A Fresh Take on CTE

When I stepped into the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC), I was immersed in a learning environment that was awash with color, flooded with natural light, and as expansive as the Iowa corn fields surrounding it.

WILC, which is the Waukee Community School District’s “hub for creativity and innovation,” was the perfect setting for a conversation with our local Kuder Navigator® users.

With over 66,000 square feet of flexible collaborative spaces, the building boasts sophisticated meeting rooms, cozy lounges/pods, work studios, and even a café. The building’s exterior, with its stark modernity – complete with sparkly glass and shiny steel – stands in bold contrast to the landscape. According to WILC’s website, it’s “more than just a building,” and indeed it is.

WILC houses the Waukee Community School District’s STEM-focused Waukee Aspiring Professional Experience (APEX) program. The facility exemplifies the district’s fresh take on career and technical education (CTE), where the focus is on providing students with work-based learning opportunities nurtured through community partnerships – connections between business partners, students, and educators.

An Impressive Track Record

Waukee High School has an impressive track record. Newsweek named it the top public high school in Iowa in the 2015-16 school year, and its graduation rate is 99.14%. Comprised of about 1,500 students in grades 10-12, it operates a robust School-to-Work (STW) program, which begins with a career development course in the first term, followed by an internship program in the second. Kuder has been a longtime participant in the Waukee STW program, both as an employer partner and online career planning system provider.

“Waukee High School runs an outstanding STW program,” said Kuder President & CEO Phil Harrington. “Year in and year out, our experience never fails to reinforce our belief in, and commitment to, CTE.”

Today I’m sharing excerpts from a few of the interviews recorded during my visit to the very cool WILC building, and the nearby Waukee High School, where Navigator plays an active role in the STW program.

An Educator’s Take on the Power of Kuder

This video features School-to-Work Coordinator Mindi Heitland, who described Navigator’s role in helping students gain the self-awareness required to determine the types of internships and careers they want to pursue.

Following an intensive career development course that covers resume prep, workplace etiquette, and interviewing skills, Waukee STW students apply for college-level internships at a variety of local business partner sites based on their Kuder assessment results.

Heitland is a popular teacher who has built a strong rapport with her students in the STW program. The ultimate mentor, she offers them sage advice as they explore and find their place in the world of work.

She said she feels fortunate for the support she receives: “from the businesses we work with in the community to the administrators in our district, everyone is so excited about career and tech ed and School-to-Work, and [we] want to grow it, and [we] have a vision for it, which is really exciting,” she said.

Heitland explained how the Kuder assessments help her students gain exposure to career options and narrow down the types of occupations they want to focus on and explore in more depth during their internships, which take place later in the school year.

“If you could see the [students] the first day [of class], and see them again at the end of the school year – how much they’ve grown, and how much more confident they are – they’ve figured out what they want to do in college, what they want to take as a major, or what they want to do after high school, and I think that’s so rewarding,” Heitland said.

A Student Weighs in on Kuder’s Impact

When I sat down to interview Mary Kate Gray, a 12th-grade student and recent Kuder STW intern, I was struck by her poise and confidence. Mary Kate blew me away the minute she began working at Kuder in the fall of 2016. She was eager to learn and she put thought and care into every project. She even found time to write two Kuder Blog articles.

Confidence was a recurring theme during my conversation with Mary Kate, who commented, “My confidence has grown over my senior year, just because I have a better understanding of what I want to do and how to get there.” When I asked her to reflect on the value of her STW internship at Kuder, she said, “it was nice to be able to take part in something that would give me a better idea of what I should pursue for the next four years.”

On the subject of the Kuder assessments, Mary Kate shared that thinking about a future career can be, “a bit daunting … especially with the short time frame [between senior year and] college, but I think the Kuder assessments really specify what you’re good at and give you the confidence you need to say, ‘I can go after that job that I want.'”

Mom and Dad’s Perspective

It’s always fun to meet our interns’ parents. I don’t get the chance to do so very often, but when I do, I’m always touched when I witness how much pride they have in their children. When I was introduced to Mary Kate’s parents, Dave and Cathy Gray, I was amazed by their engagement and wisdom.

Cathy remarked that at the beginning of the STW program, Mary Kate “was very uncertain about what she wanted to do, and … a little frustrated about that.” Dave added that the Kuder assessments provided “visible options,” and the confidence Mary Kate needed to pursue her career goals.

The story continues.

Check the full Waukee Success video, plus excerpts from additional interviews with Waukee High School students and parents in our video library.