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  1. New Exhibit “Frank & Bill: 50 Years of Mentorship”

    On the left: a cup and bowl from a dinner set by Frank Ross. On the right: lidded vessels by Bill Strickland. Photograph by Joel Mora.

    Manchester Bidwell Corporation would not exist if Bill Strickland had not wandered past Frank Ross’ ceramics classroom at Oliver High School. We celebrate that meeting and mentorship with the exhibit “Frank & Bill: 50 Years of Mentorship” in the Connie Kerr Gallery.

    The exhibit highlights the extraordinary relationship between Strickland and Ross. Ross’ mentorship not only fostered Strickland’s creativity—motivating him to graduate high school and attend the University of Pittsburgh—it ultimately led to the development of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its affiliates. While showcasing ceramic works from both men, the exhibit will also highlight historical elements telling the story of the last 50 years.

    Frank Ross doing a ceramics demonstration.

    “I’m honored to be able to reconstruct the history of the journey,” said Strickland, who has persevered in his studio practice, despite the inherent difficulties associated with creating ceramic work after surviving a double lung transplant.

    Strickland’s recent work is a continuation of his passion for functional stoneware pottery instilled in him and countless others by Ross, who taught in the PittsburghPublic schools system, and later as a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    In addition to the exhibit, Strickland will take part in a two-day workshop with MCG Youth & Arts students in the ceramic studio and have lunch with them in the MBC board room.

    Outside of the exhibit, guests will find a timeline of MBC highlighting how the organization has changed lives across the world for the past half century.

    Ross never lived to see the incredible ceramics studio that Strickland eventually built on Metropolitan Street. A car accident took Mr. and Mrs. Ross in 1980. In 2008, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild’s world-class, ceramic studio was officially dedicated in memory of Ross and his wife. It can only be assumed that Ross would be just as excited as Strickland is regarding the planned renovation and expansion of the ceramics facility that will allow the past 50 years of mentorship to extend into the far future.

    “Frank & Bill: 50 Years of Mentorship” will run until December 31, 2018.

    Bill Strickland teaching a student at a potter’s wheel in the ceramics studio.

  2. Covestro Hires 70th Bidwell Alumnus in 27 Years

    Jack Forsythe, Market Manager Industrial Coatings and graduate of BTC’s first laboratory technician class

    A cornerstone of Bidwell Training Center’s (BTC) foundation is working with industry to shape our curriculum. When Dr. E. Peter Benzing approached us about helping Covestro—then Bayer—find more diverse laboratory technicians, we worked together to form the laboratory technician program. Having the input from industry ensures that our students are ready and have the exact skills and experience that employers want. There is no better testament to that than Covestro hiring their 70th BTC graduate in the 27 years that the laboratory technician program has been operating.

    We corresponded with Jack Forsythe, a graduate of the first laboratory technician class who is retiring from Covestro after over 25 years of working there, and Curtis E. Terry II, who graduated from BTC in June 2018 and is Covestro’s 70th BTC hire, about their experiences at BTC and how it has changed their lives.

    Can you describe how you remember your first day at Bidwell?

    CT: I was super nervous. I wondered who would my teacher be? Who would my classmates be? How are they going to teach me to be a Laboratory Technician? Of course, the class started off with an ice breaker to get to know everyone and we went from there. I was ready and eager to learn.

    JF: My first day of class at Bidwell was exciting because I met a diverse group of folks interested in the same thing I was—namely, finding not just a job, but a new career. Having been out of school so long, there was some fear as to whether I had it in me to learn a new world of things. However, the teachers and the school environment made me comfortable enough to believe I could learn and grow.

    What made you decide to attend BTC?

    CT: I was at a crossroads in my life. I made the decision to leave my job of five years because I felt like a robot. I needed something different. I needed to do something I was actually interested in and could gain a measure of happiness from. I wanted to be able to market myself better, and I heard from friends that Bidwell was a good place to gain some hands-on learning experience.

    JF: When I showed up for the interview at BTC, I was given a tour of the facility and met the director of the program as well as some of the advisory board members. Right away, I could sense that this was the answer to my prayers: a path to a career in science, which I loved from the time I was in grade school, that would lead to employment, and the kind of employment that would help my family and enable me to put my kids through school. I knew this place would lead me to a job I could retire from when the time was right.

    Curtis E. Terry II, Coatings/Adhesives Laboratory Technician at Covestro and BTC Alum ‘18

    Curtis, what made you decide to major in Laboratory Technician?

