There’s a big difference between working at a job that you have to do and discovering a career that you love to do. Our goal as educators should be to help students pursue careers they’re passionate about by encouraging them to explore their interests–and by connecting them to career exploration and possible career paths that align with those interests.
At Chula Vista Elementary School District in California, we have formed partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to make instruction engaging and relevant, while exposing students to future career options at a young age.
Our career exploration efforts began a few years ago with a program called the Innovation Station, a partnership between the school district, the Chula Vista Public Library, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and other organizations. Inspired by Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™, the Innovation Station infuses a maker space and STEAM lab with a journey of self-discovery for students.
Located in the basement of the public library, the Innovation Station is accessible by the entire community. Sixth graders take field trips to the space, where they take an assessment that helps them identify their strengths, interests, and values. We use a framework called RIASEC, which categorizes students as some combination of Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, or Conventional.
Students then have an opportunity to explore which careers align with their particular interests. We introduce them to nearly 100 different careers available in our region, including the careers that are in high demand as indicated by data from the San Diego Workforce Partnership, as well as careers from local partners such as San Diego Gas & Electric and Sweetwater Authority. Students can explore these careers further by watching videos on Thrively.
The experience culminates in hands-on tinkering with electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science, and arts and crafts. Depending on their interests, students can learn to code, make a robotic device, or go wherever their imagination takes them.
Building on the success of the Innovation Station, we launched a second career-focused space—the Energy Station—in collaboration with San Diego Gas & Electric, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the National Electrical Contractors Association.
When students come to the Energy Station, they learn about the broad range of careers they can pursue in the clean energy industry, from electrical engineer to sustainability specialist. They also rotate through six stations of hands-on projects that align with the six RIASEC personality types. For instance, students might explore the Artistic theme by creating an energy-efficient home using Minecraft. In the Realistic theme, they might build a functioning electrical circuit to power a light. In the Investigative station, they might experiment with the angle of the blades in miniature wind turbines to see if they can make the blades spin faster to produce more energy.
In the process, students learn firsthand what kinds of tasks professionals in those fields work on every day—and they reflect on the types of careers they might like the best.
This career exploration is supported through traditional instruction as well. For instance, we use a platform called Achieve3000 to give students personalized instruction in nonfiction reading and writing that is precisely tailored to their Lexile reading level. With Achieve3000, students can also see what Lexile scores are required for the careers they might be interested in, which gives them goals to aim for.
When students realize they can use their strengths to excel in a career that has meaning for them, that’s a powerful learning moment. And such career exploration wouldn’t be possible without the partnerships we have forged with local employers and community organizations. Tapping the expertise of employers in the field helps bridge the gap between theory and practice, bringing exciting careers alive for students and giving them something to aspire to.