Photo Courtesy of Denver Public Schools

A successful example of Project-Based Mentorship

As you know by now, I am always looking for institutions and corporations that are placing more students in jobs and addressing our skills gap in the US. Most recently, I ran across the Denver Public Schools and a program they call “CareerConnect.” Let me start by saying, “Job Well Done.” But let’s look further into what Denver is doing.

In response to our changing times, Denver Public Schools created a CareerConnect Program that is connecting schools with corporations with project-based learning opportunities. Heard of that before? Some of us call it Project Based Mentorship®.

I had the pleasure of chatting with various leaders from DPS CareerConnect and asking many questions, and I’d love to take this moment to share some of the great ideas they’ve implemented. For starters, CareerConnect identified a need and set up a website to connect students with corporations: dpscareerconnect.org. Then, CareerConnect created a survey that asks their students questions such as “why are you taking a CareerConnect course?” “What are your hobbies?” And, “What do you need help with?”

Perhaps more importantly, when DPS received results, they listened. According to Alex Oves, Regional Coordinator at CareerConnect, the goal was to listen to how CareerConnect could support students in taking the next step. And that is precisely what they did.

DPS asked, “Do you want to go to college in Colorado?” Students are often encouraged to check out CollegeinColorado.org. “What is the degree you seek?” In many cases, educators will suggest students look into earning an industry credential while in high school. From their studies, that was the best way to move forward toward a career.

But in our interview, I learned the program went yet another step further. DPS said it wanted to bring industry executives to the public schools to further build a connection. Quite literally, DPS is bringing the corporation to the classroom. And as a result, DPS invested in “Project Lead the Way” that connects classrooms to the surrounding corporations. Here are some amazing examples of what CareerConnect has set up for various student interests:

  • In BusinessConnect, students work in collaboration with an outdoor company to co-design a climbing park for local residents.
  • In CreativeConnect, students produce and edit original audio tracks and work with industry standard audio engineering equipment.
  • In EngineeringConnect, students design a 3D Model of Colorado through CAD design and 3D printing.
  • In HospitalityConnect, students run a full-service restaurant, including front-of-house and back-of-house operations.
  • In MedConnect, students design a mock health clinic with volunteers from the community presenting with pre-scripted illnesses to be diagnosed.
  • In TechConnect, students design their own video game, and post it to a public gaming website for play, review, feedback, and iteration cycles.

CareerConnect also holds an “Industry Summit” every semester, connecting teachers with industry representatives and leaders. Industry professionals are invited to come to classrooms to do hands-on activities “dialed in with the professional community”

How did DPS accomplish all of this? I was simultaneously in shock, and in admiration, to know that CareerConnect cold-calls corporations. The team literally looks up the companies in operation around their schools, and calls to ask if they would be willing to get involved. So far, DPS has signed up no less than Xcel Energy, United Airlines, Kaiser Permanente, several state colleges, St. Joseph Hospital, Amazon, and Lockheed Martin. But that’s the short list. In total, more than 300 companies participate with DPS in one way or another.

**Looking for suggestions on how to reach out to corporations? Read our How-To Guide here.**

Photo Courtesy of Denver Public Schools

Based on its success, DPS has expanded its team to further enhance its offerings to students. Alex works for the Career and Technical Education Department for the DPS

Team, with a central and school-based staff that includes over 100 people. Fifty non-teaching staff work to organize the efforts, while another 50 teachers are involved on the front line.

More recently, the team received a seven-million-dollar Department of Labor grant awarded over the course of the last four years. With the grant, CareerConnect has been building out career education and work-based learning (including job shadows, mentoring, and internships) in high-demand, high-paying industries. One of the major goals is to prepare Denver students for the world of work, in hopes that industries would hire talent from within the state of Colorado instead of seeking applicants from outside the state, which has been the trend for several years. Fortunately, Denver voters have identified the value of the CareerConnect program and its goals, and they recently approved a mill levy, providing funding for this program.

As I wrapped up my interview with Alex, I had to say (and it was entirely deserved), “What you are doing is an answer for the country.” To Denver, I say “keep up the great work.” To the rest of us, I hope we take note. I am.

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