    CT: Chemistry has always piqued my interest, but I was never passionate about it nor could I see myself as a chemist. However, I knew that this course offered an associate degree after 13 months. I also knew it would be inherently challenging and I was looking for something to really challenge me.

    How and why did you both end up working for Covestro?

    CT: Funny story. I would pass by Covestro on my way to the Robinson Walmart and I would wonder, “What is behind that colorful sign? Who are these people and what do they do?.” Come to find out Covestro, the former material science division of Bayer, is one of Bidwell’s externship sites for the lab tech program. Oh, I had to go there! Fast forward to interviews and externship bids, and I was chosen to go to Covestro. I couldn’t have been happier.

    The two months of the externship were almost up, and I was dismayed, but excited, but afraid, but confident all at the same time. I didn’t want to leave Covestro. I have built a wonderful network of colleagues and mentors. I was participating in diversity and inclusion groups, taking tours of other buildings and getting to know the different business units of Covestro. This corporate environment was for me. On top of all of that—or I should say the foundation—I was learning so much. I was learning laboratory etiquette by being immersed in the culture.

    I mentioned this to my supervisor while I was practicing my final presentation to be delivered in front of top executives at Covestro and later at Bidwell in front of my classmates. He politely asked me, “So, how’s everything going? Are there any job prospects outside of Covestro?” I said, “No”. He said, “Well, we would like to offer you a contract position and keep you here, if you are available.” I almost cried. I had to truly hold back my tears of joy. So far it’s been almost three months working here. I still love it.

    JF: Covestro played a key role in the establishment of the lab program back when the company was part of Bayer. I had the opportunity to do my externship at Covestro in the polyurethanes research group and felt right at home with the people, the job responsibilities, and the company.

    Curtis, what was the transition from classroom life to professional life like?

    CT: Sometimes it can be a little daunting. In the classroom you always have your teacher to cover you. Even to give you immediate feedback. However, it’s a lot tougher in class than in the real world. However, what I’ve found here is that when your work is trusted, you are left alone to complete it. Seasoned individuals are around to assist and answer questions, even offer more efficient means of completing a task. I love gaining that perspective but also being able to employ a little trial and error for myself.

    How did your externship prepare you for your new career?

    CT: I learned to slow down a bit. When I first got here for externship, I was trying to busy myself and I felt myself rushing around. I took note of those around me and they were taking their time. Work was getting done at a reasonable pace. So I slowed down. This offers an opportunity to truly enjoy the work and minimize mistakes.

    How would you say BTC has impacted your career and life?

    CT: Bidwell has offered me the opportunity to learn something new, to take that something, and make it my own. I am now working at one of the best chemical manufacturing and supply companies in the world.

    JF: The easy answer as to how Bidwell has impacted my life is to say it opened the door for me, to a career in a field I loved­—science—and to work at a company namely Covestro that has an unparalleled culture of community service and employee satisfaction.

    But it’s not that simple. As an advisory board member at Bidwell, I was able to bear witness to so many life-changing stories from the students that came after me – amazing stories of strength and character. Oftentimes, the folks coming though BTC have been through difficult hardships and very often had fallen through the cracks of traditional education. Through sheer determination, they complete the program while overcoming these personal struggles. These compelling stories leave me with a sense of awe. So when you are blessed with an opportunity to help or participate in various ways, you are given more than you can ever give back.

    Roberto Clemente once said: “Anytime you have a chance to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this earth.” Bidwell truly makes that difference.

    Jack, how does it feel to be retiring as Covestro has hired its 70th BTC graduate?

    JF: On my first day at Covestro, I remember thinking how grateful I was to be the first employed out of the first laboratory technician class, and that if I could help—in any way—just one person from the program per year to get paid here as a technician, that would be great.

    So, I figured I’d be working for another 25 years or so, and that would mean a goal of helping—in some small way—25 people gain employment here. The program has far exceeded my goal through its excellent training and dedication to placement. Today, I’m proud to say that 70 people—not 25—earned employment opportunities at Covestro. This is a great source of pride for me, but more importantly, speaks volumes of the education Bidwell provided, as well as the students’ individual determination to succeed.

    This interview has been condensed and edited.

     

  3. Valerie Njie Retires From Bidwell Training Center After 37 Years

    Valerie Njie, former Executive Director/Senior Vice President of Bidwell Training Center.

    Bidwell Training Center’s (BTC) Executive Director/Senior Vice President Valerie Njie has retired after 37 years of tireless service and dedication to the students, staff, and industries in the Pittsburgh area.

