Cultivating the Technology Talent of Tomorrow in Rural Idaho
Innovative Pilot Program for Idaho High School Students Demonstrates the Power of Coaching in Improving College and Career Readiness
Bonner County Daily Bee - June 2, 2015
Sagle, an unincorporated community in northern Idaho with a population of roughly 6000 is best known for its hiking, mountain biking, hunting and fishing. It’s also the home of Jimmy Soderberg, who recently graduated from the Idaho Distance Education Academy (I-DEA), an online public charter school serving K-12 students across the state. Jimmy is one of several recent Idaho high school graduates who participated in an innovative pilot program known as the Idaho PTECH Network (“Pathways to Technology, Early College High School”) and he is well on his way to a rewarding technology career.
Idaho PTECH is a pilot program funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Its mission is to bridge the gap between education and industry. It provides students with the credentials and skills needed to secure well-paying jobs in Idaho’s high growth industries while giving businesses access to a qualified pipeline of employees. Along with giving student hands-on experience in the fields of technology, aerospace/advanced manufacturing and healthcare, the PTECH program also provides students with a success coach to support them in clarifying their long term goals, successfully completing their studies and transitioning to their first job.
The coaching, which is provided by InsideTrack, a leading student success organization, is also generating valuable insights for PTECH and the participating institutions. According to Alan Millar, executive director of the Idaho PTECH Network, “the data coming from coach-student interactions is proving invaluable in our strategic decision making as we develop this pilot program. Through coaching and our partnerships with employers, we’re learning that students need to develop strong soft skills – like problem-solving and time management – in order to be career-ready. Coaching is helping us understand students and the challenges they face so we can support them through the high school to college transitions, and ultimately prepare them for well-paying and fulfilling careers.”
Millar cites the following as a few examples of the types of insights the program is generating:
- Many rural students simply aren’t aware of the educational and career options available to them. They assume that a 4-year college degree is the only path to a good career and, when that commitment seems overwhelming, they resign themselves to a life of limited opportunity.
- Students don’t understand when and how to ask for help, and often view seeking help as a sign of weakness. Once they experience proactive, judgment-free support, they engage with it wholeheartedly.
- Academics and financial aid are not students’ primary concerns. When asked what support they value most, students say it is having someone to talk to about what’s going on in their life, someone who will keep them motivated and focused on their future and their career.
Hayley Kimble of InsideTrack manages the coaching program and coaches PTECH students. She echoes the common challenges students face. “They need help identifying the habits that get them off course and replacing them with more productive habits,” Kimble notes. “They also need encouragement and support in taking ownership for their success and committing to long-term goals.”
Kimble spends a good part of her time listening to students’ concerns and making sure they take full advantage of the support resources available through their schools and through the PTECH program.
“It’s amazing to watch how self-motivated and effective these young people become once they feel heard and get a little guidance on where to turn to for help,” she says.
As for Jimmy Soderberg, this fall he will head to North Idaho College (NIC) to complete a degree in IT, paid for in part by earning the Tom and Irene Wilson Memorial Scholarship. In the meantime, he’s been hired as a contractor by the Bonner County IT Department and plans to spend the summer at home with his family.
Jimmy credits the coaching program as a key factor in his success. “Having a coach like Hayley has made the transition from high school to college exciting instead of stressful,” he says. “When I am overwhelmed with assignments and obligations it is really nice to have someone to talk to about it and figure things out. I cannot emphasize enough how much she helped me prepare for this next phase in my education.”
According to Bill Harp, Director of Bonner County’s Technology Department, Jimmy is already proving his value in the new job.
“Jimmy is providing technical skills and the ability to learn and assume new complex tasks at a prodigious rate in order to help the team provide technology services to meet the County's mission of serving the public,” says Harp. “We appreciate all his hard work."
Niki Vandenhouten, another PTECH student is also heading to NIC after graduating from Clark Fork High School, a rural school that was recently in danger of being closed due to declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.
“My academic experience has been a roller coaster ride at times,” says Niki. “But thanks to the support of my coach Hayley and the PTECH program, I’m on track.”
Niki is headed for a career in Aerospace and was recently awarded the Providing Opportunities – Fulfilling Dreams Scholarship.
“I've always enjoyed hands on projects like working on my dad's truck or my car,” she notes. “This is one of the reasons I joined the PTECH Aerospace program. I'm excited to graduate high school, finish my Composites certificate and get my Associates in Applied Science degree in Airframe."
Asked if she has any advice for other rural students uncertain about their future direction, Niki says, "it's not where you came from, it's where you're going – don’t be afraid to follow your passion.”
PTECH began with eight schools and 90 students in the fall of 2014 and is adding another eight schools and 100 students this fall. To date, PTECH students have earned 415 college credits, successfully completing 94 percent of college credits attempted. Many are already finding job shadow and internship placements through the more than twenty Idaho industry partners. As the program moves through the development and testing stage, the focus remains on building a quality model that meets student and employer needs.
About Idaho PTECH
The Idaho PTECH Network (“Pathways to Technology, Early College High School”) is a partnership between industry, high schools and community colleges that prepares students for careers in Idaho’s high growth industries, including aerospace/ advanced manufacturing, technology and healthcare. Idaho’s high growth industries are in need of qualified employees. PTECH puts students on a path that includes careful selection of high school courses, online college courses taken while in high school, community college degree and certificate programs, and on site internships. The program produces qualified graduates ready to fill well-paying jobs that meet the needs of Idaho’s employers.
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