Region’s schools and university work together to prepare students for local, in-demand careers.
Muscogee County School District and Columbus State University are key components of workforce development efforts and education in Columbus and the region.
A public institution offering more than 90 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, Columbus State works closely with local schools and the business community to introduce students as early as middle school to in-demand careers and keep skilled talent flowing to the region’s leading industries.
“We help our students, regardless of their area of study, live up to their creative potential, so that they are well positioned for success in the 21st century workforce,” says Ronald Williams, Columbus State University’s chief of staff. “We create an education infused with hands-on, real-world learning opportunities so our students develop the knowledge, skills and soft skills employers value and communities need.”
The university’s nursing program, for example, is consistently ranked among the top 10 nursing schools in the state. The Teaching Contract Guarantee initiative with the Muscogee County School District guarantees all graduates of Columbus State’s education program a teaching contract with the school system.
“Our education and nursing students participate in local internships, student teaching and clinicals to gain the knowledge and build the professional relationships they’ll need for a lifetime of success,” Williams says.
Williams says he considers Columbus State to be a “communiversity,” which fosters collaborations that spur economic development by anticipating and fulfilling workforce demands.
One such collaboration is with the Muscogee County district. The university received a 2022 GenCyber grant from the National Security Agency to support its efforts to broaden awareness of cybersecurity careers for female middle school students. The grant helps to fund a summer camp program where students can learn skills that they can apply in their everyday internet use.
The university’s Continuing and Professional Education program – known as Activ8 – also hosts camps to introduce students, from pre-K to eighth grade, to careers in STEM-related fields. Students are immersed in topics that range from learning how to become an entomologist to understanding what materials architects use in construction designs.
The Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC) works to inspire and educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, science educators and communicators through educational programming and camps.
“The CCSSC’s commitment to its mission and vision is evident in the various camps for K-12 students, including a camp focused on giving students the opportunity to explore and build robots. Those partnerships have become examples in the region for their efforts to unite multiple STEM disciplines under a common umbrella and to develop strategic outreach efforts with local schools,” Williams says.
On the Right Pathways
For its part, The Muscogee County School District’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) offers programming beginning in elementary school to prepare students for college and local, in-demand careers.
“The school district is the first part of the workforce development pipeline, and it plays a significant role in preparing students to be college and career ready,” says Victoria Thomas, director of career, technical and agricultural education for the school district. “This involves purposeful career exploration, which evolves into skill development that equips students to be eligible for immediate employment or to continue to a postsecondary institution before beginning their careers.”
A Bright Future Ahead
Middle schools offer career exploration programs in nine career areas, and many of the district’s elementary schools offer computer science and STEM-related instruction.
The district’s high schools offer CTAE programs in 16 career cluster areas as well as work-based learning programs. Also, the district’s Britt David Magnet Academy has added a CTAE focus to its advanced college preparatory curriculum.
The district also hosts an “I Love My Future Week,” which includes career fairs, guest speakers and virtual field trips to local businesses.
“The philosophy of CTAE is to provide students with real-world application of core academic – English, math, science and social studies – content. Therefore, the goal is to provide all students, even those who are bound for a four-year university, with opportunities to explore careers,” Thomas says.
Q&A: Alum Now a Leader at MCSD
The Muscogee County School District has a proven track record of providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their career goals. Perhaps no one knows that better than Kimberly Wright, director of communications for the Muscogee County School District, who is herself a product of the school district.
Wright attended Fox Elementary and Marshall Middle before graduating from Kendrick High School. She would later serve as an assistant to the principal at her alma mater before earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbus State University.
Director of communications
Muscogee County School District
How did your education in Muscogee County Schools prepare you for your career?
I was in FBLA – Future Business Leaders of America – in high school, which included a work-study program, where I’d go to school half a day and work the other half. That taught me those soft skills that you need to be successful at work, like showing up on time.
What is the biggest advantage the school district offers students?
It provides students with all sorts of opportunities and resources that are available not just for students but also for their parents. We have after-school programs, and our athletic departments are awesome. We also have programs that help prepare those students who might not be ready to or want to go to college but want to go straight into the workforce. For example, we just announced a new heavy equipment program at Jordan High School for students who might be interested in the construction industry.
How are schools different today than when you were a student?
Technology has evolved. Back when I was in school, even when I first started working for the district, we were still using typewriters. Now, everything is digital, and the school system has evolved to meet those changes. The kids have Chromebooks and laptops, and there is virtual learning. It’s exciting.
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