Guest submission by Rhys Fullerlove
President – Board of Education, Sherrard Community Unit School District
In April, the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce hosted the Quad Cities Big Table, a forum to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships, and inspire collaborative action across the region. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, students from the Sherrard High School National Honor Society got an opportunity to share their ideas and vision for the Quad City region with Chamber leadership.
The Sherrard students started the school year with a goal of trying to help their fellow students think about the future. When doing so, they reached out to the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce to see how their plan could tie into the Q2030 regional vision. Q2030 is the Quad Cities’ shared vision endorsed by more than 240 business, non-profit, academic and trades organizations. Q2030 aims to bring residents together to collaborate on making decisions and drive strategies that grow more skilled workers, jobs, investments and economic opportunities for all who call this area home.
Greg Aguilar, director for Q2030 for the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, led the students through a series of icebreaker questions that ultimately focused the student’s conversation on thinking locally.
“The collaborative conversations that we are having around this table is all what Q2030 is about,” Aguilar said. “We are discussing, as a community, how do we create a region that is recognized globally by the year 2030 for growing and attracting talent and business. We are focused on creating an energized community that is diverse and culturally rich, that inspires innovation and drives lifelong learning.”
One question Aguilar posed to the students was what is their vision for the iconic riverfront of the Quad Cities. Sherrard National Honor Society President Joelle Gallaugher thought it was important to keep an active green space along the banks of the Mississippi.
“I think open space, like parks, and not building along at the whole river line,” said Gallaugher. “I’ve gone on vacation where there was a lot of parks and picnic tables. We have that here with the bike path, but it is starting to develop more. We need to make sure we don’t lose that openness feel.”
Fellow NHS member, Autumn Bell echoed Gallaugher’s comments. “It would also be nice to have art and sculptures down by the river,” she said. “You could have sculptures inspired by local artists and even high school kids.”
President and CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce Paul Rumler also participated in the discussion with the Sherrard students.
“There are 20,000 businesses in the Quad Cities. We think about the larger companies in the area, but there are 20,000 plus business that you can apply for a job and they are all looking for you,” Rumler said. “Talented individuals are their top concern; they don’t know where to find them. That is why we are asking the questions we are right now. We want to get inside your head and get some insight so we can share that with our regional employers.”
Rumler went on to share that, when he was students’ age, he wasn’t sure what his career path was, so he started at Blackhawk College. He said that this helped him achieve goals and be exposed to opportunities that would set him up for success later in life.
“When I was in the National Honor Society at Moline, I was in your exact position, I had no clue what my life would look like when I was 20, let alone when I was 38, which I am now,” he said. “What you need to think about is what is your path will be, and be open that your path is going to change. You might want to stay here, you might want leave, you might leave and come back. I spent a considerable amount of time outside the area before I realized that I wanted to come back and make an impact on my hometown.”
The hour and a half long conversation continued with Aguilar moved the dialogue to discussing specific things the students could do to help their fellow students gain employment, which included obtaining some level of post-secondary education.
“Part of the responsibility of being a leader, which all of you guys are, is of course doing the best that you can, setting a good example, but helping other along the way. That is the price we have to pay for being a leader,” Aguilar said. “So, what can you do as leaders at Sherrard High School that can help our region to pursue post-secondary education and advance our region?” Aguilar asked.
Students went around the room sharing ideas. Many of the solutions they offered involved moving out of impersonal communication such as emails, and social media, and focused on finding ways to encourage personal connections with employers, academia and successful alumni.
“We need to stop focusing on communication through our computers; we all have Chromebooks, we use email as our primary source of communication, said Gallaugher. “It just doesn’t get across with everyone well. Everyone just deletes the email. There is no personal connection. If our classmates talk to others, and realize that there are career paths other than college, that would help a lot.”
The Sherrard students thought the meeting was extremely helpful as they prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives.
“I thought the meeting with the Chamber was very insightful and a great way to see the other side of the decision-making process. I think it will help bring a new formality and hopefully a more efficient way to discuss and evaluate topics,” said Senior Grant Gagliardo. “Knowing that there’s a set plan for the next 12 years and seeing that plan in action raises my hopes for the area, including Sherrard. It’s a good sign that the area is expanding and striving toward becoming a better place.”
Rumler left the students with some final thoughts. “What you described today about what you want to see this place looking like, I want to let you know that you can actually do that and I say that just from personal experience because I was you,” he said. I wanted to see this place be something different.
“I just want you to know that you have a group here at the Quad Cities Chamber that cares about what you think,” Rumler concluded. “You have a group of employers and people who want to see you succeed here, and we are willing to invest in you.”