Special to the Stevens News Service
As the current state of American education continues to evolve and grow, today’s teachers, professors and students face more challenges than ever before. Twenty-first century students are tech-savvy, sophisticated, and willing to embrace advanced learning opportunities. Others are ambitiously seeking interesting business experiences and rewarding internship opportunities – even years before high school or college graduation.
While government and industry experts are presently exploring options to enhance elements of the education system to meet the competitive demands of the global market, Stevens Institute of Technology Alumna and education entrepreneur, Sandra Perilli (class of 2003) is implementing her own alternative solution – with impressive results.In an effort to find a worthwhile education enhancement program, Perilli has utilized her Master’s degree in Management Information Systems (with a concentration in Project Management), along with her distinctive business background to create her company, FolioFLY.Essentially, FolioFLY is an online resume and portfolio-development tool that helps students gain valuable working experience. By connecting schools, teachers and students with business professionals across industries, FolioFLY provides a forum for educators to identify actual business challenges that can be realistically integrated into daily learning activities.Perilli says, “I know that innovative teachers are already investing time trying to establish business connections to enhance lessons, so there’s an unquestionable need for a resource to help facilitate that process. An educator who teaches on that level is giving students the skills needed to transition into a competitive global economy, so communities should be participating and doing everything possible to assist.”
Connecting schools with businesses is not an entirely new concept, but this is the first website of its kind dedicated to providing a technology-driven solution to make that connection easier, with the intent of generating portfolio-building experiences right in the classroom. The final project results are then submitted for professional review and ranking, which can potentially lead to recommendations, internships, job considerations and even purchasing of students’ ideas.Registered FolioFLY members currently represent a cross section of students, high school teachers, college professors, and guidance counselors, along with companies seeking interns and job candidates. States presently represented are California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Vermont, Texas and Washington State.
Growing up in Oradell, New Jersey, Perilli now resides in Cherry Hill. She has global aspirations for FolioFLY and hopes to succeed in positioning the company as a viable option to help alleviate education-related taxes while developing their young talent. She says, “I am very optimistic that my unique long-term business objectives will be noticed by the Obama administration, as we continue to grow our student membership and attain our goals.”In addition to the enhanced classroom efforts of individual teachers, Perilli notes many schools throughout the U.S. already offer free (or low-fee) student business consultation services. Unfortunately, these companies must submit separate work requests to each school — a time-consuming task. Designed to streamline and accelerate this process, FolioFLY enables businesses one exclusive destination where they can reach a large group of qualified students.Just a quick glimpse of Perilli’s vision and extraordinary blend of solid business acumen shows why supporters agree that FolioFLY, which was conceived in early 2006 and officially launched in October 2008, is destined for large-scale success.
In fact, in 2007 Perilli’s patent-pending business method won first place and received statewide honors in the NJ Association of Women Business Owners SEED Grant Competition. She was recognized for her forward-thinking venture and awarded funding from The NJ Department of Community Affairs.Perilli’s diverse background is comprised of her own experiences working in public education as a teacher, along with her later management positions held in both small business and a major global corporation. She also spent nearly 20 years as a student herself, during which she earned three post-graduate degrees. These experiences afforded her the insight to envision, inspire, and design FolioFLY.Stevens Institute of Technology Professor Jerry Luftman sees Perilli as a creative entrepreneur. “She is smart, creative and talented. FolioFLY has the potential of catching on and becoming popular with universities all over the world.”
Luftman sees the FolioFLY concept as innovative and a natural progression to an internship.He says, “FolioFLY encourages students to fine-tune a balanced set of skills, and it is an excellent vehicle for companies, as well as students, to decide if they are essentially the right match. It certainly allows the students to make well-informed career choices.”Essentially, it is Perilli’s own personal combination of career choices and experiences that defines her ultimate company vision: To be recognized as an influential (or “disruptive”) innovation that connects young talent and companies. Some proponents believe that leveraging this type of crowd-sourcing within the classroom to prepare students for the real world isn’t too far-fetched, as FolioFLY’s business model is a blend of career sites like Monster.com — and open innovation models like Innocentive, which helps businesses tap external talent to find fresh perspectives and effectively solve problems.Perilli explains, “Now more than ever businesses must find the best talent for a job. They need to choose individuals who will keep their company moving ahead in this extremely tough economy. By using FolioFLY, companies won’t just be accessing resumes from generic job boards, but instead will literally identify, develop and gain access to top young talent ranked by industry peers.”
