"We need teachers to close the gap. Commit to the employment pipeline. Tell me what you want these students to do and be so we can give them a chance at employment," explains Freda Fields.
Freda Fields is a native Memphian who grew up in Arlington and attended Bolton High School, where she teaches supply chain management courses. Before entering the education field, Fields received a basketball scholarship and attended the University of Memphis, where she completed a Bachelor's in Finance. Shortly afterward, she became a Graduate Assistant at the University of Memphis and completed a Master's in Athletic Administration. Fields worked as a Master Planner in supply chain management for about seven years.
With a strong background in athletics, Fields' experience as a top female athlete pushed her into education. She first began teaching elementary physical education, but when she started teaching high school business, she recognized that students needed mentors. "I felt comfortable around high school students, and I saw that my students needed help deciding what they wanted to do with their lives," explains Fields. "When they realized I was telling the truth about what they needed to prepare for, they gravitated."
Fields saw the externship program with the Greater Memphis Chamber as an opportunity to see what real corporate life looks like today. "I have been out of corporate for over twenty years," she says. "I wondered—is it the same skills needed today? Which it shouldn't be." Fields is one of many CTE teachers who understand that the necessary skills to succeed in today's workforce are ever-changing and evolving.
Fields completed her externship in supply chain management for Nike, the world's largest supplier and probably the most popular shoe brand out there. Because of the connection Fields had with Nike before her externship through a program called Starting Line, Fields already had a line of trust behind her. According to Fields, Starting Line is a relatively new program hosted by Nike, in which high school students are selected once a month and learn skills that prepare them for the workforce. Some of these skills include professionalism, conflict-resolution. The program is a year-long, and Fields feels proud to have been a part of that.
Fields explains that her role was similar to a consultant during her externship with Nike. Her background in supply chain management and her relationship with the company allowed her to have a voice and have it heard. "I even had a voice among some top management positions," she explains. Fields met and spoke with over twenty people in different departments and visited various facilities across Memphis. One facility took Fields through their training on the floor, and she could do the jobs that her students would do in the future.
When asked what she learned through her externship experience, Fields says that the biggest takeaway was how relevant her content was to what was happening at Nike. "I learned how close our state standards align with what people need at any corporation," Fields says. "Sometimes, as a teacher, you can't see the relevance with the workforce, and now I can make those direct connections." In addition to aligning standards and the workforce, Fields continues to foster her relationship with Nike. She plans to make field trips to Nike's facilities in Memphis and even get guest speakers to speak at her classroom and school.
"My goal is to ensure my kids' futures are secured when they leave me," explains Fields.
About Greater Memphis Chamber externships: The Greater Memphis Chamber's Memphis Teacher Externship Program is an annual paid summer externship opportunity designed to strengthen connections between local classrooms and companies. Teachers spend two weeks at companies directly related to their classroom subject matter to gain a better understanding of the skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce. Learn more at MemphisChamber.com/Externs.