Vital Link was founded in response to a need indicated by national studies that America’s high school graduates must strengthen their skills to successfully compete in the global economy. Roger Johnson, President of Western Digital, along with faculty from UCI established Vital Link as a non-profit to integrate soft-skills training into the high school curriculum to better prepare young adults for the workforce. The curriculum was integrated into existing vocational training programs and offered as a zero-period class.
Kathy Johnson accepted the Executive Director position after serving on the Vital Link board for one year. Her leadership with the Home Builders Council and experiences in property management and the construction industry launched Vital Link in new directions that reinvigorate interests of career technical education at the district level.
Kathy adopted the model used in the Design-Build Competition developed by the Home Builders Council to launch Vital Link’s Career Exploration Programs which were developed to introduce students to real-world activities and professional role models, taking students out of the classroom and bringing them into the business world. This led to opportunities for students to experience mock surgeries held by Saddleback Memorial Hospital and Kaiser Permanente, productions of TV shows with PBS, and other interactive programs in a variety of industries.
Vital Link leveraged funding from United Way and developed Career Exploration Exhibits to respond to the overwhelming demand for the Career Exploration Programs. Vital Link - Career Technical Education O.C. (CTEoc) was established to create a regional delivery model for industry input that is required by the district for Career Technical Education classes.
In partnership with Professor McCarthy at UCI’s Samueli School of Engineering, Vital Link assisted in expanding the Energy Invitational (a college engineering competition) to include high school teams. The program uses the Performance Engineering model of ‘design-build-test-improve’ for innovation. This program represented a transformational shift in student expectations by allowing high school students to compete head-to-head with university-level students
In partnership with the OC Fair & Event Center’s Youth Expo, now known as Imaginology, Vital Link kicked off its first Career Exploration Expo, The STEM and the Arts Career Showcase. With over 36,000 sq. feet of space, Vital Link created an engaging and interactive three-day Career Exploration experience for students. This high-profile event elevates the awareness of Career Technical Education to students, parents, and the extended community.
Vital Link contributed to the management and curriculum development of the SunPower Solar Energy Academy. The academy enhances student learning experiences through real-world applications. Students work in collaborative teams to create a solar business and develop a residential solar proposal that is presented to an industry panel.
Vital Link partnered with The Orange County Department of Education’s Career Technical Education Partnership (CTEp) to produce the OCMaker Challenge. The program introduces middle school, high school and community college students to the world of engineering and design through the placement of 3D printers into the classrooms, a required element of the program.
Vital Link continued to build on past successes, implementing the Performance Engineering and academy models into programs in other industry sectors. Vital Link also developed additional soft skills curriculum and evolved the STEM and the Arts Showcase to the Student Leadership Conference. By the beginning of 2020 Vital Link was working with 30,000 Orange County students each year. At the end of 2019, Kathy Johnson, Vital Link's President, announced her retirement for a future date in early 2020 after 19 years of leading and innovating in the Career & Technical Education area in Orange County. In early 2020 the Vital Link Board of Directors announced the appointment of Dr. Brian Dozer as the new President of the organization. Ms. Johnson agreed to stay on during a transition. Dr. Dozer had served on the Vital Link Board of Directors since November 2017 and was Vice-Chairman from October 2018 until his appointment as the new President. Shortly after Dr. Dozer joined Vital Link, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. This disruptive event led to the cancellation or postponement of all Vital Link events for the duration of the school year. Vital Link's leadership and team immediately began work to convert all events to virtual events and platforms and that work continues today. The organization also began a focused program to hone its marketing and social media efforts in order to increase awareness, reach, and giving. Dr. Dozer stepped away as president at the end of 2021 to be the Superintendent of Coastline ROP.
Vital Link welcomes our new president, April Barnes in March 2022. The team expects to continue the virtual delivery of all of our exciting, innovative, and much-needed programs to the students of Orange County for the foreseeable future. The team is expanding its programs in neighboring counties and developing a strong alumni network for students who graduated from Vital Link experiential learning programs. Vital Link continues to seek new ways to engage students with potential careers by establishing new business partners, engaging with high-demand industries, and supporting industry-related curricula.