When he was hired as the first executive director of the new Innovation and Workforce Development Hub, based at the Stanislaus State Stockton Campus, Aubrey Priest got the usual introductions to the Stockton staff and those in the Department of Extended and International Education, under which the hub falls.
What he didn’t need was a guide to Stockton.
The son of a single mom who raised three children in Stockton, Priest graduated from Stagg High School and attended San Joaquin Delta College before following a girl, now his wife and mother of his four children, to Fresno and Fresno State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree.
More than 25 years after he left Stockton, he returns with a charge to better familiarize the region’s residents with Stan State and to help create programs specifically designed for them.
“If I were to look at my role, fundamentally it’s about doing what we can to enhance the lives of those in our regional workforce and their families by virtue of the work we do,” Priest said. “We are creating programs that help them develop soft skills, strengthen their understanding of business analyses or financial literacy, whatever it is we are doing to help support communities and corporations, that will naturally help build the lives of entire families within these communities. People talk about essential aspects of my job, and that is first and foremost.”
It’s a role he embraced from the time he arrived “home” after leaving his position at Cal State Long Beach’s Antelope Valley campus, where he served as director of the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Program, which was designed to support the community’s need to employ engineers within the aerospace industry.
“In some ways I feel like my life has come full circle,” Priest said. “You don’t see these things when they are happening, while you are in the middle of the journey. I can recall times I’d drive by the Stockton Campus not really knowing much about it, but certainly thrilled by Stan State’s presence and desire to support the needs of this great city. Now that I’m employed here, it makes me smile, knowing how life has an interesting way of working out.”
The creation of the Innovation and Workforce Development Hub is just one part of Stan State’s concentrated effort to increase programming, class offerings and visibility of the Stockton Campus. New faculty, a full-time counselor from Counseling and Psychological Services, a librarian and Basic Needs coordinator have also been added to the Campus.
“We offer some of our most dynamic, impactful degree programs through the Stockton Campus,” said Kari Knutson Miller, dean of Extended Education and International Education.
Indeed, certificate and degree programs not offered through traditional academic programming, including the Accelerated Second Bachelor of Science in Nursing, are part of the Extended Education programming offered in Stockton.
“What we saw was a gap in our responsiveness to industry and community in terms of workforce and professional development programs, particularly geared toward early and mid-career professionals,” Knutson Miller said.
The Innovation and Workforce Development Hub was created to work in partnership with community leaders and has two objectives.
“The first part is connecting with the major, mid-size and small businesses or corporations in the six-county region to develop customized curriculum and support existing employees within those businesses with training programs for credit or non-credit,” Priest said. “Developing and expanding the University’s programming model is a big piece of what the Innovation and Workforce Development Hub will encompass.
“The second part of that is the innovation or entrepreneurial side of the hub.”
Priest envisions students, faculty, stakeholders or corporations, and the community at large working together to create emerging technologies, using existing technologies or having broader discussions of how to build community around some of that work.
“These discussions require creativity,” Priest said. “We always want people at the table who come with different ideas and are interested in creating solutions and working to build, to solve some of these considerable challenges we have in the community.”
“That piece is more abstract as opposed to creating career development programs, but I believe it is equally important. You have both parts together to build and strengthen community. Ultimately that is what the hub will become.”
Priest jumped into his position as executive director by meeting leaders of a variety of businesses in the region, noting agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare are the area’s leading employers.
“There has also been a great deal of enthusiasm around the growth of biotech in the region, and I am excited to see where these efforts lead as we continue to engage and collaborate with the community to support this important work,” Priest said. “I’m really excited about the work we’re doing and opportunities that lie ahead for the Extended and International Education Department, the Stockton Campus and the University as a whole. Also, for the community of Stockton, which I absolutely love.
“You always hear about people leaving the region and not returning. I thought there was so much more that could be done to support this amazing community. I’m a proud product of the community college system here, attending Delta College, and later earning my Doctorate in Education from Creighton University and I believe in the value of an education and how it can make an indelible impact in terms of significantly reducing or eliminating generational poverty. I’m a benefactor of that, having a single parent who worked to raise three children. I earned a doctorate and my two sisters earned bachelor’s degrees and one earned a master’s. I believe we have my mother and Stockton to thank for that.
“For me to go back to the community is a call to return home and do everything I can to help support an amazing community, a community I believe is cognizant of its triumphs, challenges and opportunities and really is putting its best foot forward.”