Angelica Verde, a senior at Tustin High in Orange County, spent last summer immersed in her dream internship, shadowing engineers at the Boeing Company as they worked on the latest technology in space exploration.

She is one of more than 14,000 Orange County students in secondary schools and community colleges who participate in career pathway programs. These provide hands-on learning, mentoring and internships as part of partnerships with industries in sectors that have experienced a shortage of qualified workers. Statewide, more than 150,000 students now participate in these programs.

Many were created following California’s Career Pathways Trust, the nearly $500 million effort launched in 2014 to promote partnerships linking schools, community colleges, businesses and institutes to prepare students for real-world jobs.

The Orange County Department of Education received a $15 million grant from the trust that it used to create the OC Pathways program, which includes 14 school districts, nine community colleges and dozens of business and other partners. Verde’s 160-hour internship was part of her school’s engineering pathway, where students learn job skills from professionals in different engineering sectors.

“My goal after college is to work at Space X or Boeing,” she said. “That’s something I couldn’t have before imagined.”

This week, Verde was among 400 students, educators, and business leaders who attended OC Pathways Showcase, an annual event that highlights the growth of career pathway programs in Orange County related to engineering and advanced manufacturing, healthcare and biotechnology, and information technology and digital media.

“We really need these feeder programs in place because otherwise we’re not going to go where we need to go. Times are a lot different from when I went to high school when the biggest ‘pathway’ was the agriculture department,” said Tim Buzza, vice president at Virgin Galactic.

Held at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin, the event attracted students from middle school through community college, describing how these pathway programs have encouraged them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

It also featured dozens of student projects created as part of school pathway programs. Students in engineering programs maneuvered robotic dinosaurs; those in computer science pathways built computer coding to create animated pirates; and students in forensic science erected mock crime scenes.

Daniella Hernandez, Sathyush Kamineni and Andrey Chernyshev, all eighth-graders from Rancho San Joaquin Middle School in Irvine show their robotics projects at the OC Pathways Showcase.

FERMIN LEAL/EDSOURCE TODAY

From left, Daniella Hernandez, Sathyush Kamineni and Andrey Chernyshev, all 8th-graders from Rancho San Joaquin Middle School in Irvine, show their robotics projects at the OC Pathways Showcase.

Aliso Niguel High senior Julia Hopkins and junior Shanice Berry, part of their school’s biotechnology pathway, worked on an experiment involving micro platelets – tiny particles shed from blood cells –  that turned into bright colors when mixed in the correct order.

“These programs give you experience that help you understand what these jobs are really like,” said Hopkins, who plans to study neuroscience in college. “It’s different than anything you can learn from a book.”

Tim Buzza, vice president of program development at Virgin Galactic, told students that companies such as his now rely on pathway programs for their next generation of workers.

“We really need these feeder programs in place because, otherwise, we’re not going to go where we need to go,” he said. “Times are a lot different from when I went to high school when the biggest ‘pathway’ was the agriculture department.”

County Superintendent Al Mijares echoed the value of the programs, saying: “All students need these pathways for 21st century skills. This world is an amazing place that offers incredible opportunity for students. But they need to be prepared.”

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