COVENTRY — Business  and agency leaders from around the state convened Wednesday morning in the Knotty Oak Room, where they were recognized for their work as mentors to the students of the Regional Career and Technical Center.  

Lori Ferguson, director of Coventry’s career center, kicked off the annual event by touting the important roles those gathered have played in students’ education. 

“Just your mentorship, your knowledge, to students is really important,” Ferguson said, as those in attendance enjoyed coffee and breakfast foods. 

“It’s so important for students, before they leave high school, to have an idea about what they want to do and where they want to go,” she continued. “Not only do we want to prepare students for college, we want to make sure that, if they go to college, they are going in a field they really want to [study].”

And for students who choose not to attend college, Ferguson added, it’s important they understand that there are jobs available that offer on-the-job training and that “they can start on a very successful path.”

“We all know with welding, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, we really don’t have to have a college education to be very successful in those trades,” she continued. “We want to prepare our students to do whatever it is they want to do.”

Among the business leaders in attendance Wednesday was local designer and Coventry native Zack Deus.

A 2012 graduate of Coventry High School, Deus and a friend founded a clothing brand called Sosico while they were still in high school.

“So before they went across the stage at the Ryan Center, they were already earning an income with their clothing line,” Ferguson said. 

Deus still runs Sosico today, but lately has had help from another soon-to-be Coventry alumnus. 

“My hands are pretty full,” said Deus, who, in addition to working for another clothing brand called Ethik, on Monday opened a Sosico store in Providence. “Having Devlin come on board was definitely a big help.”

Devlin Andrews, a CHS senior with a passion for marketing, has been lending a hand on the marketing and public relations end of Deus’ business.  

“I really discovered my love for marketing through my internship at Sosico,” said Andrews, who plans to study marketing at Bryant University in the fall. 

As a high school student, Andrews said he’d found it difficult to explore his interest in the marketing field.

“I really want to break down how important this internship] was,” Andrews said. “I knew I wanted to do marketing but I didn’t know what that meant. Zack really broke down for me the different parts of marketing, gave me exposure to all of his network.”

Andrews became so inspired, in fact, that he’s actually opened his own marketing firm.  

“That real-world experience is something you just can’t get anywhere else,” Andrews continued.

Guests also heard Wednesday from Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future, about the work her organization is doing. 

Established by Gov. Gina Raimondo around three years ago, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future is on a mission to “help unemployed and underemployed Rhode Islanders get back to work,” Pande said. 

Nora Crowley, interim executive director at the Rhode Island Governor’s Workforce Board, also spoke for a few minutes. 

Made up of 23 members, the workforce board was created “to provide a unified direction for Rhode Island’s comprehensive workforce development system,” according to its website.

“I want to echo [Ferguson’s] appreciation for all of you for your current involvement here in Coventry,” Crowley said, “or, if you’re new to this conversation, we appreciate your interest in supporting student development.”

Supporting students as they discover and hone their interests is, after all, what it’s all about. 

“The other day, we had a judge come in for our criminal justice students,” Ferguson recalled. “He invited 25 students down to his courtroom, and when they came out of there they were so motivated and inspired — that’s what we hope to do. Light that passion for students.”

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