Brainerd High School senior Allyson Olshanski wasn't sure about pursuing a career in nursing until she was able to see a nurse in action.
Her job shadowing experience and ability to take college-level courses while in high school convinced the 18-year-old she was headed in the right direction. And she saved significant tuition money doing it.
The community collaboration connecting businesses and education to create those opportunities for area high school students recently received acclaim and a significant financial boost.
The Wisconsin-based Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. granted $75,000 to the Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection. During the 2008-09 school year the Bridges program involved more than 425 students as job shadows, had 1,500 students attending Career Exploration Day and saved families $200,000 in college tuition as high school students took Bridges Career Academies courses.
Olshanski plans to attend St. Cloud State University to pursue a four-year nursing degree. She's considering studying to be an anesthetist.
"I'm very grateful to be taking these classes," Olshanski said of being able to take the college classes while she is in high school. While it saves money on college tuition, Olshanski said the courses also opened her eyes on the greater difficulty of the college studies and job shadowing helped her realize what she wanted to do after graduation.
Becky Best, dean of educational services at Central Lakes College, said the Bridges program was formed from a Brainerd Lakes Chamber committee looking at ways to meet future work force needs and retain the area's youth in high demand and high paying jobs.
Through a partnership with educators, the Bridges program - now in its second year - focuses on key areas of health sciences, nursing, engineering, business administration and manufacturing.
Best said Bridges' first year involved 1,415 college credits and fall enrollment increased by 300 percent or more for year two.
"I feel like we've come a long way," Best said. "But I also feel like we are just getting started."
Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber chief executive officer, spoke of the importance of career exposure for high school juniors and seniors, pointing to the numbers of college students who never complete their education because the most popular major in college is undecided.
Paxton said the hope is to have more students with a clear idea of a career pathway so they will be successful.
"That's what the Bridges Workplace Connection is all about," Paxton said.
Going into Year Three, Paxton said they are focused on more career clusters and more opportunities for students. Opportunities for internships will be launched this fall.
Kathy Gaalswyk, Initiative Foundation president, said people across the state are watching this program because it makes sense and points students in the right direction.
Representatives of Great Lakes agreed.
"This program is just amazing," said Amy Kerwin, Great Lakes chief guaranty officer. "What you've been able to do in two short years is just phenomenal."
Kerwin said Great Lakes chose to support the program because it identified a clear need and created an incredibly successful collaboration between business leaders, schools and communities to address it. Kerwin said it's better for students to get learn what career they may want while in high school rather than after they've spent $5,000 in college credits. During the last two years, Great Lakes provided more than $45 million in funding to college access programs.
"We need an educated workforce that's prepared to take on the jobs of the future," Kerwin said. "By exposing high school students to jobs that are already out there in the work place ... you are helping those students take the practical and necessary steps they need toward a post secondary education and a successful job in the future."
Kerwin said the collaboration with business made the Bridges program stand out.
The Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection are funded in part by: Blandin Foundation, Initiative Foundation, Carl Perkins Central Lakes Consortium Funding, SPEDCO Economic Development Foundation of the St. Paul Foundation, and Crow Wing Power, and are supported by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, Central Lakes College and participating Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Pillager and Staples-Motley school districts.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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