What Career & Tech Ed Month Means

What Career & Tech Ed Month Means

K-12 Partnerships director explains how FVTC gets younger students thinking about a career

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month in Wisconsin; a time set aside to highlight the demand for skilled labor in the state’s workforce. It’s also a great time to show off what Fox Valley Technical College is doing to get students exposed to these in-demand careers at a young age.

In addition to summer camps and career exploration visits for middle school students, partnering with local school districts to offer dual credit classes has been a tremendous pathway in exposing students to career options.

Mary Hansen, director of K-12 Partnerships at the college, was recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas on WHBY’s Focus on Careers segment about the importance of CTE month and the value of dual-credit classes being offered at 30+ school districts in our area.

“Last year, we had about 6,500 unique students taking dual credit classes. The amount of tuition saved by those districts--and by those students and their parents--equates to $3.8 million.

“Among the 16 technical colleges in Wisconsin, Fox Valley Technical College has led the way for the past two years with the number of students taking dual credit classes and the amount of tuition saved,” Mary explains. “It really comes back to our college faculty and the huge village it takes across the college and our K-12 partners, really all working together to create these opportunities for kids.”

Learn more about CTE and the dual credit program by listening to Mary’s interview with WHBY. Click on the video below or you can read the transcript of the conversation below.


WHBY Focus on Careers

Tenpas: Did you know that it also happens to be Career and Technical Education Month, highlighting technical colleges and the role that they play in our K-12 schools, getting kids some college credits while they're in high school or just helping them understand what career opportunities might be out there… maybe when they're in fourth, fifth or sixth grade. There's lots to learn here today as we are welcoming Mary Hansen, who is the director of the K-12 Partnerships Program through Fox Valley Tech, and Mary's with us in the studio today. Hi, Mary.

Hansen: Hi, Good to see you.

Tenpas: Yes, this is exciting. I remember I think this is going to date me, but I think I remember going through some of these programs back when I was in middle school and then in high school again as colleges like Fox Valley Tech look to help us figure out what we want to be when we grow up, right? That's kind of what you do. Fill us in a little bit.

Hansen: Yes, you are absolutely correct. What we do in K-12 partnerships has been around at Fox Valley Technical College for decades. My role at the college is oversight over sort of the big-picture relationships we have with the 30-plus school districts that are in the footprint of the five counties that Fox Technical College serves.

So I work closely with the K-12 leadership like superintendents and high school principals to look at their individual districts, what their landscape looks like, what changes are happening in terms of staffing and what their goals are, what they're seeing in terms of just district changes and how that partnership can evolve to create more opportunities for kids. That might include dual credit opportunities, which I think we're going to talk about in a minute. That might include how we can help them with the staffing changes or the evolution in staffing that's happening across their district. That might also mean career exploration for middle school students.

Tenpas: And it's crucial and critical because you might have a student that says, okay, I want to be X, Y, Z when I grow up, but knowing the path that it takes to get there, the education, maybe the apprenticeships, whatever the training may be, I don't think students are aware sometimes of the gap that is between graduating from high school and then being what you want to be when you grow up.

Hansen: Absolutely. In the fall of 2017, the State of Wisconsin DPI rolled out something called academic and career planning or what we call ACP. And what that means is from sixth through 12th grade, every student has a plan. They start in middle school with just awareness and exploration, and then in high school it's more about planning and preparation so that by the time they graduate from high school, they are better consumers of their own education. They're not graduating and going on to whatever the next step is without an understanding of what their options are if that's a good fit. And then a year later or two years later, they drop out of school, they're in a job that's a dead end and they just don't have other options. We're helping them make solid choices by the time they walk across the stage at graduation.

And so in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, we're doing a lot of summer camps and middle school exploration visits. Yesterday, for instance, we had sixth graders on our campus in the morning. We had Hortonville in the afternoon, we had Greenville and those kids got a chance to visit a number of careers and just have a high-level look at what our Agriculture careers. Or, what are our healthcare careers? So that they don't look at it as if it’s a doctor or a nurse and that's what healthcare is. So those ages, they're starting to have their mind opened up and we're planting those seeds so that as they go through middle school, they're starting to look at what are those careers. And then in high school, what are the things that tie to the things I'm passionate about and that I'm good at?

