Angela Lewis said she feels like she’s the perfect person to be Northview High School’s face of the connection between hallways and area businesses.
“This is a job made in heaven for what I’m passionate about: helping people understand where they fit,” Lewis said. “My favorite thing in the world is seeing those lightbulbs go on.”
As the new work experience coordinator since fall, Lewis’ role includes creating job opportunities for juniors and seniors, serving as a liaison with businesses, and making sure students hone skills employers want them to master.
“I want to be the go-to for our community for those entry-level jobs,” she said. “I want the community to want Northview students for those jobs, and for Northview students to want to work with those employers. Establishing that relationship is key.”
Over the first semester, Lewis worked with 51 seniors who are enrolled in the school’s work-study class. Nearly 50 more students were added for the current semester.
Open to juniors and seniors, the work-study class already was available to students who had jobs.
“I want to make it more proactive, and let (students and business owners) know that I exist to help you and I want to help you,” Lewis said. “I am working on long-term relationships so that we have a pipeline of students and positions that we can match up as we grow the program.”
Principal Mark Thomas said Lewis “brings a lot of relevancy” to the position with a background that includes teaching, business and recruiting.
“Northview has a big vision (for career readiness), and is trying to be cutting edge in the area, in the nation. That’s a big reason I’m here,” Lewis said. “Identifying someone with specific career experience shows they want to take it to the next level, which is exciting for me.”
Finding her Passion
A native of Grand Haven, Lewis earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Baker College. Her plan was to use that degree in the corporate world. But as a project manager for an insurance company in Colorado, she said, she realized, “I don’t like this at all, and I went to school for this.”
Instead, she answered a plea for teachers at Denver Public Schools. She thought it would be temporary, but “I fell in love with it. I was head over heels from day one, and thought, this is where I need to be.”
She spent a few years teaching high school business and technology, for a time at a suburban Colorado school under — talk about a small world — former Northview Superintendent Michael Paskewicz. She has since earned a master’s degree in education leadership and supervision.
Lewis has been an adjunct professor since 2005 in the business department at Grand Rapids Community College. She rejoined the corporate world for a while as director of talent acquisition for a national property management company, where she led a team of hiring managers and recruiters.
Her two daughters — a freshman and a sixth grader at Highlands Middle — have attended Northview since preschool.
At Northview High, Lewis meets with juniors and seniors enrolled in work-based learning at the beginning of the semester to review paperwork and discuss their placement. She does site visits throughout the semester, then meets with students at least twice more per semester to go over reviews from employers.
She calls upon her own varied work experience to make connections students might not have realized.
“I want to make the link for them, to be able to meet with them and say ‘Awesome, you’re working at CelebrationCinema! and really liking it. Let’s talk about the skills you’re learning so you can use them to your advantage in future careers.’”
Even seemingly negative work experiences are valuable, she said.
Lewis recalled a student who stopped by her office to tell her he had been fired. She invited him to sit down. “I said, ‘Let’s talk this through. Let’s ask, what do you want to know and how are you going to go about getting those answers?’ These kids haven’t been empowered in the workplace so much yet.”
Becoming empowered in the program is part of her goal. The state of Michigan requires that every student enrolled in workplace learning has a training plan in order to earn credit.
This semester, Lewis said, “I am going to have them create their own training plan — with my guidance — something that they map out that says what they want to get from this, where they want to go.”