FolioFLY is a viable solution to address current educational gaps because it doesn’t require an intensive infrastructure change or even a major financial investment. It simply allows the means for innovative teachers willing to deviate from standard textbook practices and apply lesson concepts to real business challenges.
Not surprisingly, Perilli believes that there is a paradigm shift in today’s education system that must be addressed. “As a society, we need to critically look at our situation and realize teenagers are making money outside of school from the Internet.” She continued, “They’re designing Myspace pages, developing video games, writing software applications, creating online music and selling items on e-bay. They’re questioning the value of traditional schooling when their teacher hasn’t even heard of a podcast. We can’t continue to teach kids the same way we always have, while other countries that truly embrace technology are leaving us behind. It’s a serious situation.”
FolioFLY’s Role in Special EducationToday, even special education students are reaping the benefits from connecting with businesses in the classroom. In New Jersey, FolioFLY has partnered with Pennsauken High School’s Special Education Administration, and in Texas, FolioFLY has attracted the attention of the organization “Big Blue D.R.E.A.M.S. (Developing Real Employment and Management Skills).” Both groups focus on providing value-added real world experiences for special education students.Perilli says, “I’ve been incredibly privileged to associate with some amazing and innovative groups dedicated to improving the life skills of special education students. These forward-thinking individuals go out of their way to make learning meaningful and real, and are exactly the type of educator I see benefiting the most from FolioFLY.”In Morgan Schaeffer’s Pennsauken, NJ High School special education class, students are gaining experience through activities with a local company. Through Schaeffer’s own efforts, students have access to work opportunities and receive compensation for learning during classroom time. But she admits she does not always have the time or resources to continually reach out to companies, and FolioFLY has opened new doors for her students.
Schaeffer says, “FolioFLY has been extremely beneficial in so many ways, and most importantly has given my students more confidence and a real sense of accomplishment. By making the kids more marketable, FolioFLY has truly opened doors for us.”Currently, Perilli is actively seeking additional business opportunities for Pennsauken High School and other schools as well, especially to provide graduating seniors with skills such as stocking shelves, bagging merchandise, preparing food items, opening boxes and sorting and pricing inventory.Perilli says, “It was so inspiring to see first hand what Morgan was already doing in her classroom. This is the core of FolioFLY: to facilitate the process of teachers connecting with companies to allow real world learning — regardless of student ability level, location and personal circumstances.”In early 2009, Texas’ Big Blue D.R.E.A.M.S. Project Founder Sharron Stephenson contacted FolioFLY.
She wished to explore opportunities and expand the organization, which prepares special needs students (for life and the working world) at more than 77 school districts across central Texas. Perilli and Stephenson are discussing ways to enhance their existing efforts.
The Future of FolioFLYAs FolioFLY attracts more attention, Perilli is hoping today’s teachers will embrace the benefits of a centralized repository that facilitates and enhances school-to-business connections. She strongly feels that teachers should be encouraged to spend as much time as they can focusing on their students — and less time finding appropriate business partners.Future FolioFLY plans include offering personal accounts for students and teachers to track and generate resumes. Business professionals will also have the ability to view eligible resumes for a fee, including letters of recommendation and ratings submitted by industry peers.
Presently, Perilli is working diligently to augment FolioFLY while seeking additional funding to improve its functionality on a variety of levels, including overall website enhancement. She is interested in connecting with teachers, students and businesses everywhere.Website: http://www.foliofly.com/Email: firstname.lastname@example.org online: www.stevens.edu/press/cgi-bin/wordpress/?p=316view this article as a pdf