Summit inspires students to be ‘future-ready’
Jaqueline Guardado always knew she wanted to go to college. It is something that her hard-working parents, both manual labor factory workers, instilled upon her at a young age. Simply put – they wanted more for their daughter.
Now getting ready to enter 9th grade at Perry High School, Jaqueline’s once childhood dream has started to feel more real.
“My parents didn’t get a chance to go to college,” Jaqueline said. “My mom’s family pulled her out after middle school to work. My dad works long, hard hours at two different jobs. College is a priority for me – I want to make my parents proud.”
But thinking and doing are two different things. Not being able to turn to her parents with questions, the process seemed a bit intimidating. So when Jaqueline’s school counselor talked to her about a summer summit where students would stay on a college campus, meet other students from across the state and learn more about college and careers – she immediately applied.
“I was talking to my counselor about my high school schedule when she told me about the GEAR UP Iowa Student Summit,” Jaqueline said. “I knew immediately I wanted to go and meet new people and just get experience about college. I was so excited when I found out I was accepted.”
Jacqueline was one of 60 students selected to attend the summer residential experience this week at Grand View University in Des Moines. Sponsored by GEAR UP Iowa, an initiative of the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, the opportunity is in line with Future Ready Iowa – an initiative launched last year by Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to increase the education and skill levels of Iowans. During the summit, students explored careers, talked to college students about campus life, engaged in teamwork and leadership activities and toured business sites in high-demand industry fields.
Funded through a federal grant, GEAR UP Iowa strives to create a “college-going” culture among low-income, minority and first generation students. To help increase college attendance and success and raise the expectation of low income students, the federal grant requires recipients to include an early intervention component in their programming.
“GEAR UP Iowa is a seven-year project that started when the students were in 7th grade and will follow them through high school graduation and into their first year of postsecondary education or training,” GEAR UP Iowa Program Coordinator Darcie Sprouse said. “GEAR UP students and families receive a variety of services to prepare them academically, financially and inspirationally to enroll and succeed in postsecondary education or workforce preparation programs.”
Future Ready Iowa focuses on closing the skills gap by ensuring Iowans have the education, training and skills that are necessary for careers in today’s increasingly knowledge-based, global economy. Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov Reynolds have called for 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce to have education or training beyond high school by 2025.
“Many of the students attending the summit are first-generation students whose families do not have knowledge or experience about higher education,” said Tiffany Berkenes, GEAR UP Iowa program facilitator and organizer of the summit. “It was important to host the summit on a college campus to take away some of that fear of the unknown. But that doesn’t mean that a four-year degree is for everyone. We want students to explore all opportunities to find the optimal fit. We want them to know that there are many high-paying, in-demand career paths with varying levels of education and skills required.”
In Iowa, industry sectors such as construction, manufacturing, health care, and transportation have large concentrations of middle-skill jobs that require education and training beyond high school, but less than a four-year degree. Iowa Workforce Development estimates that 55 percent of Iowa’s jobs require middle-skills while only 32 percent of the workers possess those skills.
With this in mind, Iowa Workforce Development helped GEAR UP Iowa identify high-growth employers willing to host the summit students, answer questions, and offer tours and job shadowing experiences. As a result, the summit agenda included tours of Unity Point Health’s Methodist Medical Center and Accumold – a micro-molding company in Ankeny that serves the high-tech industry.
The rising cost of higher education is a college access barrier for many of the summit students. While touring Accumold, the students learned about a partnership the company has with Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to offer a scholarship that serves the dual purpose of helping train the company’s future workforce while raising awareness of the DMACC Tool & Die, Electronic, Robotics, and Automation programs. Scholarships, like the one at Accumold, help to remove college access barriers while closing the skills gap in the state.
“People have no idea what advanced manufacturing is,” said Grace Swanson, vice president of human capital at Accumold. “We offer challenging work and have a growing need for skilled tool and die technicians. We are reaching out to younger students to raise awareness of micro-molding and all the career opportunities available here. Whenever we plant a seed it could produce a future employee.”
The availability of a scholarship that pays upwards of $10,000 per year toward tuition and tools at DMACC, work experience and a guaranteed job offer upon program completion in return for a one-year work commitment at Accumold piqued the interest of summit participant Aaliyah Jones who will be attending Hoover High School in Des Moines in the fall.
“In middle school I thought I wanted to be a pop star, and I was always interested in being a lawyer – mainly because of the money,” Aaliyah said. “But I took a robotics class this year and didn’t realize how much I would really like it. I liked it so much that I signed up for a 3-D printer engineering class and I plan to take more advanced programming. I kind of want to leave home to go to college, but the scholarship money is a big deal.”
With over 30,000 employees serving 4.5 million patients annually in its clinics and hospitals, Denise Forney, organizational development business partner for Unity Point said that they are feeling the need for skilled workers now.
“With Iowa’s aging population, our need for skilled workers in all areas of health care continues to grow,” Forney said. “We have growth in all areas – clinical and non-clinical. We want people to see that there are a lot of different career opportunities beyond being a doctor or a nurse.”
The visit to Unity Point reaffirmed Sioux City North student and summit participant Dade Gifford’s interest in science and technology.
“I am really interested in science – chemistry and physics. I’d like to go into epidemiology to help find new ways to treat diseases,” Dade said. “I don’t really want to work with patients, but I learned there are a lot of different jobs opportunities. I could work in more of a research setting.”
Engaging students and getting them excited about college and careers is exactly what Berkenes had hoped for when planning the summit.
“It is important to keep the students interested, provide them with leadership skills and keep the momentum and excitement going as they prepare to enter high school,” Berkenes said. “It’s a pivotal year and we want them to have a goal in mind. This was our first student summit, but we would like to host more regionally-based ones in the future to reach more students.”
The summit lived up to Jaqueline Guardado’s expectations.
“I learned more about myself – what I like, my options and schools available to me,” Jaqueline said. “After this week I am definitely more excited about college and my future!”