Kevin Nolan, president and CEO of GE Appliances, is this year’s recipient of the Kelly Award for Business and Education Partnership from the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE). The award was announced at the KBE’s Oct. 7 regular meeting.
“We love to present this award because it gives us a chance to recognize how important it is for businesses and education to work together,” said KBE Chair Lu Young. “The partnership between GE and Jefferson County Public Schools is a tremendous benefit for our students, who will be GE’s future workforce. We thank Kevin Nolan and GE for being champions for the future of the Commonwealth.”
Nolan said it was a great honor to receive the award, but gave GE Appliances credit for the recognition.
“If you look at GE Appliances, we’ve always been very involved with education,” he said, adding it was nice to see the company’s commitment recognized by the state.
People need to build connections and support each other, especially during the isolation caused by COVID-19, he said.
“We’re not a passive business here. We always get very involved with our community and try to make this not only a good place to work, but to live,” Nolan said.
The award is named for Joseph W. Kelly, who served on the Kentucky Board of Education from 1989 to 1998, including seven years as chair.
Kelly was a business leader who was deeply involved in supporting Kentucky public education. The award in his name is given each fall to a Kentucky business or businessperson who has partnered with a public school or district to promote school improvement and student success.
As director of GE Appliances’ strategic community investments, Nolan formed a partnership with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) to help traditionally underserved students. That included joining the Academies of Louisville initiative at Doss High School, sponsoring the district’s summer Backpack League and funding a $50,000 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) lab at the new Grace M. James Academy of Excellence.
As part of GE Appliances’ Fall Community Project, company employees carried out renovation and beautification projects at schools in West Louisville. The company also donated dozens of appliances to JCPS for students to do laundry and to teach life skills to special education students.
The partnership with Doss included installing a $600,000 replica at the school of the GE Appliances Manufacturing Training Center, where students use math and science skills to set up engineering and manufacturing concepts and gather data to adjust those inputs to achieve optimal assembly processes. When students graduate, they also receive an industry certification.
Nolan said training for the skilled trades needs to come back into schools, and Doss High School was a good location for that.
“Some of our senior managers here are graduates of Doss, so there’s a long history between Doss and GE Appliances,” he said.
Sixty-two employees of GE Appliances mentor Doss students on college applications and job interview skills. More than 125 students are participating in the manufacturing pathway, and the school’s college and career readiness score has increased from 27% to almost 60%.
GE Appliances’ Louisville headquarters is where the company not only manufactures, but also designs and develops products, Nolan said.
“There’s a large need for that skill base in the workforce and as that skill base changes, we look to the education system,” he said.
Doss seniors in the manufacturing program work at GE Appliances on Mondays and Fridays for $14 an hour and earn $6,000 in tuition reimbursement. The four who graduated from the program in 2020 all are employed at GE Appliances and/or are using the tuition reimbursement to attend college.
Nolan said when he meets with participating students, it’s great to see their enthusiasm and hear their perspectives.
When students are working on the assembly line at GE Appliances, Nolan visits and talks to them.
GE Appliances also has invested $75,000 in JCPS’s Summer Backpack League, providing Chromebooks for teachers and students during the summer enrichment program. The computers are used at schools and in non-traditional instruction (NTI). The company also donated laptops for students who lacked them during NTI.
Through its Funds for the Arts donation, GE Appliances provides arts programs to JCPS students and invests in after-school and summer programs through the Lincoln Foundation, the Academy of Music Production Education and Development (AMPED) and the Boys and Girls Club.
In just the past two decades, GE Appliances has donated about $50 million to help provide equitable education access for all students in Jefferson County Public Schools. The company looks to see where it can help students the most.
Doss is one of those places, but not the only one. GE Appliances also just donated $50,000 to build a learning kitchen at W.E.B. DuBois Academy middle school, among other projects.