Middle school is an opportune time for students to select potential college pursuits and careers, according to some Roswell educators.
Teachers at Berrendo Middle School have worked for a couple of years with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell faculty and administrators to arrange full-day campus visits allowing students to explore potential careers, especially those professions available in the region.
“Eighth grade is a very critical year,” said Chad Smith, assistant vice president for technical education at ENMU-R. “In ninth grade —that first year of high school — students can start taking dual-credit classes. When they start doing that, they really need to have a pathway in mind so that they aren’t just taking random classes and random electives.”
The need to expose more students to careers available locally was one of the topics discussed at an Oct. 10 workforce development workshop put on by the Roswell Independent School District and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp.
Berrendo faculty member Ashley Stroud said the school’s efforts are unaffiliated, but still relevant, to the goals of the workshop.
This year, Stroud, a gifted and exploratory teacher, and Candace Lopez, a leadership skills instructor, took about 150 students to the university campus Thursday to participate in presentations and activities that centered around about seven different career clusters. The students were mostly eighth graders, although some seventh graders were included.
The career clusters featured included media arts and digital marketing; hospitality, business and human services; architecture, construction and manufacturing; agriculture; education and technology; law and public safety; health sciences; and general science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
ENMU-R faculty and staff developed activity stations within the cluster areas to show students the different types of educational career paths available to them. For example, in the STEM area, students could learn about drones or build a robot with Legos. In health sciences, they could do medical assisting tasks on mannequins or work with a medical-related virtual reality software.
In 2017, Stroud took an eighth-grade gifted class to the university to learn about STEM disciplines and careers.
“My vision was to expose students to STEM-related careers, show them we have an amazing college campus right here in town and explain to them they can take dual credit classes in high school,” she said.
Dual credit courses are university courses offered to high school students for free, allowing them to earn credits toward both a high school diploma and a college degree.
“Many of my students didn’t know we had a college campus,” Stroud said. “They didn’t know these classes existed, and they didn’t know all the career options in STEM. It was an amazing experience for my students and they still talk about it today.”
This year, Lopez and Stroud decided to go beyond just STEM to show students other educational and career possibilities.
But prior to heading to the university, Lopez first tested students on which career clusters suited them the best and interested them the most. Based on that, students were assigned two clusters, attending one in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
“My class has been working on career cluster research projects for the last month, so it was really neat to see this field trip tie in with their hard work,” Lopez said. “We stressed the importance of these stations being hands-on because we felt that our students would benefit the most by having the opportunity to engage in their potential future careers.”
Stroud said that she thought the day paid off.
“Our students had an amazing time and learned more about these careers,” she said. “For some, they might have learned that maybe they don’t like that career after all. I think that is just as important as learning that you do like something.”
She added that she became a teacher after earning a degree in business and pursuing that career for a while.
“Maybe if I had done something like this I would have figured out sooner that I didn’t want the career that I thought I wanted and maybe I would have figured out sooner that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
Stroud also said that she works in other ways to involve the community in her classroom. Recently, she said, a Chef Toddzilla manager talked to students working on a project about running a food truck business.
For its part, Smith said ENMU-R hosts schools almost every week for campus tours or for visits focusing on a specific program. But it has only worked with Berrendo on full-day career exploration visits.
“It was extremely labor intensive,” Smith said. “I would cautiously say yes (about expanding to other schools). The 25 people who were involved did this above and beyond their normal very busy day, so it could get out of hand for us very quickly. We recognize how important this is, too, so we want to continue doing this. But at the same time, we can’t overwhelm our faculty and staff.”
He said that each student received packets of information related to the two career clusters they participated in during the day. That provides them with information they can share with school counselors and with parents or guardians so that they can begin to make plans for the college studies or career preparation they need.
“I think the students have a much, much better idea of some of the jobs available in the areas they have interests it,” Smith said.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.