Alliance meetings focused on equity and career learning practices

Participants in our Future Ready Alliance held two cross-district conversations this spring, one to share ideas for documenting students’ career learning milestones and another to discuss ways of advancing equity. “The conversations both underscored the value of a network like the Alliance,” said Program Director Debbie Pixton, who helped organize the virtual meetings. “Without this kind of forum, educators often have no outside benchmarks for …
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Learn how new model for career mentoring can help your school or business

The Consortium plans to offer separate half-hour training webinars for educators and employers interested in providing small group career mentoring for students in a virtual or hybrid environment. The Pennsylvania Department of Education approved our model for small group mentoring as a substitute for the individual career mentoring qualified as an option for meeting state standards around work-based learning. We have since piloted it virtually …
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Consortium to offer April workshops in Project-Based Learning

Our Project-Based Learning (PBL) team will offer a virtual opportunity to learn the basics of PBL beginning Tuesday, April 20th and continuing for half days on Tuesdays through May 11th. The program will focus on the 10 design elements of PBL, with a goal of giving participants the baseline understanding needed to take the methodology into their classrooms. More information and registration is available on …
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More Snack & Learn sessions scheduled for April

Our Snack & Learn series offers more great career learning opportunities for April as well as some presentations about issues young people need to think about as they prepare for post-secondary life. These sessions give students, and the educators trying to help them, explore careers a chance to hear people from different occupations share insights about the work they do, what steps to take to …
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The Coaches’ Perspective: Future Readiness Lab already making its mark on students

One striking change Deer Lakes High School Counselor Taylor Austin sees in the team of students she’s coaching in the Future Readiness Lab is their level of accountability. Carlynton High School Transition Coordinator Jerry Pepe has noticed that as well, but perhaps even more significant to him, is how his team’s confidence level and communications skills have strengthened.

Based on several interviews over the past month, their views were representative of educators serving as Lab Coaches. Everyone interviewed identified personal growth as well as gains in skills that ready students for the workplace among the Lab’s key outcomes.

Launched last fall with funding from The Heinz Endowments, the Lab is a pilot program that takes a novel approach toward preparing students for post-secondary education and career choices as well as for contributing to their communities. It is part of The Pittsburgh Readiness Institute, a major initiative that The Heinz Endowments is undertaking in collaboration with Penn State University.

The Lab’s curriculum revolves around five big questions: Who am I? Who do I want to become? How do I get there? How do I continue to learn? How do I give back to my community?

Diverse teams of students from eight schools participate in the pilot, including Pittsburgh Brashear, Clairton City, Hampton, Montour, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills high schools, in addition to Deer Lakes and Carlynton.

Teams meet weekly with their Coaches and Consortium staff. Between meetings, students complete assignments and get access to a variety of virtual career learning experiences. In the final months of the school year, the teams also are expected to take on community projects.

When the program kicked off in October, Austin said she found herself reminding her students at Deer Lakes to attend all the sessions and do their Lab work. Five months in, everything has changed. Her students are keeping up with assignments on their own, emailing her with questions and reaching out to let her know if something—like a doctor’s appointment—might keep them from making a meeting.

“It’s not just accountability, it’s responsibility and time management,” Austin said, noting high school juniors often don’t develop those skills “until they’ve held their first jobs” because typical school days, built around bell schedules and classroom routines, don’t call on them for as much self-direction or individual planning.

Like Austin, Pepe said his students have grown tremendously. “It’s been 1,000 percent. It’s gone from them being completely silent for the first few meetings…to them taking the initiative of starting a conversation, maybe about their community project, or taking on tasks for the project that they might not normally do.”

Since the pilot began, students have taken deep dives to answer the Lab’s guiding questions. Among other ways, they’ve used the “Predictive Index” to gain insight about traits, such as their communications styles and collaborative approaches, that not only influence their group dynamics, but also might suit them for different kinds of work. Additionally, each has done three career explorations and homed in on one of particular interest. They’ve also done video presentations and currently are recording reflections with SLB Radio.

Much of the growth their Coaches see likely has come from greater self-understanding and the self-assurance it can bring, said Christy Kuehn, PhD, one of the Consortium Program Directors who organizes the Lab.

“Through the work we do with them, and the Lab’s emphasis on imagining their futures, students have to take a close look in the mirror,” she said.

“In the busyness of a school year, sometimes this kind of introspection is an afterthought,” added Program Director Jenn Sethman, who also helps organize the pilot. “The Lab sets it as the priority, “We’re starting from the premise that, without intentional work around these questions, many students can end up either without a real plan for the future, or with a plan that doesn’t fit.”

Giving students the space and time for self-exploration has had a remarkable impact, said Amber Niedomys, who coaches a Lab team at Pittsburgh Brashear and knew of at least one student for whom the Lab inspired a complete change of direction.

The young man she had in mind is a good student who intends to go to college, but beyond that, had seemed ambivalent about his plans, she added.  “It was kind of like, “I guess I’ll just be a lawyer. But based on some of the things we’ve done in the Lab, he’s decided he wants to become a psychiatrist.”

“I think it’s a much better fit for him than being a lawyer, just based on what I know of him as a person,” she said. “It’s something he’s selected based on his skills and what he’s learned about himself.”

Like others interviewed, Niedomys has found that such changes have made the Lab a rewarding experience not just for the students, but also for the Coaches.

“We’re providing the space for kids to reflect on what it is they care about, who it is they are and what it is they want to do with their futures, and after we provide that space, we’re helping them build a plan to achieve it,” Niedomys said. “For me as an educator, well, right there is why I became a teacher.”

From her standpoint, the whole experience “has been exhilarating.”


