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Solano County employers hope to kick-start careers for underserved college students

A Solano County program designed to provide underserved community college students the chance to gain business experience has been embraced by a major health care system.

Through its philanthropic arm, Kaiser Permanente will contribute $12,500 to support a pilot project set to begin next month between the Solano Economic Development Corporation and the Solano Community College District.

The program, a 10-week fellowship, is the brainchild of Chris Rico, president and CEO of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. Rico, who joined the organization in January, previously led the Center for Innovation at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, where he was focused on a similar workforce development program.

“If you go to a two-year institution, you generally don't have access to the kind of networks that people do when they go to a four-year institution,” Rico said. “I want to make equity and diversity the focus of this organization, (including) economic diversity.”

As it turns out, Rico quickly had a pathway toward bringing his program to life. The board chair of the Solano EDC happens to be Celia Esposito-Noy, the superintendent and president of the Solano Community College District.

“Unless you know someone who works in local government, business or nonprofit agencies, it’s unlikely that you know much about economic development and the career opportunities that exist,” Esposito-Noy told the Business Journal in an email statement. “Our goal is to identify students who may not otherwise have this opportunity and introduce them to some facet of economic development, including outreach, marketing, land use or public policy.”

The Solano EDC Fellowship will allow students to learn, earn money and college credit at the same time, she noted.

“Students will enroll in occupational education at the college and receive general education credit and a $2,500 stipend from the EDC,” she said. The stipend will come from Kaiser’s funding. “My hope is that with this fellowship, students will further explore opportunities in economic development because they may find an exciting career they never knew about.”

For Kaiser’s part, the fellowship ticked all the boxes for its philanthropic efforts, according to Nor Jemjemian, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente Napa-Solano.

“Our support of this program is driven by our desire to ensure these students receive the guidance, education and mentorship they need to build healthy lives,” Jemjemian said in an email statement.

The first cohort will consist of three students, Rico said.

“We're starting small (because) we're a very small organization and we have human-capital constraints,” Rico said, adding that Solano EDC’s corporate partners are excited about the program. “Many of them have already indicated that as we grow this program, they're going to want access to this talent. And a long-range goal is that we're building out the talent pipeline into the regional economy.”

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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