CHOICES program encourages students to think about career paths, plan for the future

By Lesia Winiarskyj

The transition from high school to college, and from classroom to career, can be bumpy. CBIA's Education Foundation and member companies are helping Connecticut's class of 2011: and future grads: make a smooth go of it.

Throughout the school year, engineers, business analysts, information services professionals, and others have taken time out of their busy schedules to serve as mentors, role models, and tutors for high school students.

"Wednesdays have become the highlight of the week for me," says Bill Durante, a manager at Otis Elevator who tutors Hartford students in engineering and math. "I enjoy working with young people and building relationships. They're now asking about my company and my job. It's wonderful: more rewarding than I ever would have thought."

It's About CHOICES

Durante is not alone. More than two dozen employees from Otis, Hamilton Sundstrand, Pratt & Whitney, Aetna, ASPIRA, CBIA, Capital Community College, and ESPN have lent their time, insight, and expertise to students at New Britain High School, Hartford's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology (AoEGT), and Wilby High School in Waterbury. And though the goal is to ensure an educated future workforce, the focus isn't strictly on academics.

In April, volunteers conducted a series of interactive workshops, called CHOICES, that empower teens to set personal and professional goals for themselves and make the kinds of decisions that will help them reach those goals. CHOICES sessions take teens through real-world exercises in self-discipline, time and money management, and career and retirement planning.

"The workshops are highly interactive," says Dayl Walker, a program manager for CBIA's Education Foundation, which coordinates the workshops with a grant from UPS. "Each session illustrates how decisions that young people make now can have a profound influence on the rest of their lives. CHOICES motivates students to anticipate, plan, and take charge of their future."

Seeing Is Believing

In one exercise, students role-play high school dropouts, high school graduates, and those with postsecondary degrees or training. Participants quickly see that the greater their level of education, the more career options they have.

"After the session about job choices," said one student, "I'm determined to finish high school and go on to college."

In another activity, students unfurl a scroll: almost as wide as the room: representing a timeline of their lives, from early childhood to post-retirement years. Tenth-grader Devon Hazel said, "I was surprised to learn how four years of high school will impact the next 45 years of my life."

"What makes these lessons stick," says Walker, "is that the presenters are motivated by a genuine concern for young people. Most of them belong to affiliate groups at their companies: African American Forum, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Women's Leadership Forum, Gen Y. They're not teachers, counselors, or even professional presenters. They're everyday working people, many of whom grew up in the same neighborhoods, walked the same halls, and graduated from the same schools as these kids."

Industry-Driven Education

Though school is almost out, teachers and students will keep their skills fresh all summer long through paid, professional internships and externships at various Connecticut companies.

"Teacher externships help instructors develop the kinds of engaging lessons and curricula that reflect the needs of today's workplace," says Mary deManbey, a program manager for CBIA's Education Foundation. "Student internships show students firsthand how the work they're doing in the classroom relates to the real world."

Businesses and organizations that have hosted student/faculty interns or will be doing so this summer include AI Engineers; Associated Spring; The Birch Group; Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge; Electric Cable Assembly; Habco; Hamilton Sundstrand; Hartford Public Library; Metropolitan District Commision; Milone & MacBroom; Promec; Telaid; UTC Power; and Whitcraft.

If your company is interested in a school-business partnership, CBIA's Education Foundation can provide the support, training, and resources to help you succeed. Contact dayl.walker@cbia.com or mary.demanbey@cbia.com.

For updates on CBIA's education and workforce development programs, visit CBIA's Education Foundation.

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer/editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.