Sabrina Kay came to America from South Korea as a teenager, learned English as part of an 18-unit college load while working at her parents’ fashion retail stores and raising her daughter as a single mom. She started California Design College (now the Art Institute of California) in her 20s, sold it in her 30s with enough money to retire, founded a variety of new businesses, sold those and earned enough money to become a philanthropist. She joined the YPO Bel Air Chapter in 2000. Amidst all of her successes, she discovered that what she really wanted to do was teach.
After completing her doctorate degree in work-based learning leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, Kay developed a model of teaching based on Wharton’s elite professional education model, but with a different focus: undergraduates. By connecting employers’ needs with the classroom curriculum and focusing on pre-employment training, Kay’s plan was to enhance corporate training efficiency and students’ social mobility and career opportunities. She soon found her ideal laboratory in the form of Fremont College in Los Angeles.
“Fremont College is an evolving laboratory with the goal of implementing a new collaborative and experiential learning model delivered via blended learning and the latest technology and analytics. Most companies are not educational institutions. That’s not their business, but most companies need just-in-time education as the industry changes,” says Kay, who became its CEO in 2007.
Kay’s biggest dream is pre-employment training for corporations. “Corporate America spends US$170 billion a year training its employees while our colleges and universities spend US$500 billion educating graduates,” she says.
By designing the curriculum according to employers’ needs, Kay strongly believes it’s possible to produce the most effective higher-education system in the world. Currently, the United States K-12 educational system is ranked 25 out of 30 among developed countries. In a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. adults scored far below average and better than only two of 12 other developed comparison countries, Italy and Spain.
“For the past 20 years, these students who received the third-world education grew up, and they are now leading our economy,” says Kay. “Our institutions and corporate training programs must join forces to make an impact on learning.”
“The knowledge in human capital is the most important competitive edge in today’s marketplace. For instance, in our digital media strategy program, if Google releases a new version of AdWords, we can remove an outdated PPC course and launch an updated one in a matter of weeks, not years. As a result, we provide the most employer-relevant content for any industry at any given time. We have a team of instructional designers that can work with various corporate training programs for any sector and get the learning off the ground as long as the employer is willing to hire more than 500 graduates every year continuously.”
YPO members understand the importance of education and the excitement generated by learning and dedicate themselves to becoming better leaders through education and idea exchange. From Global EDGE to the Harvard Presidents’ Program to the plethora of engaging and adventurous events around the globe, members are on a perpetual quest to expand their minds and learn new ways to help create a better world. Fremont College provides this opportunity to YPO and WPO member-company employees and saves tremendous expenses by proposing it as pre-employment training.
“My mission in life is to teach the world. And the mission of Fremont College is to help students discover their passion and talent regardless of age, and to understand that giving back to the community and making this world a more beautiful place ought to be one of their goals in life.”
Kay founded the Sabrina Kay Charitable Foundation in 2002 and has been serving as chairman of After-School All-Stars Los Angeles, a youth organization founded by former California State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that gives middle-school students a place to go between the crucial hours of 3-6 p.m., when they are often tempted by the lure of the streets.
Kay also supports International Medical Corps as its leadership council member, an organization that has provided aid to more than 50 countries, led by Nancy Aossey, who joined the YPO Los Angeles Chapter in 1997. International Medical Corps was an important presence in the rebuilding of Indonesia after the tsunami, the distribution of food and water to victims of the earthquake in Haiti and the treating of cholera in Eastern Congo. For Kay, working with International Medical Corps has also helped satisfy a very personal quest to help the U.S. remain an icon of freedom and democracy.
Additionally, Kay serves on various charitable and civic organizations, such as Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, The Kitchen Community, and California Fashion Association.
One would be hard-pressed to find a better-equipped person out there than Sabrina Kay, who has walked the walk and (learned to) talk the talk, to create a resilient, successful generation of young business leaders.
“Since I couldn’t speak English, I learned to listen more carefully. Because I was a poor single mom, fearful of not being able to provide for my daughter, I started a business and achieved success. Because I had to support my parents, they lived with me and became role models for my daughter. Adversity is just an opportunity that has not realized its full potential.”