The dignitaries were all there Monday for First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to Rolling Meadows High School. But it was the students who engaged her, especially sophomore Kate Foley, who sat next to her during a round table discussion.
Kate is in the Pathways to Careers Program that explores Science, Engineering and Mathematics, and while she said she enjoyed the hands-on activities with the large scale machines and robots in the school, it’s the projects that she finds fascinating. One that she described was the “egg drop challenge,” in which students had to build a protective container for an egg.
“Did your egg survive the drop,” Dr. Biden eagerly asked her.
“Yes,” Kate said emphatically, drawing a big laugh from the crowd and Dr. Biden.
“My teachers have greatly informed my learning and interest through the projects we do,” Kate said. “I realize that these are small projects, but small projects can lead to bigger projects in the future.”
The First Lady was in Illinois to kick off National Apprentice Week and to highlight the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthening the economy. She described building pathways to well paying jobs through career-connected learning, apprenticeships and community colleges, as being critical.
“As a community college professor, I know how badly we need this,” Dr. Biden said. “It’s all about jobs and preparing students for job-readiness.”
Kate was the lone student representative to have a seat at the table, which was really a large drafting table in one of the engineering labs at the school. Surrounding her were the Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo; Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh; and Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona; as well as Dr. Laz Lopez, Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, in Northwest Suburban High School District 214; and Dr. Michelé Smith, Vice President of Workforce Solutions, Harper College.
Wearing a blazer over her pink Rolling Meadows T-shirt, Kate was poised and polished as she addressed these dignitaries and the extensive press corps seated just beyond the table.
“I always liked Legos and building things and seeing how they worked,” Kate explained, before describing what her career pathway might look like.
“My mother is a three-time cancer survivor and I’ve seen the treatments she’s been through,” she said. “She’s been so down, it’s been so hard. I’m thinking about biomedical engineering. There’s got to be a better way.”
Dr. Biden looked moved, saying “I totally understand. This is from the heart.”
Another dignitary who was moved by Kate’s remarks — and District 214’s commitment to career-connected learning — was the U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.
“I’m just taking this all in,” Cardona said. “If I could bottle this all up and spread it across the country, we’d have a better country.”