Valerie Njie Brings Excellence to Education and Workforce Development

Education has always been a cornerstone of Valerie Njie's path, from her commitment to her own education as a young person to the moment her mother handed her the phone in June 1968 to speak with a University of Pittsburgh representative who wanted to schedule an admittance interview with her, making her a first-generation college student.

Born and raised in Homestead, Njie earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1971 from the University of Pittsburgh. She was accepted to Pitt as part of Project A, a university program which aimed to increase enrollment of students of color and came full circle 50 years later, returning to the University as President of the Pitt Alumni Association.

"Even today people say I run around too much. I need to learn how to say no. But I guess I've been doing that all my life, starting as a young person in high school," said Njie, who attributed her work ethic to her father, a highly regarded appliance repairman and salesman who provided opportunities for Black and poor community members to purchase appliances, despite being unable to get lines of credit.

She went on to receive a master's degree in management/human resource development from the University of Utah. Despite being homesick, she learned valuable lessons there about workforce development which she would carry with her through her career.

In 1981, she joined Bill Strickland and Jesse W. Fife Jr. as senior counselor at Bidwell Training Center, a nonprofit nationally accredited post-secondary "School of Excellence" that changes the lives of adults in transition – free of cost.

She would go on to be promoted to executive director and senior vice president. Her leadership of the school received two consecutive School of Excellence awards from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) in 2012 and 2017.

"It wasn't very fulfilling those first few years because I was always aiming at excellence. But three years after I got there, Bill Strickland was able to get an IBM program at our school, a partnership where they would go into impoverished areas, donate the equipment, and teach," said Njie, noting that Bidwell was one of 39 schools chosen for the program.

She would become an ACCSC team leader, thoroughly reviewing almost 100 other schools and guiding them to accreditation.

As a result of her active volunteerism and commitment, in 2013 she was named the first African American ACCSC School Commissioner, overseeing over 700 post-secondary, trade, and technical schools that provide education to over 150,000 students. She remembers those times as hectic but fulfilling as she was able to translate the lessons learned from Bidwell and apply them to other programs to help them thrive.

In 2018, Val retired as the Executive Director/Vice-President of the Bidwell Training Center, a state licensed, accredited career training institution that has trained and placed thousands of graduates in meaningful jobs throughout the region since 1968.

"My heart is in workforce development because there are jobs out there, and I just wished that high schools would do a better job making that connection. I think we're really doing students disservice," Njie said. "I think we lose so many students early on by making them feel that college is the barometer for success."

She was awarded the New Pittsburgh Courier's Fifty Women of Distinction Award in 2003 and 2006, the WQED TV/Duquense Light African American Leadership Award for Education in 2009, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Mothers of Distinction Award. The City of Pittsburgh proclaimed October 9, 2018, Valerie Njie Day.

A long-time friend of the Foundation, Njie serves on Jewish Healthcare Foundation's (JHF) Board of Trustees and the Women's Health Activist Network (WHAMglobal) Board, aligning her passion for education and workforce development with the Foundation's.

Njie said she admires the commitment of JHF President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD and COO Nancy Zionts, MBA to look around the world for best workforce practices to bring them back to the United States to make healthcare careers more sustainable and fulfilling.

"With Karen at the helm, there's always work towards progress. Things aren't stagnant. She's always forward thinking. It's not just about funding, but what is really going to improve the community," Njie said. "They could do well having someone like Karen as the Secretary of Health, that might help us because the solutions are out there." 

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