HICKORY – It’s imperative for parents to understand that students today can’t follow a similar route their parents did and assume they would be successful, North Carolina Community College System Senior Vice President Lisa Chapman said.
“They can’t go and just decide to themselves, ‘I’m not sure what I want to do with my life,’ and then take some college classes and expect to be successful (by graduation),” Chapman said. “You can’t go without a plan.”
As a way to help the students get a glimpse of local career opportunities, Education Matters In Catawba County teamed up with Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) and numerous business partners to host a series of EXTREME STEM Tours throughout the school year.
The word “STEM” serves as an acronym for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” and the program also encourages students to consider taking higher levels of courses related to those subjects.
Over 300 eighth-graders and teachers from Arndt Middle School paid a visit to local businesses and the CVCC campus Thursday for the program’s most recent tour.
Eighth-graders from River Bend Middle School will be making their visit Friday.
During Thursday’s tour, Arndt Middle School students were given a tour inside Vanguard Furniture, Graystone Eye, MSC and the CVCC campus.
Inside the community college, the eighth-graders were given a chance to visit the campus library, simulated hospital, student center and then the labs and classroom settings for programs such as welding, automotive systems, manual machines and horticulture.
CVCC volleyball coach and admissions representative Shannon Hudson is among the CVCC staff who leads the tours to the eighth-graders.
Hudson said given the variety of departments and the level of depth she and other CVCC faculties are assigned to cover during the campus tours, she joked that the program lives up to its name.
“It really is an ‘Extreme’ STEM Tour,” Hudson said with a laugh.
Hudson went on to say that despite being on campus almost every day as a coach, counselor for student services and as an admissions representative, she’s always learning something new about CVCC and the programs offered.
“Some of these programs that are being offered here, I had no idea they were even around,” Hudson said.
Like Hudson, Arndt Middle School student Matthew Hancock also was impressed by the variety of opportunities presented within the realm of the CVCC campus.
Hancock, 14, said after the tours he never knew about most of the programs and career opportunities presented during the tours even existed.
“I never knew there would be quite that many,” Hancock said.
Hancock, who is looking to pursue a career in the medical field, said he really enjoyed seeing the CVCC ValleySim Hospital that was led by Director Ty Wright.
He said he was impressed by how technologically advanced the facility’s computer equipment and programmable manikins were.
“I knew simulations existed in hospital care, but I never knew it would be that advanced,” Hancock said.
Vanguard Furniture CEO John Bray stressed the importance in not only his company but also the furniture and manufacturing industry’s need to bring in a younger group of employees.
Bray said the company took a major hit in staffing during the recession in the late-2000s and since then, the company has struggled to fill the void left by the job losses and its aging incumbent workers.
Bray also said the tours give Vanguard Furniture an opportunity to disprove the outdated perceptions of the furniture industry.
He said many of the students' parents carry a perception that the furniture industry is "dirty, not fun, not hip and not cool."
"We get a chance to excite them with good pay and show them all the artistic and mechanic side that we require in (our) business," Bray said.
MSC Director Dan St. Louis also stressed the importance of reaching out to today’s students. He said the EXTREME STEM tours are “absolutely” one of the most important outreach efforts that the company has.
“We can’t make a connection with the younger generation if we never made the outreach to the local schools.” St. Louis said.
St. Louis went on to say that Education Matters Executive Director Tracy Hall has done a “heck of a job” in connecting businesses like MSC and Vanguard Furniture with the local school districts.
“You’re getting the education community communicating with the manufacturing industry to accommodate each other’s needs,” St. Louis said. “These connections are necessary to drive (Catawba County’s) economic growth.”
Hudson said these tours could prove to be very useful for the students in the long run because they received a head start in identifying and even considering some of the career opportunities being offered throughout Catawba County.
“They get a chance to think about what they want to do when they grow up instead of waiting until the second semester of senior year of high school, or even college,” Hudson said. “It’s really going to help them get started in the thinking process about choosing a career.”