Career Connected Learning Together: Linking Young People to Engaging Careers in their Communities

article written by Andy Shouse, Chief Program Officer, Washington STEM

 

“I love electricity, and I want to be a lineman. That’s all I’ve been thinking about, and I know it’s the career for me.”

 “I have no idea what I want to do.  But I figured learning about careers was better than doing nothing all summer.”

“I always loved building things at home.  Engineering is a way to do that.”

These are just a few of the reasons Spokane-area youth gave for why they are participating in career connected learning programs this summer. Their thoughts capture some of challenges and opportunities inherent in efforts to prepare all young people to thrive in the STEM-centered economy of Washington. While some students are ready to be fast-tracked into careers, others need broad exposure to a range of careers to pique their interest.  But whatever a student’s circumstance and motivation, it is clear they need mentors and support to find their way.

The Washington STEM team had the good fortune to meet dozens of students, industry mentors, and other community leaders during our visit to the GSI-based Spokane STEM Network in early July. Spokane STEM is one of 10 regional networks in Washington.  Washington STEM and Spokane STEM work together to increase access to STEM education and careers for students furthest from opportunity by engaging schools, business, government, and other stakeholders to drive innovation and improvements in STEM teaching and learning at a systems level.

The site visit featured a visit to Wagstaff’s Production and Manufacturing Academy, a 4-week program serving high schoolers throughout the region.  Twenty students, working in teams of 5 under the supervision of a Wagstaff engineer, are designing, building, and bringing to market a product of their own making. As they design, prototype, and fabricate their products, the students will visit several manufacturing and engineering companies in the valley and work with their staff to gain the knowledge they need for a successful product launch.  Because the project runs a full design-to-market lifespan, it provides students a wide range of opportunities to learn first-hand about STEM careers in their backyard.

We also visited Business AfterSchool, a career connected learning experience facilitated by GSI and Spokane STEM. This particular experience was hosted by The Inland Northwest Association of General Contractors where more than 30 high schoolers were working with construction industry professionals in a two hour workshop to explore careers in construction. We watched as students’ eyes widened when instructors described the range of high wage jobs in the trades. Throughout the three-week session students will develop new skills which, for some, will be the early steps in a long, rewarding career.  And, as the instructors emphasized throughout the day, they expect that all of the students—whether they enter the industry or not—will develop self-confidence.

These are just a few highlights of the exciting STEM education work in the region where Spokane STEM and their partners are expanding access to STEM from cradle to career.  With a deeper knowledge of career connected learning efforts in Spokane, the Washington STEM team left better equipped to support and spread innovative on-the-ground solutions like these across the state and to advocate for support so that students across Washington can have similar experiences.  Thanks for the invitation.  We can’t wait to return!