Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. - Administrators and superintendents from a cross section of Quad Cities learning communities were recently welcomed to Rock Island Arsenal for a tour of the installation to glean greater insight on the multitude of career and educational opportunities available to the local community.
Col. Dan Mitchell, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Rock Island Arsenal, was the host of the event, the first iteration of a previous concept which was in place prior to the pandemic. Schools represented included Eastern Iowa Community College, Western Illinois University, St. Ambrose University, Black hawk College, North Scott School District and Rock Island-Milan School District.
According to Laura O’Brien, RIA School Liaison Officer, the goal of the tour was to highlight opportunities for school districts and local colleges to access and partner with Rock Island Arsenal through collaborative efforts between the United Way Education Council and USAG RIA & RIA tenant organizations. She said it is a return to the existing community partnership effort promoting installation and community relations through partnerships between RIA and local school districts - including Career Academies and Career and Technical Education (CTE) educator tours, field trips to RIA and insight into the top 20 career fields on RIA for workforce development.
“This is the first tour for educators we have done since COVID-19 began,” she said. “For this first tour back, we selected the educators on the United Way Education Council, which consisted of all the metro superintendents and representatives from most of the local colleges.”
O’Brien said that, going forward, the invitation for upcoming tours will be issued to superintendents from the outlying Quad Cities areas, other United Way Education Council members, and superintendents that were unable to come on the prior tour, as well as representatives from the private schools and other educators from local districts such as guidance counselors, career counselors, and teachers.
Following a welcome by the garrison commander, tenant activity leaders from across the installation shared their mission and workforce requirements and discussed how they came to work on the Arsenal when embarking on their careers. For a few, it all started at the heart of the passion of the educators: As student interns and summer hires. One story of “local girl makes good” stood out from the crowd.
Lisa O’Connor from Joint Munitions Command shared her impressive Army civilian career success. She began her career in 2003 as a student aide secretary while pursuing her associate’s degree at Scott Community College. Presently, she is the division chief for Close Combat Munitions at JMC, and a world away from her student aide days, professionally. She stressed her rise in the civilian ranks was the direct result of being hired in that first Army job, and the benefits of working on RIA have been profound.
“The Army paid for my associate’s degree,” she said. “The Army paid for my bachelor’s degree. The Army paid for my master’s degree. When I started as a student aide, I was getting benefits I didn’t even fully understand at the time- retirement benefits, paid leave, flexible work schedules. It was incredible to have those benefits offered and to progress professionally because of them.”
As a former student, O’Conner sees great value in RIA building these community partnerships with educators and administrators, so they can understand the valuable and unique opportunities careers on RIA can offer local students, and that it makes the Army competitive with other employers in the area.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone involved,” she said. “Other local industries do this very thing with great success and it’s a perfect way to leverage local talent looking for work and career paths without having to leave the Quad Cities.”
Tour attendees then boarded vans and visited several areas of professions across the installation to learn about potential careers on RIA, ranging from human resources, to history to hydropower and everything in between.
LeShane Saddler, Vice President for Enrollment Management at St. Ambrose University, saw the tour as away to not only support students, but a way to support the Arsenal.
“I came today to become more knowledgeable about the history of the Rock Island Arsenal and its importance to the nation, as well as its impact on the Quad Cities,” he said. “I learned that the Arsenal continues to bring a broad diversity to the Quad Cities, specifically around career and professional development and opportunities. Community partnerships provide incredible options for students that otherwise would not exist.”
Richard Bush, Associate Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Black Hawk College, is new to the Quad Cities area and knew the school had positive relationship with the RIA. He saw it as an opportunity to meet a community partner face to face and learn more about its mission.
“The college and RIA have had a strong relationship over the years, and we value that relationship,” he said. “Being relatively new to the area, the opportunity to learn more about the mission of RIA, as well as its history, was enticing. From this experience, BHC will be able to serve the men and women better to meet the needs of RIA's global mission.”
Bush said was impressed by the breadth and depth of opportunities for students career-wise on RIA, and looks forward to becoming more involved in the community partnership between the college and the installation to ensure opportunities in talent sharing and development remain fluid and strong.
“Every partnership is critical to forming a network where students can learn of the hidden career gems across our district,” he said. “Many opportunities are not well-communicated or obvious to students to help them appreciate the myriad of careers. Partnerships are essential for our students.”