and Main Street. “Bitwise Industries goes into underestimated communities and we build tech ecosystems using our three-pronged approach, which includes real estate — having a place and space — it also includes workforce training programs and tech consulting services,” said Norma Cardona, who is the vice president of Bitwise Industries in Merced.

The 6,500-square-foot office houses a co-working space that features tables and desks available for members. It’s designed for budding entrepreneurs and startup companies like a solo Realtor, online marketer or micro business owner. “People can come in, they’ll have a desk, they’ll have a chair, they’ll also have access to 20 free black and white copies and access to a conference room,” Cardona said. Memberships cost $40 per month with a student rate at $25 per month. The working space is set up for 40 members, but is currently being limited to about 20 to 25 members due to COVID-19 protocols. The working space is always open.

There are three office suites that are all currently leased out. There are two classrooms that hold 25 to 40 people. There are also three Bitwise suites, a conference room and a phone booth for private conversations. Bitwise Industries offers workforce training in Merced. Along with the office space, Bitwise also offers workforce training. “We offer life-changing opportunities in tech careers,” Cardona said. “We do that by offering evening classes or, as we call it, pre-apprenticeship classes that are stepping stones into a one year, full-time paid apprenticeship program, where we pay people to learn careers in tech.” The pre-apprenticeship classes are two nights per week and last six weeks. The classes offered include website for beginners, mobile website for beginners and JavaScript for beginners.

Students from these classes have the opportunity to earn one-year, paid internships with Bitwise Industries. The classes are designed to give people from marginalized communities — which includes people who formerly were incarcerated, formerly homeless, women, people from working-class families, the LGBTQ+ community and people of color — the opportunity to learn skills that could lead to tech jobs. Right now the classes are only offered remotely due to the pandemic. For more information on the workforce training, visit the Bitwise Industries website. Bitwise Industries also offers tech consulting for area businesses, including smaller restaurants that lacked websites and nonprofits that struggled to attract donors, according to Bitwise vice president Katherine Verducci. “Our tech consulting really helps up-level all the businesses that are in the area,” Verducci said.

Bitwise aims to create tech economy in Merced. Bitwise has opened hubs in places like Fresno and Bakersfield. Merced has similar characteristics and became a desired destination for the company. “We saw that there was high unemployment or underemployment, we saw that there was a high poverty rate,” Cardona said. “Actually one of the great things that we saw was UC Merced and the investment into downtown. So all those things are things we considered and we said, ‘we want to go into Merced.'” “We want to create that tech economy that is going to ignite transformations throughout the community,” Cardona added. “So people who are left out of opportunities, people who are surviving, people who are underemployed can really take advantage of these opportunities and get into a place of really thriving.”

Originally officials were eyeing an opening date in early 2021, but the pandemic delayed the opening. Cardona says Bitwise is thrilled to finally open its doors in downtown Merced. “We are so excited that we have this here now,” Cardona said. “A lot of people have been talking about it, a lot of people have heard about it, but it’s not until you see it in person, it’s not until you’re here that you’re really able to capture it and feel what Bitwise is all about.”