Six individuals have been hired to serve as career coaches in Arkansas River Valley school districts as part of a pilot program overseen by the Arkansas Tech Institute (ATI), a non-formula entity of Arkansas Tech University.
The ATI career coaches, with the schools they are serving in parentheses, are: Erin Aylor (Russellville Junior High School), Melanie Dean (Ozark High School), Hannah Edgell (Russellville High School), Jennifer Fuller (Russellville High School and Russellville Middle School), Hannah Hays (Mulberry School District and Johnson County Westside School District) and Kristi Robertson (Clarksville School District).
“Building a comprehensive, sustainable workforce supporting our River Valley occupations and industries is a primary focus of the ATI project,” said Bruce Sikes, ATU-Ozark Campus chancellor. “It is a great opportunity to collaborate with the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce Inspire River Valley workforce development program and our public school career coach partners in the districts at Russellville, Clarksville, Johnson County Westside, Mulberry/Pleasant View and Ozark. We feel strongly this project will continue to grow in partners and capacity. ATU, ATU-Ozark and Arkansas Tech Career Center are positioned to serve in economic and workforce initiatives at the local, regional and statewide levels.”
Over the course of the 2022-23 academic year, the ATI career coaches will seek to engage with each secondary student in their assigned schools and assist each student in mapping a path toward educational and career success.
“The mission of the career coaching program is to assist students with comprehensive career development planning by developing strong partnerships with public schools and local industry and community leaders in order to connect students to career and educational opportunities,” said Dr. Sheila Jacobs, chief academic officer at ATU-Ozark Campus and chief facilitator for the career coaching pilot program. “This is about sustainable economic development that focuses on an organized and cohesive method of regional and state workforce infrastructure development. Arkansas Tech University is uniquely positioned to advance a synchronous workforce education training system through its Russellville campus, its Ozark campus and Arkansas Tech Career Center as well as its numerous K-12 partners.”
Jacobs explained the ATI approach to career coaching is aligned with the “Building a Regional Workforce Advantage” executive report the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Russellville Regional Workforce Development Cabinet have utilized in planning for the future needs of the region.
The ATI career coaching program seeks to hone students’ skills, talents and aptitudes. Other goals include increased work-based learning experiences for students and increased communication about career pathways that exist in their home region.
“Being a career coach is something that I feel is desperately needed for so many of our students today,” said Fuller. “We can help to guide and navigate the system in order for them to leave high school as prepared as we can get them to enter into the real world, whether that be straight into a career, to a job path that leads to a career, or to college to further their education for their careers one day. Our goal is that every student knows their next step and how to achieve that.”
The two-year pilot program is funded by a Ready for Life grant from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and grant funds from the Arkansas Department of Education Division of Career and Technical Education.
The career coaches who are funded through the ADE CTE grant are employed by Guy Fenter Educational Cooperative. ATU, Guy Fenter and the participating school districts work in partnership to lead and support the work of the CTE career coaches.
“As a former teacher, I have seen first-hand the lack of hope that often occurs in students who have no idea about their future,” said Edgell. “I believe that this doubt or lack of hope can be largely associated with students not seeing the point of their education. As a career coach, I can help students find that motivation by connecting their education to what they want to do once they leave high school. I look forward to helping students explore their options in the future as it pertains to college, the workforce, military and trade schools, and then setting goals with an achievable plan to obtain them.”