    Njie joined BTC in 1981 as a senior counselor when her former University of Pittsburgh classmate Jesse W. Fife Jr., former Executive Vice President and COO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, asked her to come on board. Njie credits Fife, who passed away in 2010, with motivating her to stay so long and succeed in doing the impossible.

    “He had such great confidence in you,” said Njie. “He would give you some ridiculous assignment….but then when you did it …he was always thrilled. He always elevated you.”

    Njie’s impact started when she put together the proposal and helped facilitate the partnership that led BTC to become a part of IBM’s national information sciences program.

    Njie was promoted to executive director in 1999, and her first challenge was getting BTC out of reporting with the Accrediting Commission on Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Fife gave her another seemingly impossible assignment of becoming an ACCSC team leader, a volunteer who visits ACCSC schools and conducts extensive evaluations of the school.

    “When he insisted that I become a team leader I said ‘Are you crazy,’” said Njie. “‘That would be so embarrassing. We’re always reporting. How can I go to another school?’”

    What seemed like a ridiculous assignment helped change BTC’s course.

    “He kept insisting, and I went to the commission in 2000 for training and the light bulb went on that day,” said Njie. “It was incredible because for the first time I really understood what the standards meant.”

    The experience as a team leader and her dedication to elevate BTC lead the school to being recognized as a School of Excellence in 2012 and then again for a second consecutive time in 2017.

    After Fife’s passing, Njie was motivated to run for a commission seat at the ACCSC, and she won.

    Njie assumed leadership of BTC when it had 19 infractions but leaves it as a School of Excellence with an overall graduation rate of 79 percent and an overall job placement rate of 85 percent as reported in BTC’s 2017 annual report to the ACCSC.

    In essence, Njie helped turn BTC around in the same way many of its students have turned their lives around when they attend classes at the school. There is no better example for BTC’s students than Njie’s energy, early mornings, late nights, and dedication for 37 years.

    “My legacy is that if you’re going to be here you have to be committed,” said Njie.

    Njie is currently spending her retirement still committed to education. She continues to volunteer as an ACCSC team leader. In addition, she is serving as president-elect on the board of University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Association.

    Valerie Njie at her retirement party with Manchester Bidwell Corporation staff in the dining hall. Photograph by Joel Mora.

  4. DMC Greenhouse: Locally Grown Artisan Poinsettias

    Poinsettia crop in the DMC Greenhouse. Photograph courtesy of Mark Wallace.

    The Drew Mathieson Center for Horticultural and Agricultural Technology (DMC) marks its eighth year producing locally grown Poinsettias for the winter holiday season. The DMC Poinsettia crop is one component of a rotating specialty crop schedule that includes Mother’s Day hardy hydrangea and an early summer perennial hibiscus crop.

    The 2018 DMC Poinsettia crop features over 2,200 plants and is a mix of traditional and unique varieties. The crop includes traditional six-inch and eight-inch Poinsettia in decorative pot covers and the DMC Greenhouse Signature Poinsettia topiaries.

    The DMC production team incorporates an artisan approach to all crops grown at the DMC Greenhouse. This skilled, hands-on traditional production approach begins with rooted Poinsettia cuttings that arrive in the greenhouse in early July. The production process continues throughout the next five months with daily cultural care techniques.

    The DMC Greenhouse 2018 Poinsettia crop will be available for retail purchase launching at the DMC Annual Open House event. Wholesale pre-ordering is underway and Poinsettia delivery will begin Monday, November 26th, 2018. DMC Poinsettias can be purchased as individual plants or in coordinated complementary arrangements. DMC plant products provide a high-quality and socially responsible distinction when used as corporate gifts, seasonal event decorations, or purchased in the retail market. Incorporating DMC plants into your life, throughout the year, supports the educational programs of the DMC and Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

    Poinsettia Care Tips

    1. Keep in temperatures between 65–70 degrees

    2. Keep moist but not in sitting water

    3. Sun can be provided

    4. Can be kept year-round with morning sun and water on a regular basis

    5. To re-flower keep the plant in absolute darkness from sundown to sunup every day from October 1
    until Thanksgiving

  5. First Replication Site Celebrates 15 Years

     

    Ceramics at Cincinnati Arts & Technology Studios.

    Cincinnati Arts & Technology Studios (CATS), has a lot to celebrate after being open for 15 years.

    CATS was the first replication of the Manchester Bidwell educational model, and has served over 4,000 Cincinnati students in its 15 years through five art studios and a workforce development program that fills a costly gap between the supports available in high school and the traditional workforce programs designed for adults.

    The success is in the numbers. Over 90 percent of CATS students graduate high school and 89 percent of their young adults continue in their same job at least one year later, and over $500 million has been saved by enabling students to graduate.

