NORTH BAY -- At a time of reduced state funding for public education in California, some of the North Bay's largest and most influential employers are launching and supporting initiatives that seek to bolster programs for students from elementary school through the college level.
Those contributions, involving companies like Santa Clara-based Agilent Technologies and its division in Santa Rosa, have added up to major investments in equipment, facilities and in-kind volunteer hours, according to the company and those involved in its programs.
Many of those programs predate the current economic period. Yet those involved agreed that the recession and its related impact on school funding cast a spotlight on the significance of those public-private partnerships, with companies drawing a clear connection between robust education programs and the cultivation of a local talent pool for science and technology jobs.
"The recession made it very clear to the business community that partnerships with education are more important than ever," said Jeff Weber, a spokesman for Agilent in Santa Rosa who works closely on education programs. "Our economic future is tied to how successful we are in graduating students in these fields."
For Agilent, that support has come in forms that include direct financial contributions to regional education programs, donations of high-tech equipment to regional university labs, volunteer literacy and science tutors and the offering of its own facilities to host programs like the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce's Mike Hauser Algebra Academy, Mr. Weber said.
"The intent is to stimulate interest in science," he said. "Everywhere you turn in life, there is something that is engineered."
In terms of higher education, the company most recently donated $300,000 in electronic measurement equipment to University of California, Berkeley. The donation comes on top of a $200,000 contribution to Sonoma State University last fall, which itself was the latest in a history of donating more than $1 million in equipment to the school over the last decade, Mr. Weber said.
Those donations have allowed for the creation of a new lab under Sonoma State's engineering program that, when opened, will facilitate advanced experiments involving microwave and radio frequency communication technology, said Dr. Meng-Chi Su, engineering department chair.
Added to the more general-purpose equipment donated by the company, as well as a multi-week "Agilent Scholar" scholarship and mentorship program planned for this summer, the contributions enhance the real-world abilities of students and cultivate skills that are directly applicable for engineering hires at Agilent and beyond, he said. A scholarship was also recently extended to students at Santa Rosa Junior College.
"It helps us to develop a niche in the North Bay," Dr. Su said. "It's an extensive partnership between Agilent and us."
Allowing employees one hour of paid time off per week to support Agilent-backed causes has proven to be a popular measure, one that Mr. Weber said has been lauded in employee feedback from Agilent's inclusion in the annual North Bay Business Journal "Best Places to Work" awards. Anecdotally, those comments could point to a significant retention measure, he said.
Many of those causes supported by Agilent are centered on education in science, technology, engineering and math, an area commonly referred to as STEM. It is a field where many North Bay employers have expressed difficulty in procuring talent, with some taking proactive measures to reverse that trend.