Collaboration: Key to Encouraging Workforce Development through Higher Ed

By Estelle R. Brown

Geauga County is a vibrant community in a rural setting where traditional farm silos are as common a sight as are progressive manufacturing companies and educational institutions. While silos are effective in preventing different grains from mixing on the farm, the Silo Effect within communities can prevent expertise and information from flowing among key assets. 

Removing silos fosters innovation and increases productivity by unlocking the resources needed for collaboration. This is why the three-pronged partnership among Kent State University at Geauga, Great Lakes Cheese (GLC), and the Geauga Growth Partnership (GGP) is such an inspiring model of cooperation, innovation, higher education, workforce development, and quality of life throughout the region.



Great Lakes Cheese, in partnership with GGP and Kent State Geauga, initiated two educational programs in early 2021, explains Nicole Crews, Sr. Manager of Organization & Talent Management at GLC. These workshops, taught by Kent State Geauga faculty and facilitated by GGP, “specifically targeted learning and development of our manufacturing or leadership employees in Excel knowledge and front-line leader development,” she says. 

Both GLC programs have a multi-state reach, as they are virtual learning experiences with participants in Wisconsin, New York, Tennessee and Utah, as well as Ohio. While Great Lakes Cheese is headquartered in nearby Hiram, it has more than 3,500 employees in five states. A growing company, Crews says that GLC’s next expansion will be in Abilene, Texas. 

She went on to say that the educational programs met two objectives among GLC employees: continuous learning and challenging the status quo. “Our employees value learning and in order to meet the increased demand and interest in developing themselves, Excel classes were the first opportunity for voluntary enrichment classes requested by GLC employees.”

On the other hand, the Front-Line Leader Speaker series, developed and taught by Kent State Geauga faculty, consists of four 90-minute virtual sessions focusing on Building & Maintaining Curiosity (two workshops), Learning from Feedback, and Taking Initiative for Positive Change. GLC employees participating in the Front-Line Leader Speaker series were selected, based on recommendations from GLC management.

Crews says, “This experience is both for learning development and challenging the status quo where ‘what is leadership?’ and ‘what type of leader can you be?’ are key to the success of this new program.

“It was important to me to provide learning experiences that were relevant and specific to the needs of our employees’ given focus groups, requests, knowledge bench strength, as well as supporting business continuity as we continue to grow,” Crews explains.



Geauga Growth Partnership serves as a program facilitator and liaison between GLC and Kent State Geauga. GGP was established in 2008 as a private economic development nonprofit partnership to help Geauga businesses thrive. It works to enhance the economic climate in Geauga County by attracting new business, supporting existing businesses, and preparing the workforce of the future.

Monica Bricker-Thompson, GGP Director of Programs, says, “GGP serves as a private-public partnership of which Kent State Geauga is an active member. GGP has coordinated workforce development trainings with Kent State Geauga for the last six years, which has resulted in more than 400 employees from local companies receiving training. GGP strives to work with community partners to meet the demands of businesses and strengthen their workforce.” 

Bricker-Thompson further explains that workforce development trainings are available as open enrollment from different companies or are customized for a company at the workplace. 

“We are proud to continue this service and excited to see new trainings as well as virtual opportunities being developed with Great Lakes Cheese facilities across the country,” she says.



Susan Emens, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at Kent State Geauga, stresses that the scope of educational opportunities being offered by the university reaches beyond workforce development. 

“We are partners in education and training. We provide professional development and educational opportunities for employees; not technical training as much as educational opportunity,” Emens clarifies. 

The courses Kent State Geauga provides can spark employees’ imaginations in such a way that individuals become inquisitive and consider the what-ifs… envisioning new possibilities in the workplace, Emens says. Kent State Geauga is uniquely positioned to channel these new ideas along pathways of leadership development, technical certification, and degree programs that strengthen the workforce.

Megan Krippel, Enrollment Management & Student Services Director II at Kent State Geauga, says, “Our goal is to serve as primary higher education partner in areas of staff training, along with GLC’s employee tuition program, building a strong initial skills foundation before individuals take university-level classes for credit. As the only public institution of higher education in Geauga County, we provide higher education opportunities for their rapidly growing workforce.”

Emens adds, “We hope to continue to build new educational pathways for GLC employees.  How can we meet you where your employees are and help to get them where you want them to be in terms of retention and development plans? We are here to serve our community. Ultimately, it’s about working collaboratively with employers in the workforce to help them reach their goals.”

Now that this educational opportunity has been launched with Great Lakes Cheese, Kent State Geauga wants other businesses and organizations in the county to consider engaging in this type of collaboration to supplement and improve employees’ work performance. This enrichment offers a taste of what it would be like if employees were to enroll at Kent State Geauga and pursue a college education.

“Everybody is very intertwined in the business community and the growth partnership effort,” Emens says. “So we work with one another, finding ways to complement and enhance our offerings, working toward the same goal, using our different functions. Ideally, if another organization is interested in this flavor of offerings, we could tailor it to them.” 

“This highlights what we can do for our business community as an educational partner,” Krippel agrees. “We have enrichment opportunities, certificate options, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees in related fields for employees. Whatever pathway you want to put your employees on, we are a local educational resource for you, part of the same community. We can better the community as a result of our collaboration and our faculty engagement.”

Silos are effective on the farm. But in the area of workforce development, removing silos fosters innovation and increases productivity by unlocking the resources needed for collaboration. For more information on how to engage your workforce in enrichment courses that tap their potential, contact Megan Krippel at


Geauga News
Author: Geauga News