  6. New Center Opening in Erie, PA

    Erie Center for Arts and Technology (ECAT) will become the 13th replication of the Manchester Bidwell educational model when it opens its doors in 2019.

    In September ECAT announced its inception, introduced their board of directors, and announced that it’s commencing an immediate search for a full time executive director.

    ECAT is a community based educational arts and career training organization that inspires, educates, and empowers people of all ages with jobs training and creative youth programs.

    ECAT will operate a digital arts program for high school students and a medical assistant training program for adults. The executive director will help ECAT secure a final location, develop programs, hire a qualified staff, and ultimately create an unparalleled environment for inspiration, education, and empowerment. The hope is to introduce several new programs for students and adults in the coming years.

    In 2015, Erie Regional Chamber’s Growth Partnership Committee raised the funds to do an initial feasibility study for a better trained work force.
    ECAT’s Board of Directors has been meeting regularly, and they are excited to be so close to establishing this new community asset which they believe is a perfect fit for Erie. They are actively looking to partner with other like-minded community organizations and play their part in making Erie a stronger city for everyone who lives in it.

  7. Tragedy at the Tree of Life Congregation

    The inconceivable event that occurred on Saturday at the Tree of Life Congregation has left the Manchester Bidwell family heartbroken. The Jewish community in Squirrel Hill and around the world has been one of the biggest proponents of our mission of spreading art, beauty, and hope across the globe, and to see such a compassionate and altruistic community become victim of this senseless act of violence and terror is a source of great sorrow.

    We grieve for the victims and stand with those impacted.

    Sincerely,

    Kevin L. Jenkins,
    President and CEO
    William E. Strickland, Jr.,
    Founder and Executive Chairman
  8. Inspired by Innovation: Sam’s Story

    Samuel Hawkins, Bidwell graduate and owner and operator of Whitetail Landscaping
    & Snow Removal.

    Walking through the doors of the Drew Mathieson Center for Horticulture and Agriculture Technology (DMC) Greenhouse was a turning point for Samuel Hawkins. Sam had first heard about the programs available at no cost at Bidwell Training Center (BTC) when his father enrolled in the brick masonry courses at BTC many years prior to Sam’s visit to the greenhouse. Sparked by his lifelong interest in the environment, Sam enrolled in BTC’s horticulture technology major and spent the next eight months immersed in the courses and the 160-hour externship required to obtain a diploma in the program. As Sam worked with BTC’s instructors, he began to plan to open his own landscaping business upon graduation.

    He currently owns and operates Whitetail Landscaping & Snow Removal. Sam credits the instructors and the environment at BTC for inspiring him to make his dream of opening his own business a reality.

    “Not only did Bidwell teach me 100 percent of the horticulture knowledge it takes to run my company on a day-to-day basis, but it also gave me the needed connections that it takes to operate alongside other companies who have been around for decades in the community.”

    As Sam’s business continues to grow in the Pittsburgh area, it is easy to see the role his education at BTC played in the success of his company.

    “Sam is extremely hard working, reliable, and wonderful to collaborate with on my lawn projects,” said Laura Heberton-Schlomchik, a client of Whitetail Landscaping. “Bidwell Training Center does fantastic work training students for the workforce.”

    Sam now has a much different role at BTC. His company regularly hosts externs from the same program from which he graduated. He also is an active member of the Horticulture Technology Board of Advisors and attends many of the events held at BTC throughout the year. And significantly, Sam and his company have become donors to BTC.

    “Without all the generous individuals who donated prior to my education, I would not have had the opportunity that I was given,”said Sam. “Bidwell—in many ways—was a new beginning for me. If I can help another individual with their next opportunity, I will choose to do so every time.”

    You can find out more about Sam Hawkins’ landscaping and snow removal business at pghwhitetaillandscaping.com.

    Our fiscal year ends on June 30th. Making your donation on or before June 30th will help Manchester Bidwell Corporation continue to provide a place of hope and opportunity to students like Sam. Donate here.

  9. After 50 Years, Founder Bill Strickland Named Executive Chairman, Kevin Jenkins Named President and CEO

    Marking half a century of success, Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s (MBC) Board of Directors has named Bill Strickland Executive Chairman, elevating him to an expanded public-facing role focused on spreading the message and the model that has made MBC an internationally renowned career training and arts institution. He will focus on public speaking and stakeholder relations, fundraising, and extending the MBC model in other regions with additional partners. Strickland is himself something of an institution in the Pittsburgh region and beyond, having pioneered the concept of partnering with industry to establish career training curriculum and providing empowering educational environments for adults in transition and youth arts students—all in a North Side setting that motivates and inspires.

