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July 11, 2019
In 2014 we launched FirstHand, our nationally recognized program designed to expose local middle and high school students to STEM through hands-on, project-based learning and career exposure. Last year we announced a grant from the Lenfest Foundation that would link that initiative to workforce development, by training and placing West Philadelphia residents at life-sustaining jobs at science and tech companies at uCity Square and beyond. And this past April, Phil Brooks joined us as Director of STEM Workforce Partnerships to make that vision a reality.
Read on to get to know Phil, how he was first introduced to FirstHand and his work in cultivating important relationships and empowering the community that he calls home.
Your title is Director, STEM Workforce Partnerships – tell us more about this newly created role.
The role focuses on cultivating relationships, strengthening partnerships, connecting employers, building a bridge to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career field and developing high-impact workforce development programs to ensure wage-sustaining jobs. In partnership with the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) and Drexel University, my primary role is to connect West Philadelphia residents to life-changing jobs. Since this role is so new to the Science Center, I have an amazing opportunity to shape it into something that benefits the organization and the Philly community.
What interested you in this position and/or the Science Center?
The position provided a unique opportunity to leverage my experience with city government and non-profit work. During my time with city government I served as the Director of STEM Initiatives in the Mayor’s Office of Education, the Commerce Department and the Office of Workforce Development. Prior to that role I worked with the education based non-profit City Year Philadelphia for 10 years. I have a huge passion for science, so even before the role was posted I was interested in the Science Center. My first exposure to the Science Center was at the White House in 2015. The FirstHand program was honored at the STEM Mentoring Awards organized by US2020. I said to myself, “yeah, I’m gonna work for them one day.”
What are you most eager to get done in this role?
I am most eager in getting pilot programs off the ground and starting to connect folks to opportunities that really make a difference in their lives. It is easier said than done but in my very short time here I think that there are several untapped resources and a large need that has not been met. I am also eager to meet folks willing to move the needle on this workforce issue. This is both a local and national crisis that many people “talk” about, but it is long overdue for folks to act. I am looking forward to making things happen with the “take action” people.
What does success look like in one year in terms of workforce development?
In one year, success would include the completion of the 1st training cohort and established trust and confidence in the collaborative training model. Employers who participated in the creation of the model will hire 100% of the participants in the 1st training cohort. Additionally, workforce agencies are looking to hold job fairs, panel discussions and training sessions at our 3675 Market Street location. In five years, success would include a proven and nationally recognized training model with several success stories of past participants in high-level STEM career roles and the Science Center identified as an expert in the workforce community.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I grew up in a single parent household and was raised in a shelter when I was very young. Things happen for a reason and in college I had an opportunity to work in a shelter in Springfield, Massachusetts. My family was scared something would happen to me, but it never did. My own experience was my strength in getting others back on their feet.
When you’re not at the Science Center what can we find you doing in your free time?
I LOVE Restaurant Week, so anytime it comes up I am going somewhere new. And I have a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old, so much of my time is spent being a dad.