Panel: Business leaders should embrace academe — and vice versa

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Keynote speaker Howard Stoeckel, ’67, speaks at the event “Strengthening New Jersey’s Future: Advancing the Partnership Between Business and Higher Education” on March 10. The event included a panel discussion on the importance of strong ties between businesses and universities.

By Johanna Blume and Thomas Regan

Bettering the link between business and higher education creates successful paths for both students and corporations, according to speakers at the event, “Strengthening New Jersey’s Future: Advancing the Partnership Between Business and Higher Education.”

Rider hosted the event on March 10, which began with a speech from keynote speaker Howard Stoeckel ’67, the former chief executive officer of Wawa.

He explained the importance of higher education in maintaining an evolving company.

“Partnership relationships challenge one another,” he said. “Young people have a broad view. They’re not locked in; they can see the big idea. You have to get out of your office, serve on the board of academic institutions and be a learning leader day in and day out.”

Stoeckel believes his Rider education gave him the foundation to become a successful leader in the business world.

“Rider gave me confidence. I was not a scholar; I was very average. I was given a good skill set, but I probably didn’t recognize it at the time,” he said. It wasn’t until he decided to “seize windows of opportunities” that Rider helped develop his confidence and apply it to the business world.

The event also incorporated a panel that included Tom Bracken, president of New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce; Peter Crowley, president of Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce; Robert Prunetti, president of MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce, and the executive vice president of Comcast Corp., David Cohen.

Panelists said that the partnerships between higher education and business will supply both parties with benefits, such as credible educational programs and plentiful occupational opportunities.

“New Jersey universities want to maintain students. Businesses want to hire those students,” said Bracken. “The best way is to form research opportunities and internships which will help the feeding ground for future employment. It’s a natural progression.”

Prunetti added that it’s not only in the universities’ best interest to provide programs through partnerships, but that higher education plays a role in providing for the companies.

“Being able to supply the labor force by having the ability to attract top labor force to companies is something that companies look at when forming partnerships,” said Prunetti. “The university plays a role in economic development in business and the business grows the university.”

However, New Jersey does not have a strong link between higher education and its businesses. According to Prunetti, it is a problem that, if fixed, can have numerous economic benefits for the surrounding areas.

“Universities need to accept their roles in the economic development of business and how business grows the universities; it improves the quality of life in the region,” said Prunetti. “We can live comfortably in the community in which we work.”

The ultimate goal is a three-way mission that will benefit universities, businesses and students.

“Students stay here, become key in the work force, then they give back to the university they went to,” said Bracken.

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