“I could not believe it,” said Erin Flynn of Congressman Jim Langevin’s recent invite to attend the President’s State of the Union address in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night. “I did not stop bouncing around from the minute he called until the minute I was leaving.”
Flynn, who has worked more than 25 years at the New England Institute of Technology, is a leader in Rhode Island educational initiatives designed to help build a skilled workforce. She has partnered with Langevin on one of his key workforce development efforts, the High School Cyber Foundations Competition, which the congressman brought to Rhode Island as a model for introducing youths to expanding industries like cyber security.
Flynn arrived in Washington Tuesday morning and was given a tour of the Supreme Court room, as well as a tour of the dome portion of the U.S. Capitol. She paid her own way.
“We were on top of the dome looking at all of Washington,” she said. “It was great.”
Later in the evening, she headed to the State of the Union address, which also took place in the Capitol building, and rubbed shoulders with well-known politicians, including Representative Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
“It was an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’m so grateful and honored that I was chosen to go,” said Flynn. “I’ve been watching it on T.V. for so many years because I’m a news junkie, and to be able to be there was just so cool.”
In a phone interview from Washington Wednesday afternoon, Langevin said he selected Flynn from a group of “several” people because of her interest to close the skills gap in America, which he said has been an obstacle in local and national economic recovery.
“She’s doing all the right things to help our young people in high school and the college level, so she was the perfect choice,” said Langevin, co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus.
As the Manager of Admissions Outreach and Events for NEIT, Flynn connects the school with professional associations, helps coordinate a statewide robotics event called FIRST Tech Challenge and works with high schools to encourage students to acquire skills needed in the job market.
Rhode Island’s cyber contest has been one of the most successful in the country, with the recently completed second edition boasting more than 300 participants from 35 states, outnumbering every other state’s competition. Flynn, who serves as the state coordinator, is inviting high school students and teachers to e-mail her for more information about the next contest this spring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re trying to get the students to think out their career choices,” said Flynn. “Robotics is a really fun way for kids to explore math and science, and this contest gives them that opportunity. There are a lot of job opportunities. We have employers calling but no people to fill the jobs. It’s a major disconnect, so these efforts expose them to careers that will not go away.”
For her hard work, she received the Distinguished Member Award from the Rhode Island Admission Officers Association last year. In addition, she has served on a committee to plan the annual Gaspee Days Parade for more than a decade. The parade, she said, costs more than $35,000 to operate.
“The road stripe alone is $5,000,” Flynn said.
While it was Flynn’s first State of the Union address, it was Langevin’s twelfth. He was pleased to hear Obama focus on jobs and building the economy and feels the president knows the necessary steps to get this economy back on track, as well as send people back to work.
“We have incredibly talented workers, but right now American workers don’t have the skills for the jobs available,” Langevin said. “We need to get our workers up to date on being able to do those jobs and that comes with job retraining, collaborating closely with businesses and educators and making sure the training is reflected in our school curriculum.”
Langevin also said he was thrilled Obama said he is interested in changing America’s tax code to reward companies that bring jobs back the country from overseas and wants to stop rewarding companies that move jobs overseas.
“He’s very in tune with the American people right now,” said Langevin. “These problems, though difficult, are solvable if we work together.”