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Hands-on career exploration in North Dakota schools prepares students for their futures

January 17, 2017

Across the nation, there is an ongoing debate about college readiness and whether a college education is enough. Nearly every state has adopted standards that are designed to prepare students for college and careers. Teachers are working to make their classes more relevant to the real world. Measuring the impact of these activities is particularly challenging, however, and leaves parents and policymakers to wonder if these efforts are succeeding.

employer showing products to studentOne element that is often missing from readiness activities is career exploration. To address this, the Succeed 2020 project found strategies to make college and career readiness a reality in North Dakota by pairing professional learning for educators with career exploration for students. Succeed 2020 is implemented through the state’s regional education associations and supported by FHI 360’s technical expertise in project management, data collection and analysis and college and career readiness.

As part of this project, students participate in several types of hands-on career exploration activities, including attending industry-specific symposiums, touring workplaces and shadowing people on the job. These activities are supported by preparatory lessons and exercises, as well as by post-activity lessons. For example, students may take a career interest test prior to learning more about health care or technology from professionals in their communities. Afterward, students reflect on the types of courses they should be taking in high school, what higher education might be required to prepare for specific careers, and other resume-building experiences they would need to successfully enter these careers.

More than 67 percent of students who were surveyed after participating in such career exploration activities indicated that they knew more about those careers, and 38 percent said they were more interested in continuing their education after high school.

Educators, including teachers, principals and counselors, then reinforce these career exploration activities. Counselors have tools like RUReadyND, which helps them work with students to map out college courses that match their career interests.

Use of these tools helps teachers learn the academic requirements needed for students to pursue 21st century careers while improving their teaching strategies in critical areas. Math, a requirement for most emerging careers, has been a particular area of focus. Teachers from 83 schools across the state have participated in Just in Time (JiT) math, a two-year professional learning experience. After a year of Just in Time sessions, four out of five teachers reported that their students’ level of engagement increased. Rachel Steffen, a principal and teacher in a single-classroom school, said, “The best benefit from JiT math is watching my students grow, understand and have fun while being engaged throughout their learning.”

With Succeed 2020, career exploration, college and career planning, and improved academic instruction come together to make more students prepared for their futures.

Read more about the impact of the Succeed 2020 project.

Photo credit: Hess Corporation