April 2016: Guest Essay

Connecting education with business, industry

Tracy Gyoerkoe

Tracy Gyoerkoe

Career and technical educators have been connecting education with business and industry almost since their inception. In today’s world, it’s even more important for these connections to remain strong, and more and more, all educators are working to connect learning to the real world of work.

Each career and technical education program maintains an industry advisory committee with which they meet at least annually. These groups include representatives from industry and also from post-secondary institutions that offer similar programs. They review program curriculum, equipment and technology to ensure students will be ready to step into a rapidly changing world of work. They advise on internship and employment opportunities as well as opportunities for students to continue their education. Often, these important partners also host student interns, assist in assessing the hands-on portion of technical assessments, and address students either in the classroom or on worksite tours. Also, every five years, the advisory committee comes together with administrators and academic teachers from school districts and economic development representatives to complete a thorough and formal review of the program to meet New York state Department of Education requirements.

We also seek out industry representatives when it considers developing a new program. Or sometimes industry comes to BOCES with an idea.

For example, the manufacturing community recently approached BOCES and assisted in the development of a manufacturing technology program for adults. Another recent example is the development of the medical assisting program for high school students. After hearing at a Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization meeting about this growing need in the health care field, officials wondered if it would be a good program to develop. Numbers in the introduction to health careers program were large and we thought we needed to explore another option for students. We brought together doctors, nurses and other health care providers to discuss the skills and certifications needed. We were able to successfully implement the program for the 2015-2016 school year.

More and more, schools are recognizing the need to engage students in community service activities. Often, these end up in the newspapers or on television news. At BOCES, most students are members of a club called SkillsUSA.

The three arms of this organization are leadership, skills, and service. The leadership and service areas give students a chance to identify community needs and develop programs and activities to meet them. Students have volunteered for the SPCA, the Thompson Park Zoo, and other non-profit organizations. In March, the 42 club members from the Howard G. Sackett Technical Center in Glenfield organized and ran a very successful carnival for local families.

More than 600 people attended, donating 851 canned goods to the local food pantry and enjoying hours of fun for children. Often, students in our programs are able to collaborate with the community on projects, too. Students from both centers will compete in a statewide conference April 27 to 29 at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Last year, students from carpentry, electrical, and HVAC programs worked with Habitat for Humanity. They built a modular home on the BOCES campus that was transported to Braman’s Block in Carthage and is now the home of a very happy family. Our visual communications students also shared a very rewarding experience in designing posters for the United Way of Northern New York.

Project-based learning is another approach that is changing the face of education and bringing students in closer contact with business, industry and community. It is often associated with science, technology, engineering and math career pathways because it follows a similar problem-solving structure to that of an engineer. The idea is that students learn content and meet academic standards as they solve a problem posed by an outside organization. Then, they research and engage in trial and error or scientific experiments to find a solution. Industry partners frequently mentor students through this process, and the conclusion involves a presentation, which can take various forms, by students to a public audience. Career and technical education teachers are receiving ongoing professional development offered through a partnership with High Schools That Work, an organization focused on school improvement. BOCES also offers various venues for training for all teachers in this model. The second annual Student-Centered Learning Conference will be held June 28 this year at South Jefferson High School.

Central to the CTE belief in providing students with career development tools, we also support the efforts of our economic development and chamber of commerce partners to increase awareness about career pathways. We partner on Manufacturing Day each fall, Workforce 20/20 in the winter and on Career Jam each spring. Career Jam, set for May 19 at the Watertown Fairgrounds Arena, is a one-day hands-on career exploration event for eighth- and/or ninth-grade students. School districts have been invited to participate and local employers will be setting up hands-on activities to engage students and interest them in following a pathway to a career in their field. Visit for co.jefferson.ny.us/index.aspx?page=283 more information.

We’ve also been working closely with partners on a project called “GPS for Success.” Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES have joined forces with WPBS, our economic development partners and business and industry representatives to create a multi-platform website that students use to learn about career opportunities, income potential and education and training requirements in each of the 16 national career clusters.

In February, we launched phase one of the website to rave reviews by employers and educators. It includes six of the clusters. The rest of the clusters will be completed and posted over the next two years. If you’d like to see it — and your feedback is welcomed — visit mygpsforsuccess.com. If you’d like to get involved in an upcoming cluster, please contact me.
Looking for more information about the exciting things going on at Jefferson-Lewis BOCES? Visit our website at boces.com or like us on Facebook.

Tracy J. Gyoerkoe is director of career, technical, adult and continuing education for Jefferson-Lewis BOCES in Watertown. Contact her at tgyoerkoe@boces.com.