Lehigh Valley, central Pa. represented by student entrepreneurs

Student entrepreneurs will represent the Lehigh Valley and central Pennsylvania today in the final round of the annual State System Startup Challenge, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced. 

Jake Hill of Camp Hill and a student at West Chester University, and Stelios Melekos of Churchville and East Stroudsburg University, will join Victoria Heffelfinger of North Huntingdon and Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest) in featuring products and services in high demand. The three finalists will pitch their business plans to judges today for an opportunity to gain funds for their startup or expand their existing business. 

The student entrepreneurs will discuss products in three academic areas within PASSHE universities and three industries with worker shortages – education, healthcare, and business. The start-up challenges fit with PASSHE universities’ efforts to address workforce shortages in education, healthcare, business, social services, engineering, and computer science. 

“These student entrepreneurs have innovative and exciting startups that combine business, healthcare and education, which are three fields in high demand in Pennsylvania,” said Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia D. Shapira. 

“State System universities are preparing thousands of students for success as entrepreneurs, and I commend the supportive faculty and the remarkable ingenuity and energy of the students.” 

Henry is a senior Bachelor of Applied Science student with a pharmaceutical product development concentration. His business plan is Lectra Technologies LLC, which produces Lectra Tape to help people navigate their rehabilitation process and complete physical therapy. 

Lectra Tape is conductive kinesiology tape that delivers electrical pulses from a wireless muscle stimulator to aid in the healing and rehabilitation process. Sensors in the tape collect data that is analyzed and shared with the user and physical therapists, so they can adjust rehabilitation plans to provide the best results and encourage the individual to continue their physical therapy. 

Melekos is a junior business management student with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Melekos’ business is Blitz Performance LLC, which provides anglers with the highest quality and most innovative lures and apparel for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Blitz Performance products are available to retail customers online at blitzfishingperformance.com and wholesale at tackle shops across five states. Blitz Performance looks to build a sense of community around the brand by developing the tools to catch more fish and make the most of anglers’ time on the water. 

Heffelfinger is a freshman special education student. Her business plan is Wildlife Water School LLC, an aquatic instruction school that provides swimming lessons for people ages 6 months and older. Offering an inclusive environment for people of all abilities and backgrounds, the school provides basic skills, infant swimming resources, and advanced instruction. Specialized lessons for people with disabilities or other challenges are also available. Wildlife Water School intends to offer aquatic therapy in the future. 

First prize is $10,000, and second- and third-place finishers will receive respective prizes of $5,000 and $2,500. The finalists were selected from more than 60 students and student teams from across the state-owned public university system. 

The Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) will air the competition live tonight at 7. The program can also be viewed live on PCN Select. 

“The ingenuity and energy of these finalists speaks volumes about the spirit of innovation that is thriving at our universities,” Chancellor Dan Greenstein said. “Several past winners of this competition have launched their own businesses from the ideas born of this real-life experience, and I look forward to the new businesses that may emerge from this year’s competition.”

PASSHE addresses ‘critical’ teacher shortage

The plight of Pennsylvania’s workforce shortage has hit the education sector particularly hard. 

A press release by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) states that the number of new certified teachers in the state since 2011 dropped by nearly 67%. In 2020-21, Pennsylvania issued more emergency teaching permits than new teacher certifications. 

As job growth in the Pre-K to 12 education field is expected to be 6% by 2030, more than 10,000 additional educators and teachers will be needed than Pennsylvania currently has. A shortage of new teachers can leave public and private schools with fewer candidates to fill jobs. Additionally, students may be left without a regular teacher as shortages in educators can also cause larger class sizes and require other school staff to fill in.  

PASSHE said it is addressing the teacher shortage by seeking $112 million in state funding to produce more graduates in six in-demand, high-growth jobs, including education. PASSHE would use $56.5 million to provide direct financial relief to education students, saving each student an average of $1,500. High-need students could receive an additional $5,000, for a total of $6,500 per year. 

PASSHE discovered shortly before its recent House Appropriations Committee hearing that its description of the funding request was confusing to some legislators. To reduce confusion, it has changed slightly how it describes its request. 

To clarify, PASSHE is seeking the $112 million in state funding, mostly for financial aid, to enable more students to afford the education necessary for six targeted careers with worker shortages. This combined with a 3.8% ($21 million) inflationary increase in base funding would enable PASSHE’s Board of Governors to consider freezing tuition for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. 

By making a degree more affordable, PASSHE expects more Pennsylvanians will be encouraged to pursue careers in the teaching profession. 

Along with teaching, the careers targeted by PASSHE are nursing, social services, business, and the STEM fields of engineering and computer science.

New jobs, higher pay, career advancement are aims of new PASSHE registry

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is creating the state’s first credential registry to help prepare students of all ages for in-demand careers and strengthen the workforce. 

The project is funded by Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry and American Rescue Plan funds appropriated by PASSHE. 

Initially, the State System’s credential registry will include in-demand programs such as business, computer science, education, engineering, nursing, and social services. The first phase of the credential registry is anticipated to be ready in 2024.  

A press release from PASSHE stated the on-line tool is user-friendly and will aid students and workers in navigating education and professional credentials. Users will be enabled to make informed decisions regarding their opportunities. 

The credential registry can be used by the public to learn which credentials exist, where to obtain them and in what order, and which skills employers seek for jobs in high demand. The registry will explain which credentials are sequenced, possibly leading to a bachelor’s degree and beyond. 

PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the State System is redesigning itself to meet the needs of learners and provide a pipeline of talented individuals that employers are seeking. He added that the credential registry is a key part of the process. 

“Credentials add value to your resume by demonstrating to employers that you have the education and latest skills to do the job,” said Greenstein in a statement. “Students and job seekers will be able to use the credential registry to understand the pathways to earn credentials that open doors to new and higher-paying jobs.” 

The State System is partnering with the non-profit Credential Engine in creating the online credential registry.

“Pennsylvania’s design for this work is exemplary,” said Scott Cheney, CEO of Credential Engine. “Focusing on quality, stackability and pathways will help students and workers be better able to navigate their way through all types and levels of credentials to the skills needed by employers. Having all that information in an open credential registry is an important first step.”

A credential registry will be an important tool to address the labor shortage. Currently, 60% of Pennsylvania jobs require higher education, yet only 51% of workers have education after high school. Helping the state’s workforce earn credentials can close the talent gap, and credentials such as badges, certificates, licenses, apprenticeships and industry certifications can be earned as two- or four-year State System academic programs.  

Credentials can be earned at the learner’s pace. In short-term programs, learners can enter higher education, earn a credential while working and go on to the next credential or leave higher education for the workforce. They can return to the program to earn advanced credentials to build skills to advance their career or earn a higher income. 

The State System is expanding credentialing within academic courses so students can earn credentials on route to their degree. The online registry’s largest benefit may go to working adults, especially those with some college and no credential, or those in entry-level positions who need to improve their skills to keep up with automation and technology. 

In a press release issued by PASSHE, a Pennsylvania-specific registry enables employers to identify the credentials most relevant to their hiring needs.