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This spring Barstow Community College is launching a new Career Academy that will offer free Career Technical Education courses to pre-college students. These courses include orientation, English, constructive quantitative math, automotive and diesel technology, welding, electrical technology, photography, and child development. One hundred thirty five students have enrolled thus far.
I spoke with Sandi Thomas, the Director of the new Academy to find out more about it.
What is your role now at the Community College?
My current position at Barstow Community College (BCC) is the Director of Career Technical Education, and I was given the opportunity to serve as Interim VP of Student Services last spring. Prior to working at BCC, I taught Vocational Education in the K-12 system and was a Career Tech for many years. During this time I recognized the need for students to engage in what interests them and how they are able to see the relevance between Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and real world jobs. I believe that all students should have the opportunity to experience career exploration leading to a career that fits their interests. Outside of education I am a local business owner of 25 years, which gives me hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and business management, and I employ 20 people. I also have a Master’s Degree in Human Services with an emphasis in Counseling.
I hear the new Career Academy is your idea. What inspired it?
My inspiration came from working in the K-12 system and recognizing a need to introduce students to vocational and educational programs at an earlier age. I have witnessed this first hand in running our Annual CTE Summer Youth Program for going on the fifth year this summer. Seeing the students engaging in this program, which deals with vocational areas and STEM was a large inspiration to begin the Career Academies Program. Also, working with our contract training programs and seeing a need for a skilled workforce contributed to providing students an outlet to explore different career and education options at an earlier age to continue into higher education or enter into the workforce with a well-developed career path.
Who is the Academy for? What is your target audience?
The target audience for this program was 6th- 12th graders since there seemed to be a need in this age range that wasn’t currently available in the Barstow area.
Where will classes be held?
Currently classes will be held in our new facility, the Career Education and Workforce Development Center.
Once students are oriented and select a career path, the location of their courses is dependent on their pathway selection and schedule. They may continue to take courses at the new facility or take advantage of some of our other flexible course options including an expansive online program, traditional “live” classes, or hybrid classes, which are a combination of online and live formats.
What is the Academy’s goal?
Career Technical Education covers many vocational programs and, “the sky is the limit.” Students enrolled in the program have options to begin career paths in any of the programs Barstow College offers. In the orientation class, students will select an area of interest and begin to work towards those goals. This can include completing a low-unit certification of achievement to taking classes to transfer into a 4-year program.
What’s special or innovative about your new Academy?
It’s unique because it’s the first of its kind in the Barstow area. We’ve done concurrent enrollment and outreach before, but the Academy is more focused on the completion of certificates and/or degrees. And we designed it with student success foremost in mind, beginning with our orientation classes to give students the academic skills they will need as well as make them aware of what they can expect at the college level. We use structured self-awareness activities to help students identify goals, interests, skills, values, and lifestyles that appeal to them, and then make sound educational and career choices. We also help by offering fee waivers–as well as dual credits–that open the program to a wider population of students. And finally, we offer post Academy opportunities like continuing education and trainings, internships, and job placement support. We don’t leave them hanging; we continue to be there for them.
What is the connection between the Academy and higher education? Will students receive credits or certificates that local colleges will recognize?
The courses are all credited through Barstow Community College. When students are enrolled in the Career Academy Program and have concurrent enrollment in general, they are able to receive dual credit for both BCC and their high school. They are also able to take advantage of the Concurrent Enrollment Exemption, which waives enrollment fees (currently $46 a unit) for the classes of eligible students, for up to 10.5 units.
Are there connections with local industries as well?
We have established many connections through our trainings and our advisory committees. We work to help both students and trainees transition from the Academy to continuing their education or entering the workforce. Some of our industry partners include NRG Energy (Ivanpah Solar Project- Mojave Desert) Abengoa Solar, Molycorp Inc., Southern California Edison (SCE) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).
What courses are you offering?
We launched the pilot semester with two sections of Orientation 1, English 101/102, and BCTT 51 (Construction Quantitative Skills). We began with these to orient students to college life and to improve basic skills. From there, students will select a pathway and continue to work towards a certificate of achievement or associates degree.
How can students and others find more information?
For more information on the program or to enroll, contact the Career Education Department by phone at 760.252.6799 or by email at email@example.com.
Can you think of a success story that illustrates the Academy’s goal?
One Barstow Community College student, Adrianna Vallejos, who previously participated in our annual CTE Summer Youth Program and was given the opportunity to explore a variety of careers and to concurrently enroll in classes with Barstow College and her local high school, is currently in her third semester in the welding program and well on her way to earning a certificate of achievement in Welding before she graduates high school. Seeing success stories like hers from prior outreach with K-12 students was influential in creating the Career Academy Program. We want to extend these opportunities to more students. Adrianna also enrolled in the Orientation class when we launched the Career Academies this spring semester. Furthermore, Adrianna has assisted us in outreach for the program since she is a perfect example of the benefits of participating and can relate to and inspire students in this age range. You can see an article from the local newspaper, The Desert Dispatch, on an outreach event conducted at one local high school with help from Adrianna and other faculty and staff from the Career Technical Education department.
Also make sure to check out this recent story on the Career Academy in the same paper.
Our thanks to Director Sandi Thomas for this interview.