May 2021 Newsletter

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May 2021 Newsletter

Partners, educators, and parents — THANK YOU for another great school year. If there is one thing we learned this year it’s how resilient and powerful we are as a community when we come together. We look forward to collaborating with you next year and continuing to make a difference in the lives of our students!


Virtual Pivots Increase Equity and Access to Work-Based Learning

As we reflect on a unique school year, it would be easy to focus on the challenges and lament about how things looked different. At Workplace Learning Connection, when we think back over this past year we can only see how far we have comeDesign Job Shadow: Martin Gardner and the good that has come from these changes. The pandemic forced us to reinvent our programs and create virtual options to meet the changing engagement needs of educators, students, and businesses.

Starting in March 2020 we had to re-evaluate traditional models for career exploration experiences. Over the last 15 months we have been able to provide virtual options for a majority of our programming.

  •  Virtual job shadows – We transitioned a majority of our job shadows to a virtual format to ensure students still had the ability to explore careers of interest. We built a model for virtual job shadows and developed best practices. We trained and enlisted the help of our supportive business community to offer these experiences.
  • Virtual career speaker library – Tapping into our arsenal of amazing local professionals, we created a virtual career speaker library. With over 70 videos now recorded, our assets have received over 16,000 views and over 1,000 hours of view time in the last year. These videos live on our WLC YouTube channel and allow students and educators the opportunity to engage with the videos and continue their career exploration journeys at times convenient for them.
  • Virtual mock interviews – Interviewing is such an important skill for high school students to learn. We completely revamped our mock interview program to allow for virtual implementation so students could still have this experience.
  • Micro internship program – The internship team created a program for students who were approved for an internship placement but were unable to be placed due to COVID-19 restrictions or lack of an available business that aligns with their career exploration goals. This opportunity allows the student to complete an anytime-anywhere curriculum to earn noncredit credentials. Students learn 21st-century employability skills and complete a capstone with an area professional in their field of interest. This is a less intensive version of our 45- to 90-hour in-person internship program.

The feedback we’ve received on these new virtual experiences has been overwhelmingly positive. “Even though the job shadow was virtual, I still found it very helpful in educating me on a career in physical therapy,” says Jaymeson Westphal, a Prairie High School student. “The job shadow host included videos of what we would’ve seen at an in-person job shadow, which I both found helpful and enjoyed. The host did a very good job of making a clear and understandable presentation. So even though we couldn’t meet in person, she included pictures, past experiences, and videos to help enhance our learning and understanding of her job.”

These innovative virtual work-based learning strategies are here to stay. These virtual pivots have increased equity and access to quality work-based learning opportunities, especially for rural and underrepresented students. Virtual experiences allow WLC to safely, equitably, and cost effectively offer career exploration experiences while expanding our reach. Virtual experiences eliminate transportation and schedule barriers that some students may have experienced in the past. Going virtual has also allowed more students to take advantage of high-interest career areas where in-person capacity has historically been limited. Given all these benefits, we foresee virtual becoming a permanent offering in our programming in the future.

Former WLC Intern Has a Key Role in Helping Her Community Through the Pandemic

Kaci Ginn, a former Anamosa High School student, has always been a go-getter. While in high school, Kaci completed a job shadow and three internships through WLC. Never could she have imagined how impactful her last internship with Jones County Public Health (JCPH) would be. When her internship ended in the spring of 2018, Kaci continued going back to work for JCPH each summer and over winter breaks. Then … in comes 2020.

“Last March when the pandemic hit, my former intern host texted me and said, ‘Hey, can you help us out with some of our social media stuff?’ I thought sure, a couple hours a week, that’s great — extra cash and I can help out my community,” says Kaci. “Well, here we are today, over a year later, and I am now the Jones County Public Health preparedness specialist. I’m a regular part-time employee of the county.”
This role was a completely new position, developed out of necessity due to the pandemic. Kaci went from being an intern to helping her community by providing information, support, and guidance during the largest health crisis of our generation.
“My internship prepared me for this role,” Kaci says. “Working in a pandemic, coupled [with] learning a new job that didn't exist, was hard enough, [yet] it was so beneficial that I already had the experience with JCPH so I could step right intoKaci Ginn the role with the background I needed.” Kaci’s primary job responsibilities today revolve around vaccine distribution and planning. Kaci and the team are also starting to look ahead toward the recovery phase of the preparedness process.