Consortium pilots group Career Mentoring with BNY Mellon

With approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the Consortium began piloting a model for small-group virtual career mentoring this month in collaboration with BNY Mellon. Previously, career mentoring had to take place one-on-one to meet state requirements around work-based learning.

“We sought approval for our group model both to make the experiences more accessible and also to make them more comfortable for mentees or mentors who might prefer a group situation,” said Program Director Debbie Pixton, who is the Consortium’s facilitator for the pilot.

The U.S. Department of Education recently cited the new approach in a report on ideas for expanding work-based learning opportunities.

Like traditional one-on-one mentoring, the program is designed to help students explore careers, learn about workplace expectations and get practice building professional relationships.

Under the pilot, a team from BNY Mellon is working with small groups of students from Greensburg Salem, Keystone Oaks and Woodland Hills high schools. Over the course of the pilot, students will learn about BNY Mellon and the kinds of jobs available in finance, investment management, and the banking firm’s other areas of expertise.

Amy Brake, Pittsburgh Events Coordinator at BNY Mellon and member of the Consortium’s Advisory Council, said “This program has presented a unique opportunity for BNY Mellon to engage with young, bright minds and better understand what students are looking for in their own careers. We are able to tailor the program to the students’ interests and showcase the expansive career opportunities that BNY Mellon offers.”

During presentations, students can ask professionals questions that might be on their minds as they think about career choices.  At a recent session about technology, for example, one student was curious about how to know if he might be putting in work and hours beyond his compensation level.

Nick Gasbarro, Vice President – Digitization and Business Change, told the student it’s better to weigh job opportunities more for the interest they hold than for the salaries they command.

Taking on extra assignments or projects also brings its own rewards, Gasbarro added. “Getting that exposure, having that experience and building that network is more valuable than any pay raise,” he said.

Because students can interact over the course of the pilot with multiple staffers, they build more “social capital” than a one-on-one mentoring experience affords, Pixton said.

“The model also can work better than individual mentoring for companies seeking exposure to students making career choices,” Pixton added. “We designed it to be replicable and hope to engage other companies and schools in the coming year.”


U.S. Dept. of Education cites Consortium models

Federal agency highlights Consortium models for work-based learning The U.S. Department of Education recently cited two of the Consortium’s approaches to work-based learning in a compendium of ideas gathered in preparation for the agency’s implementation of legislative amendments aimed at “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century.” References to our input appear on pages 8 and 23 of DOE’s recently published report, Expanding …
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Check out our March lineup for Snack & Learn!

The Consortium is hosting four more Snack & Learn sessions in March for students who want to explore careers and gather career learning artifacts. Teachers interested in learning more about the kinds of jobs available to students in our region also are welcome to sit in. All participants must register online. The virtual lineup in March includes: March 3, at 10:30 a.m. An interactive session …
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Consortium offers video primer on design thinking, HCD

The Consortium has launched a video series to acquaint educators with the basics of design thinking and Human-Centered Design (HCD).

The first 10 videos, which cover methods focused on empathy, feedback and brainstorming, among others, can be accessed on this playlist from our Youtube channel. (Be sure to subscribe for the latest content updates!) 

Design thinking is a creative way of looking at problems from multiple perspectives and developing solutions that take them into account.  HCD is a subset that provides iterative methods to engage stakeholders in decision-making.

Our in-house HCD team includes two Certified Facilitators and two Certified Practitioners, all trained at the LUMA Institute. The team also offers private group trainings on request. To book a session for your team, contact our Director of Organizational Advancement, Jackie Foor.


Snack & Learns offer virtual interaction with professionals in industry and higher education

The Consortium’s Snack & Learn series continues next month with four more presentations, following a January line-up that included Duquesne Light Co., Elliott Group and Waynesburg University. Students and educators must register online for any of the upcoming sessions.

On the agenda for February are presentations from the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC); local tech entrepreneur, John Rattray; Schell Games and Duquesne Light.

The series kicked off in the fall to provide virtual opportunities to help students explore careers or learn about post-secondary education and training options. It also affords educators the chance to learn about the job market their students will be entering and get information needed to provide support. Our upcoming sessions include:

  • February 3, beginning at 11 a.m., GACC is expected to discuss the apprenticeships it organizes for member companies. These programs provide on-the-job training for occupations ranging from polymer technicians to electrical and mechanical technicians.
  • February 9, beginning at 1 p.m., Rattray will talk about launching a business.
  • February 18, at 11 a.m., Duquesne Light will present on its EDT Boot Camp for high school students. The Boot Camp helps students build skills and find out if they might be candidates for the Electrical Distribution Technology (EDT) program the company offers in collaboration with Community College of Allegheny County.
  • February 24, beginning at 11 a.m., Schell Games winds up the month presenting on workplace expectations.

“We aim for variety,” said Program Director Gina Barrett, who organizes the Snack & Learn sessions. “Even before the pandemic, it wasn’t always possible for students to find opportunities to interact with professionals directly and ask questions about careers or the different kinds of post-secondary training they might pursue.”

Since the outset of COVID-19, it’s been difficult for some students even to find ways of meeting state standards associated with career learning. The Consortium designed the series to provide opportunities that enable students to do so, sometimes with help from educators who can augment the presentations with assignments, such as reflective writing.

Earlier this month, a presentation from Duquesne Light afforded students an opportunity to learn about careers in the electric utility industry and about a training program for Electrical Distribution Technicians that the company offers in collaboration with Community College of Allegheny County.

In addition, Elliott Group offered a January presentation on manufacturing careers and a representative from Waynesburg College talked about applying to colleges amid COVID-19.