Sydney Lewis Sydney Lewis
Associate Manager, Communications


November 16, 2023


Kelly Fuller has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between K-12 education and career through the championing of lifelong learning. Through her work as Vice President of Talent & Workforce Development at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Kelly champions lifelong learning to strengthen and grow talent pipelines to support economic development and growth leveraging her background in education.

At the recommendation of a colleague, Kelly embarked on her path to become a Business Leads Fellow with the goal of combining her institutional knowledge of education with the business community and the need to expand and strengthen talent pipelines through the work of the Columbus Chamber. The Business Leads Fellowship Program, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, equips business leaders with resources and training to improve the connection between education systems, students, and workforce opportunities in their communities through workshops covering education and workforce topics.  As a Fellow, Kelly was able to connect with a network of peers and develop relationships to work collaboratively, building on best practices from other chamber professionals.

Kelly’s transition from education to business was fueled primarily by an acknowledgement early in her career of a twofold issue: the disconnect between what is taught in schools and the application of those skills in a business environment.

“There are great ideas. Everyone is well intentioned in the education space, as well as the business space, but they just don’t really have a good way of creating a dialogue or bridge to one another,” she notes.

This gap, Kelly says, causes a lack of understanding, prompting innovation from business leaders to  bridge the gap through creation of solid talent pipelines by fostering meaningful experiences for educators, students, as well as employers and business. The Business Leads Fellowship Program brought Kelly closer with her peers, opening a new door as to what it means to be a chamber professional and how professionals can connect and collaborate for the betterment of their communities. From Facebook groups to check-in phone calls on strategy, the program has allowed Kelly to connect with not only her peers, but expand relationships with chambers across the country, sharing resources, tools, and experiences.

“I believe in lifelong learning, and I also believe in trying to be a model for others as well. Being in a group of fellows, you’re constantly looking at others as setting the standard and others as doing best practices,” says Kelly. “Then you realize, hey, I'm in this group, too, right? So l’m doing some cool things as well, so there’s some validation and inspiration.”

Kelly found her cohort visits to schools in San Francisco and New Orleans as real-life application of solutions to the issues she’d identified earlier in her career. The trip, to her, signified the business and education communities coming together to discuss how they can better improve talent pipelines by focusing on the careers of now and preparing for the careers of the future , and engaging with students, families, and teachers on how they can leverage transferrable skills.

Earlier this year, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce launched a new pilot called the Educator Workforce Boot Camp. The pilot program partners with a local education center to create a five-day immersive experience looking at the healthcare, construction, and manufacturing industries. Employers within the chamber hosted educators, teachers, guidance counselors, and principals for a week in the summer to explore new career paths and empower their students to also do so with confidence. From this experience, teachers were then tasked with putting together a lesson plan showcasing the connections between business and the classroom. The teachers were also able to bolster their own professional development through providing Continuing Educations Units (CEUs) at the completion of the program creating a win-win knowledge sharing scenario for both teachers and students.

“It’s a win for them [teachers] that they are getting this new knowledge and it’s a win for the students that they are going to take it to them, which eventually the businesses will be the beneficiaries as well,” says Kelly.

Looking to the future, Kelly emphasizes the power of lifelong learning and how to embrace change. As the city of Columbus grows economically welcoming new businesses and residents, Kelly notes that advocating for underrepresented populations is key to building a strong workforce and community. From second chance opportunities, focusing on aging populations, or emerging talents with varying abilities, the Columbus Chamber and Kelly Fuller are dedicated to bringing communities and businesses together to create safe, mindful, and inclusive workplaces for all.

Learn more about the U.S. Chamber Foundation's Business Leads Fellowship Program.

About the authors

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis

Sydney Lewis is associate communications manager for education, workforce and corporate citizenship at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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