Kaci is a huge advocate for the value of completing internships while in high school. “The skills and knowledge that I gained from high school were a good foundation, but the enrichment experiences, like my internships, set me apart,” says Kaci. “I always thought it was important to be that high achiever in high school, taking all the AP classes I could get my hands on. That’s great and it’s great to have that knowledge and that work ethic, but when the rubber meets the road, you need to have those soft skills to communicate with your co-workers and solve issues in a fast-paced environment. When they drop a bunch of vaccine on your lap and say, ‘OK, you have to get it out the door by next Friday,’ having those skills and those connections within the community are essential.”

On top of working as the preparedness specialist, Kaci is also working on finishing her bachelor’s degree and recently was accepted in to the accelerated Master of Public Health program at the University of Iowa. “My internship had a huge impact on my path post high school. Seeing public health in action was pivotal because public health is largely an invisible field, until this last year that is. Because when public health works, you don’t have to think about it if you’re not working in it. So being able to see it firsthand was really important to then leading me to the Public Health program at Iowa.”

As for what she wants to do once she graduates, Kaci says she’s flexible; her passion lies in prevention and big-picture thinking to influence things that impact public health at the large macro level. “That ability to really impact people’s lives at the community level is so much more important than people realize. Whatever form that takes, I’m excited and very open to where my path takes me.”

Local Business Leader Understands the Value of Work-Based Learning

Kate Moreland, president of the Iowa City Area Development Group, has been a WLC advocate and partner for many years. She has collaborated with WLC to increase business engagement in our programs and build a regional vision for career-connected learning. Kate understands the value of work-based learning opportunities both as a parent and a community leader.

Kate’s daughter Meg and son Charlie both participated in WLC programming, and their experiences had a direct impact on their postsecondary choices. “The engagement with WLC helped them each become more of an adult,” says Kate. “The experience of going through the process of getting the internship was extremely valuable, and then the internship itself had direct impacts on the career choices they have now made in college. Without those I think they would have struggled a bit more, decided later, and not have had an interest sparked like they did. For them, the experiences really charted their course forward.”

Kate's daughter's eyes were opened through the experience in the medical field as to how one could connect with people and patients as a nurse, transitioning her focus away from being a physician. Her son knew he wanted to pursue engineering but wasn’t sure what type. His chemical engineering internship at the University of Iowa,Kate Moreland while valuable and enjoyable, helped him realize that chemical engineering wasn’t the type of engineering he wanted to do long term. For him, finding out what he didn’t like was just as important as finding out what he did like.

“It is really important for students to have an understanding of an area of interest prior to entering a postsecondary experience,” says Kate. “It is a financial benefit to have those early experiences; it better informs kids on where to apply and what programs make sense for them. It also allows kids to be excited about their future and be more engaged as students. Once my kids figured out their path, it elevated their level of engagement because they suddenly had a purpose.”

As to why Kate so strongly advocates for businesses to support work-based learning, she says, “Every company should consider opening their doors to local students. It has the ability to allow your company to get greater exposure and for you to be part of the solution when it comes to our workforce challenges. I think we all have a responsibility to ensure our local students know what opportunities are here. Those connections can make such a big difference down the road, not just for the students but for companies too when students decide to stay and become employees.”

“WLC has such a knowledgeable team,” Kate continues. “There is great value in WLC’s ability to connect young people to opportunities and create spaces for employers to be part of the solution to our workforce challenges. WLC really bridges that gap in an experiential way that is different than what schools can do. As an intermediary, they have a huge value for both students and employers.”

Are you interested in supporting our students and helping develop Iowa’s future workforce? Learn how you and your organization can get involved by visiting our WLC Partner & Volunteer page.

Collins Aerospace has been an amazing supporter of WLC for many, many years and supports our mission to help students explore future career paths. They have been a funder of our work, hosted hundreds of interns and job shadow students, and participated in nearly every type of WLC event. Their willingness to engage with our students has truly made a difference. Thank you, Collins Aerospace.

Collins Aerospace

Contact WLC

Linn County Regional Center
1770 Boyson Rd., 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