Panthers Exploring Careers with Hands-on Learning

High School students in the Drafting pathway offered at Norfolk Public Schools were recruited to work alongside 8th graders at the Norfolk Junior High School to bring their drafted doorstops to life using 3D printers. This is one of several projects the 8th graders will get to do this semester to learn about and explore careers.

Career Connections is an eighth grade course designed to increase awareness of college and career pathways through hands-on simulations and project-based experiences. Career Connection students explore high school, college, and career options based on individual student interests, abilities, and skills. Students will investigate high skill and/or high demand jobs in the Nebraska labor market while developing workplace skills. This course brings in a variety of community professionals to provide students with hands-on career experiences. Students are expected to use their employability skills to participate and behave appropriately during Professional Speaker Days.

“We feel that it is important to provide students with hands-on career exploration opportunities to help students apply themselves to the working world and how they can one day fit into it. It also helps students to immerse themselves into different career opportunities they otherwise may not have heard of or really considered/reflected upon before. When our students are in different areas of their life, we want them to be able to reflect back and remember their employable skills they were taught in our classroom. We feel it is important to expand our students' knowledge of all the careers possible, but also enjoy the time they are spending in the classroom,” said Tia Onderstal, Career Connections teacher at Norfolk Junior High. 

It is a big task preparing our future workforce and we feel that in order to prepare every student to pursue their goals for the future, we need to put opportunities in front of them to explore. 

Despite this large task, teachers are not discouraged by the magnitude of what is expected when it comes to preparing all students with strategies for success. Onderstal said, “We hope to see our students walk away from our class with a better understanding of themselves and how they can use their skills and interests in a career someday. During the time the students spend in this class, we focus on employability skills that they will continue to practice the rest of their lives. We hope that students leave our classroom excited to take on the world and become successful people. Another goal we have is for students to know the many different academic, career development, college and other workplace experience opportunities they have available to them now and in the future.”

These 8th graders have a variety of opportunities awaiting them at the High School level because of Career Academy pathways. 

Norfolk Career Academies encourage small learning communities within Norfolk Senior High that provide a strong focus on career and college readiness in several career cluster areas. Elective courses are strategically sequenced to follow a program of study that includes theory exploration as well as hands-on, practical experiences needed to be successful in the student's chosen career interest area. Students are also expected to be a member of a Career and Technical Student Organization such as SkillsUSA. The drafting pathway gives students a head start in a career in drafting, architecture, and engineering.

Our Drafting Academy students benefited from helping the 8th graders as well. “It was a lot of fun watching our drafting students in problem solving mode. The 3D printers are great machines, but there are always a lot of quirks to work out, especially when we are trying to operate so many at the same time. I witnessed our students' technological knowledge, but more importantly I got to see their leadership skills shine,” said Austin Casselberry, Career Academy Coordinator. 

Every 3D printer in the Creation Station was assembled by Junior High students in Derek Summers’ Industrial Technology course. The Creation Station is the result of partnering with the Nucor Detailing Center and the Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) Grant. In addition to the 3D printers, there are also Laser Cutters, Embroidery Machines, Vinyl Cutters, and CNC machines.

“It is exciting to see the “Makerspace Model” being utilized and explored here at Norfolk Public Schools. Our region is not exempt from the rapid changes being expedited from the pandemic and workforce shortages. We want our students to have opportunities to keep ahead of the pace of automation, and that means intentionally getting technology in their hands will be important moving forward,” said Casselberry.