January 2021 Newsletter

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January 2021 Newsletter

Don’t forget! New winter/spring group job shadow days are NOW OPEN for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Apply by Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. In-person and virtual opportunities are available.


The Power of the Job Shadow

Cameron Fox always loved football and athletics but wasn’t sure how he could turn those passions into a career. During his sophomore year of high school, Cameron attended Workplace Learning Connection’s Athletic Career Day at the University of Iowa to learn about careers in coaching, sports marketing, and athletic training. The experience was transformational and cemented his future path. In fact, he loved his experience so much he attended the same shadow the following year. 

“I remember being so excited after my shadows. I went home and told my dad everything. Since then, it has been my goal to work for the University of Iowa football team,” Cameron said. “My dad told me that it is really important to get my foot in the door. I saw the job shadow opportunities as a great chance to do that.” Today, Cameron is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Sports and Recreation Management, and he indeed does work within the Iowa football program, in the Strength and Conditioning department. “Those two shadows definitely played a role in getting me where I’m at today. I made contact with some people in the Iowa football program, and I still maintain those relationships. Those connections helped me land this job,” says Cameron. “Hopefully, my next step is to become an Iowa football manager. And after I graduate, I want to work in football operations; my backup plan is athletic administration.”

Even a few hours spent at a job shadow can make a huge difference in a student’s future career path. Workplace Learning Connection’s winter/spring group job shadow portal is now open.

Cameron emphasizes, “If I could tell current high school students anything, it is that you need to take advantage of these opportunities because you are not just going to get lucky and fall into your dream role. You have to work for it and create those relationships. Those connections can seriously go a long way. I can attest to it personally.” 

Project-Based Learning: An Alternative Educational Model

Over 10 years ago, a group of dedicated Cedar Rapids and Marion community members had the desire to fundamentally change the conversation around education and provide an alternative model to traditional high school learning that focused on project- and competency-based learning. From that desire, Iowa BIG was born.

“Iowa BIG is a program that allows kids to follow their passions and interests and engage in authentic projects with business, nonprofit, and government agencies while meeting Iowa Core standards and earning core academic credits,” says Trace Pickering, executive director and co-founder of Iowa BIG. Currently Iowa Big provides this unique learning model to 250 kids in four school districts. With project-based learning (PBL), students tie competencies of the classroom to real-world projects. “This type of learning is important because it allows students to see what they are learning in-context and gives them the opportunity to make a larger impact on their community through their work and efforts. PBL also helps students build those critical employability skills and mindsets,” says Trace.  

Project-based learning is a fantastic continuation of work-based learning. PBL allows students to transition from building career awareness (through engagements with career speakers, job shadows, career fairs, tours, etc.) to exploration (through job shadows and internships) to application of these interests (through project-based learning). Leah Ahlers, a Linn-Mar senior, is a WLC student who followed this path from discovery to exploration to application and whose career explorations with WLC led her to join Iowa BIG.

“My job shadows and internship experiences made me realize I am a hands-on learner. I am not a student who can sit in a classroom and take a test and learn by just doing notes; I have to be able to apply what I’m doing to the real world. Iowa BIG provides me the opportunity to do business and work in the community and apply credits that I’m earning through my school to projects,” says Leah.

Not all students learn the same way. Some students, like Leah, are more applied learners. Through her engagement with Iowa BIG, Leah came up with the idea for the Iowa BIG Splinters Project following the devastating derecho in August of last year. The Splinters Project brought in chainsaw artists from around Iowa to create art out of trees damaged in the storm. The art pieces were then auctioned off, with 60 percent of the profits going to Trees Forever to help plant more trees in eastern Iowa to help replenish those lost in the storm. Leah brought in six other students and a teacher advisor to carry out this hugely successful event, which raised over $25,000.

“The Iowa BIG concept is taking something you’re interested in and pursuing it,” says Leah. “If you’re interested in sports, get on a project that’s related to sports. If you’re interested in the homeless community and how to make that better, you can get on a project with that. There’s just so many opportunities and projects out there; it’s just a different perspective to learning.”

Through all her experiences with job shadows, internships, and Iowa BIG, Leah discovered that her initial postsecondary plan to be an athletic trainer may not actually be where her passion lies. Through her engagement with the Splinters Project, Leah decided she’d like to pursue a career in business, marketing, or event planning.

Interested in learning more about Iowa BIG? For more information on Iowa BIG, visit Iowabig.org.

STEAM Institute Goes Virtual!

For the past nine years, WLC has been working with regional business partners to provide area seventh- grade students the chance to learn from and engage with careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and math through in-person presentations. Like most everything else in 2020, WLC was forced to pivot and move this event, known as STEAM Institute, to a virtual format. 

Virtual STEAM week was held Dec. 14 – 18 and consisted of live and recorded presentations from 26 area business leaders. Educators and students had access to 18 live and 17 recorded STEAM presentations. Access to this event was open to all seventh-graders in our seven-county region.

A survey of educators prior to the event showed they planned to utilize these STEAM resources with over 4,500 students. STEAM week alone saw 138 viewers join live events (a viewer can be an individual or an entire classroom) and 786 views of our recorded STEAM presentations. But the biggest benefit of going virtual? All of this content will be available on the WLC website to provide educators the flexibility to add these resources to their classroom schedules as they fit.

“Thank you so much for all this information, WLC,” said Victoria Wanda, M.A., NCC, school counselor at Oak Ridge Middle School. “We pushed out the prerecorded videos and hope to push out the recordings of the live presentations in January. Thanks so much for your hard work on this. We are very appreciative of being able to still give students the options to learn about a variety of STEAM careers.” 

This month we are kicking off a new segment called “WLC Partner Spotlight.” In this segment we will be featuring some of our amazing partners who help us connect today’s students to tomorrow's careers.

To start us off, we’re highlighting CIVCO Medical Solutions. CIVCO has been an amazing partner for many years, but in recent months they have gone above and beyond in helping us provide virtual career exploration experiences for our students. In the last four months, CIVCO has filmed a virtual career speaker video for WLC and provided a virtual workplace tour; we are currently working with them to develop a virtual group job shadow day.

Thank you, CIVCO, for sharing your time, talent, and knowledge with our students!

Contact WLC

Linn County Regional Center
1770 Boyson Road, Hiawatha, Iowa 52233
Phone: 319-398-1040  
Fax: 319-398-1041 
Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa
2301 Oakdale Blvd., Coralville, Iowa 52241
Phone: 319-887-3970  
Fax: 319-358-3102