Tinh Tran likes to bring his science classes at University High School in Irvine, Calif., on field trips to local companies to get a firsthand look at how scientists and engineers spend their day. But even though these experiences are very powerful for students, they require time and money—and they’re hard to scale so that all students can participate.
A technology platform called Nepris helps solve this challenge. It’s a web-based service that connects students with career professionals through online video conferences.
Tran has used the platform to connect his students with career professionals without having to leave his classroom. In one recent session, he had his engineering students take a virtual tour of a Toyota manufacturing plant in Indiana, so they could see the design and manufacturing process up close.
“Nepris is a great platform for facilitating a connection between students and industry professionals,” he says. “It’s a cost-effective way of allowing students to visit different workplaces without having to physically go there.”
The Irvine Unified School District is part of an Orange County initiative, called OC Pathways, to connect all students to career-based experiences—not just those who follow a career and technical education (CTE) track in high school.
Career education “has to be systemic across school districts,” says Amy Kaufman, executive director of OC Pathways. “Students shouldn’t just be hearing about these pathways at career fairs, but at multiple points throughout the curriculum.”
Focusing on career pathways at an early age means students are less likely to “flounder” when they go off to college, says Patsy Janda, CTE coordinator for the Irvine Unified School District.
“Whether you’re going to major in English or engineering, you’re eventually going to start a career,” Janda says. “Knowing what jobs are available and what skills they require is going to benefit both students and employers.”
(Next page: Examples of student careers through Nepris; funding)
Funding Student Careers
Funded by a state grant, OC Pathways brings together educators and industry leaders to give all Orange County students career learning opportunities before they graduate from high school. All teachers in Orange County have access to Nepris through a Career Readiness Hub, which contains information about various career mentoring, internship, and job shadowing opportunities. The website is poised to serve 2,000 educators and up to 60,000 students in 2017-18.
“Nepris allows us to virtually connect students to business and industry partners from all over the country,” Kaufman says. “It also helps connect students with local career mentors and internships.”
At University High School, Tran is a CTE mentor in addition to teaching earth science and engineering design. He also leads a voluntary STEM program called UNI Technology & Engineering (UNITE), in which students work in teams on STEM-based projects and take part in robotics competitions.
As a CTE mentor, “my role is to encourage more teachers and students to engage in career education in some way,” he says.
The Power of CTE Mentors
Having CTE mentors in every middle and high school is one strategy that Irvine USD has employed to bring career education to every student, says Janda, who is her district’s liaison to OC Pathways. Irvine also holds frequent career workshops for its middle and high school teachers and guidance counselors, and the district has students take career inventories through Naviance, a college and career readiness platform, beginning in middle school.
“With the rise of factors such as automation and globalization, the job market for these students is going to be very challenging,” Tran says. “They need to be equipped with the skills, habits, and knowledge necessary to forge their own career path. Exposing students to career pathways at a young age gives them a head start.”
Fostering Real-World Learning
Connecting students with industry professionals not only helps set them up for future success; it also shows them the relevance of what they are learning.
In Maureen Foelkl’s classroom at Chapman Hill Elementary School in Salem, Oregon, second and third grade students designed solutions to seasonal flooding and erosion in their community with the help of actual engineers in the field.
In a project that won Foelkl the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, she invited civil engineers to talk with her students about these topics either in person or through online video conferences hosted by Nepris. Her students then designed and tested their own prototype structures for mitigating or withstanding a flood.
Foelkl, who is now an independent contractor writing STEM curriculum for several organizations, says her students were highly engaged throughout the project. Having outside experts speak with them “brought authenticity to the lesson,” she says. “My students asked questions that I could not begin to answer. No textbook I know can come close to interacting with students in that fashion.”
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