Her gig: Founder and chief executive of International Trade Education Programs Inc. of Glendale, a 10-year-old nonprofit that educates high school students about the maritime industry and encourages them to seek careers in trade, transportation, logistics and related professions.
Her methods: Rowen, 74, has used her connections from eight years as a harbor commissioner at the Port of Los Angeles to bring high-level executives into the classrooms of Banning High School in Wilmington to teach and share their work experiences.
Banning High School, named for Phineas Banning, one of the principal founders of the Port of Los Angeles, is the site of the organization's first modular academies. Classes are offered in global safety and security; maritime agriculture, tourism, cuisine and hospitality; and environmental sciences. Each academy has a special annual road trip, such as a week at the California Maritime Academy.
New efforts have been launched in high schools in San Pedro, Carson and Barstow.
Her recognition: The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce awarded her the Stanley T. Olafson Bronze Plaque in May. The award is given each year "to an outstanding member of the world trade community in Southern California who has contributed above and beyond his or her job requirements throughout a long career in international trade."
Her inspiration: Like many Angelenos, she had largely ignored the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach until 1993, when then-Mayor Richard Riordan tapped her to join the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. She served for eight years, which included a stint as the board's vice president.
Rowen had an epiphany on her first visit. "I finally realized why they called the 110 the Harbor Freeway," she said.
Seeing the 7,500-acre complex, which is the nation's busiest container port, for the first time "was a real 'wow' moment. One of the most thrilling things is to come over the rise of the freeway and see all of those cranes operating. It was so impressive, so important and so vital, and I was lucky to be part of it."
Her surprise: Young people were growing up within throwing distance of the busy port complex without ever learning about it or the number of jobs created by trade.
"They knew about stevedoring," Rowen said, referring to the loading and unloading of cargo in a port. "They didn't know that the port was a business and that you run one with the same kind of structure as any business, through a wide range of careers."
Her goal: "We wanted to develop work-ready, college-prepared students. The graduation rate at Banning was 37 to 41%. It was a high-gang-involvement, low-income community. If these young people could be introduced to real people in real careers, we felt they would be motivated to stay in school," Rowen said.
The graduation rate for ITEP students is more than 80%.
Her background: Rowen obtained an undergraduate degree and a master's in business administration from UCLA. She has held more jobs and consultant positions than she can remember. Among them: director of public relations for the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center from 1979 to 1981, director of marketing for Pacific Southwest Growers in Northridge from 1983 to 1986, and retirement planning consultant and certified planning consultant for Price, Raffel & Browne from 1986 to 2001.
"I have been an itinerant. People always asked, 'When is she going to figure out what she wants to do?' But I could not be happier with all of the jobs that I have done. Because there are so many wonderful things to try."
Her message: "Teachers will do a fabulous job when given the opportunity to work with industry. I would put our faculty at Banning up against any private school. They are dedicated. They work hard, and they want these youngsters to succeed."
Her reward: Seeing her students say 'no' to gangs, graduate and find good jobs. "One of them is taking the law school admissions test. Another got a job as an analyst on Wall Street. I got a letter from one who graduated from USC. He said it was because of all that we did at Banning. How good is that? Tell me something that's better than that."