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Career Academy at UCC Opens Doors for Rural High Schoolers

9:38 PM · Dec 17, 2022

Over 30 rural high school students drive to or are bussed to Umpqua Community College every Friday to take classes in automotive, theater, or EMT. This is the first semester of the Career Academy, which provides an opportunity to get access to extracurricular programs that might not be available at the smaller schools in the county. The college collaborated with The Ford Family Foundation, Douglas Educational Service District, principals, and superintendents to get the Career Academy at UCC. Funding came in the form of $491,996 in grant money from The Ford Family Foundation, and additional support from the Oregon Strategic Innovation Grant. The classes were created based on instructor availability and school requests. The classes meet on Fridays so the students at four-day schools don’t miss class time. “Some of it is the ability to find somebody to teach it,” UCC President Rachel Pokrandt said. “You can't just put any faculty member in that, right? Because they're they used to work in with a certain population of students. And this is just a little bit different, there's a little bit more raising humans along with the curriculum which you have to have the very best humans to do that.” The EMT instructor, Dale Pospisil, retired and came back for this once-a-week class, the automotive instructor, Doyle Poole, works elsewhere four days a week and comes to the college on Fridays (much like the students), and the theater teacher, Bart McHenry, teaches at the college regularly and works the high school students into his course load. Pokrandt said theatre was “sort of an outlier” but the school districts had enough students request it, the college made it work. “I have to try to stay as close to the curriculum as possible, because I can’t dummy it down for them,” Poole said. “They may be high school students, but this is college. Everything is equivalent to our regular automotive class. They have to work hard. I try to motivate them, engage them and make it fun. It it’s not fun, they get bored and don’t want to be here.” Pokrandt joked about how some students are so invested in Poole’s automotive program, he has a hard time getting them to leave at the end of the day. She also told a story about orientation day when a student’s family rented a u-haul truck just to get them to the program, because this was the opportunity they saw as necessary to reach their goals. In Poole’s class, students are learning to take engines all the way apart and put them back together as well as necessary shop safety. Poole emphasizes how the automotive industry is one where you have to keep learning to keep up with the work. “My students are really enthusiastic,” Doyle said. “Cars change. You’re learning it now, but in the automotive industry, you’re constantly going to school and learning.” Noah Reed, a 12th-grader at South Umpqua High School, has been working on cars since he was a little kid and engine work comes naturally to him. He hopes to get a job in an auto shop after high school. The average salary for a mechanic in Oregon is $52,390 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics “I like cars. I like to make custom builds or to make it run,” Reed said. “We use them every day. I’m usually a fast learner. If you learn the basics of an engine, it’s easy to understand.” Reed works in a bay with his classmate, Bryce Eastridge, who is also in 12th grade. Eastridge balances his automotive class, his regular class load, and sports. He drives his own car to class so he can make it to football or basketball practices on Fridays. He only started working on cars when he started driving, but both students want to work as mechanics when they graduate. “I think it’s pretty fun and I think this is a good opportunity,” Eastridge said. “Since I’m a senior and I’m on track to graduate, I only have a couple classes to worry about, so it isn’t that hard to balance everything.” Poole is also teaching skills and giving opportunities to earn certificates that can be applied outside of the automotive industry, like precision measuring. Poole said students can earn up to 13 certificates in his class over the course of the year, which Career Academy Coordinator Delane Overton said is something they are intentional about with the program. “One of the things is getting credits with a purpose,” Overton said. “We try to layer things and stack credentials. This is a great bridge for some of them. It’s something they couldn’t imagine was possible a year or two ago.” Getting an EMT certificate was not something Brooklyn Williams, a 12th grader from North Douglas High School, could not have easily done before this year. She’s always wanted to work in medicine and is applying for colleges and med schools to work towards her goal of being a nurse practitioner. “I thought this would be good practice,” Williams said. “It is a lot more work than I was expecting, but it’s worth it. I feel like it could be very straining but worth it knowing you’re helping people who couldn’t themselves otherwise. I think this is a really great opportunity.” Pospisil said he would trust all of his students to save his life if he needed emergency care. That’s the way he teaches his students, like they could be saving his life. He’s had fire chiefs and ambulance operators in the class and several told him his students could be fully employed with them once they pass their EMT test. “These students are doing exactly the same things the college EMT students would do,” Pospisil said. “I would put them up against the regular college EMT class. The goal is for all of these students to be licensed EMTs. I always teach from the standpoint that they could be saving me one day.” EMT students cannot take their final licensing test until they turn 18, but that doesn’t prevent sophomores from taking the class to explore opportunities or with the intent to maintain the knowledge until they turn 18. “They are learning a lot,” TFFF Senior Program Officer Todd Bloomquist. “What we try to do is really bolster that caseload with families in rural Oregon and help them transition into that school-age group. We also help facilitate the transition out of K-12 into higher education or career.” The Ford Family Foundation covers the extra costs of the program while the school districts pay tuition and handle transporting the students to the college and UCC provides the courses and instructors. Students come from as far as Glendale and Reedsport to be in the program. “It really came out of the college partnering with the school districts and asking ‘what do you need, what are your gaps?” Pokrandt said. “We’re hoping it grows. The students are energetic. They are committed and understand how to take the opportunities offered to them. Our job is to match the energy.” Pokrandt said they’ve already learned so much this year and look forward to implementing the lessons they’ve learned and hopefully adding new programs like Forestry and Certified Nursing Assistant and reaching out to the homeschool population more. For more information, go to https://www.umpqua.edu/career-academy.

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