    With this transition, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Jenkins becomes President and CEO, poised to continue his partnership with Strickland as the organization advances, grows, and establishes its unique model in other cities. So far, MBC has launched 11 other centers around the world: Boston; Brockway, Pa.; Buffalo; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Grand Rapids, Mich.; New Haven, Conn.; San Francisco; Sharon, Pa.; and Akko, Israel with more centers signed on to open in other cities.

    “We’re celebrating 50 years of the outstanding work of an African-American-led organization in Pittsburgh that began during the riots and strife affecting Pittsburgh in 1968,” said Greg Jordan, chairman of the MBC Board. “This leadership transition is timely as we acknowledge the significance of Bill’s and MBC’s achievements and sharpen our focus on the future.”

    MBC houses a series of affiliate programs—MCG Youth & Arts, Bidwell Training Center (BTC), MCG Jazz, The Drew Mathieson Center for Horticultural and Agricultural Technology (DMC), and the National Centers for Art and Technology—that all operate under the same guiding principles: environment shapes behavior, people are assets not liabilities, and creativity fuels enterprise.

    Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) was established in 1968 as a way for Strickland—19 years old at the time—to serve his community following the chaos and violence that emerged from Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Originally located in an abandoned, drug halfway house on Buena Vista Street with a simple potter’s wheel and small photo studio, today—now known as MCG Youth & Arts—it offers ceramics, design, digital, and photography classes at no cost to Pittsburgh Public High School students. Ninety-eight percent of students who participate in MCG Youth & Arts graduate high school on time, compared to 80 percent of their PPS peers.

    BTC emerged from the same strife in 1968 on Bidwell Street to provide vocational training and employment opportunities. Originally the primary focus of training was in construction trades including carpentry, bricklaying, plumbing, and electrical wiring. In 1972, Strickland was hired to lead BTC and established the innovative approach of partnering with industry to provide career training for fields that are in demand, which today include medical assistant, laboratory technician, pharmacy technician, culinary arts, and horticulture technology among others. This is also at no cost to qualifying students. BTC has been recognized as an ACCSC School of Excellence two consecutive times in 2012 and 2017.

    Strickland’s idea was to create a unique learning environment that would serve the needs of the community and provide educational opportunities to anyone who aspired to achieve their dreams by becoming productive citizens. For half a century, tens of thousands of people have participated and benefitted from MBC’s affiliate programs.

    “We believe that our history of programs that started under impossible economic and social circumstances and were transformed into world-class arts and education organizations continues to serve as a powerful source of hope locally and internationally,” said Strickland. “It’s a challenge to describe how much it means to all of us at MBC to be part of half a century of making people whole by helping them find the skills and paths to become productive members of society.”

    Strickland expressed his enthusiasm for the MBC team that will manage the continued evolution of the organization.

    “We have built such a strong team here, and Kevin has the skills and vision to keep our momentum going as we expand our proven programs into other cities and regions,” Strickland said. “I’m looking forward to connecting with many more people to share our model, continue raising funds to drive it, and reach many more people who will benefit from MBC programs.”

    In his new role, Jenkins is focused on championing Strickland’s vision that he set out in 1968, undertaking the early leadership phase of a comprehensive campaign, and—as Strickland had done before him—adapting MBC’s tools, resources, and methods to continue to best serve those who are searching for ways to change their lives.

    “I am honored to follow in Bill’s footsteps and continue the mission of building empowering educational environments,” said Jenkins. “I’m excited about the innovative programs that we’re developing at MBC for a new generation.”

  10. Bill Strickland Honored at NCECA

    Bill Strickland speaking after receiving the NCECA Honorary Member of the Council
    award. Photo by Germaine Watkins.

    When the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) annual convention returned to Pittsburgh, they gave MBC President and CEO Bill Strickland their Honorary Member of the Council Award.

    Strickland received the award for his contributions to ceramic arts and his work is now recognized as essential to ceramic arts’ impact.

    This award comes as Manchester Bidwell Corporation celebrates its 50th anniversary, which all started with Strickland in 1968 with a lump of clay serving his community. Josh Green, NCECA executive director, presented Strickland with the award at the conference.

    “With this award we too connect Bill’s work with pottery of the ancients,” said Green during the award presentation.

    For Strickland, the award provided an opportunity to reinforce the idea that art is more than something to look at.

    “I know there is magic in clay,” said Strickland during the awards ceremony. “We can use this medium called clay to literally change the world.”

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