Tenpas: I love that. But I would also imagine it's very fluid because I know sixth graders are changing their minds. I'm changing my mind sometimes on different things, too. So it just kind of sets up those building blocks, though, right, to understanding the right process to getting to where you want to be.

Hansen: Absolutely. And that's where when they get into high school and they have a lot of different opportunities as you mentioned, youth apprenticeship, where they might be doing job shadows, they might be working in a part-time job. And then dual credit, which is the thing that we offer in area high schools where we have high school teachers that have been trained by our faculty, where we are teaching actual college-level courses in the high school, where students can take intro-level courses in several different career fields to sort of dabble and figure out – is it welding or would I like to do is nursing. We don't charge tuition and they get a sense of if that is the thing that they thought it was. And if it is to continue and keep going in those courses.

I always use my daughter as an example. She took a marketing course, a couple of culinary courses and ended up in some early childhood courses, and she's now an elementary teacher. So for her, it was that winding path that led her to the right thing that was the best fit for her.

Tenpas: I had friends taking the CNA courses when we were in high school, and I think it might have been fueled by our love for Grey's Anatomy a little bit. But a lot of people taking those CNA classes and today they're nurses, they're travel nurses, they're nurses all across the country because of those dual credit classes.

Hansen: Right. And sometimes they take those classes and they realize, oh, that's, you know, a former coworker of mine at the college used to tell the story about when he was in high school, he wanted to be a police officer because he loves Starsky and Hutch. Now, that dates him a little bit, but he started our criminal justice program and realized -- wow, you have to talk to people, you have to problem solve and it’s really about communication. That's the key skill in law enforcement a lot of times and it just was not the right fit for him. And someone should have helped him make those decisions way before his first semester in that program.

Tenpas: I want to go back to those dual credit classes and gauge your interest or the interests of our high schoolers because again, they're able to go to class, and receive credit that's applied toward Fox Valley Technical College or other universities, I would assume as well. How much are kids in our area taking advantage of this?

Hansen: A lot. You can imagine that when we're offering actual flexible tech courses, right in their high school, taught by their high school teachers, our area K-12 administrators look at that and the career pathways they can create for their kids as being a great option. So we look at each individual school district, what career pathways they can create based on the staffing that they have and workforce demands, and really what their goals are for each district. And that's how we create those relationships and those partnerships. But last year we had about 6500 unique students taking dual credit classes across the 30-plus school districts. But what that equates to in the amount of tuition saved by those districts and those parents was $3.8 million. Wow. Across the technical college system, across the 16 technical colleges, it was closer to $30 million. And I will kind of toot our horn a little bit. Fox Valley Technical College has led the way the last two years, the number of students taking dual credit and the number or the amount of tuition saved. And that really comes back to our college faculty and the huge village that it does take across the college and our K-12 partners, really all working together to create those opportunities for kids.

Tenpas: Yeah, I would imagine there's a lot there might be parents out there listening going, this is awesome. I want my kid to take advantage of this. How do we I guess, or what should they do if you've maybe captured their attention right now?

Hansen: Sure. The best place to start is going to be with their student’s high school counselor to go to them or to look in the course catalog that they have. Most of the high schools will have tech dual credit courses identified pretty clearly, either with our so that is effectively a tech dual credit course, just like an AP course or a UW Oshkosh CAPP course. They'll have those notations in their high school course catalog or it's a conversation with, like I said, their high school counselor or high school principal to determine what are the pathways that have been created and how can their student take advantage of it. And I always tell parents, especially if you have a ninth grader or a 10th grader, have those conversations now so you can plan ahead for the 11th and 12th grade scheduling time frame and just be aware of those opportunities so you can plan for them.

Tenpas: That's a really smart point because it's an interesting path that these high schoolers, it's much more complex than probably when I was in school. And they've got goals and things they want to accomplish. K-12 partnerships can help with that. Mary My goodness, it's been so great talking with you. We're kind of wrapping it back to again, February's Career and Technical Education Month. Your final thought on that.

Hansen: Really career and technical education, when you think about that and you look at your local technical college, if you've not had a chance to visit Fox Valley Tech in a while or ever… come see us at the end of this month, we have our winter open house and a scavenger hunt. It's a phenomenal night to come and visit us, go to our website. All the information will be out there for the open house, middle school and high school families are welcome to come and visit us that night for a fun evening. And you can look at all of our programs and get a chance to see the campus and see all the fun things happening in career and technical education.