As another school year begins, Union County ninth through 12th-graders make another step along their career paths with help from YouScience.
According to David Simmons, career coach for Union County School District, the program is an online assessment that measures a student’s aptitude potential and helps discover his or her interests related to a career.
“When we first started out last year, I was doing individual meetings with students, I would ask them what their interests are,” said Simmons, one of 11 career coaches hired last year through the Toyota Wellspring Education Endowment Fund and CREATE Foundation to serve in 8 high schools within the Pontotoc Union Lee (PUL) Alliance. “As we got into the interest inventories, we learned pretty quickly that students were usually only interested in [careers] to which they had been exposed. Since we began using YouScience, it has completely changed the conversation we are having with students.”
Toyota Wellspring helped to implement YouScience in PUL Alliance schools in January following its success in states like Georgia and Tennessee. The program costs approximately $15,000 and officials with Toyota Wellspring say it will be evaluated on a yearly basis as to its continuation or expansion.
“It’s an investment,” Simmons said. “We have licensed each student upon signing up for 10 years, meaning this will go with them throughout most, if not all, of their education.”
The assessment features 11 brain games that measure spatial visualization, idea generation, time frame orientation, associative memory, pattern memory and more. The program creates a personality profile for each student and makes suggestions as to which career paths may be suitable. It also will tell that student how much education is needed for a particular career, how much it will cost and which schools offer a degree in that field, as well as the average salary associated with that job.
“Your aptitude is usually set by the time you are 15 years old,” Simmons said. “That’s not going to change that much as you get older. What may change are your interests and YouScience will give you some options there.”
Simmons said too many students have misconceptions about the careers available out there and, therefore, don’t prepare to go into a field that matches their skills and interests.
“We want to open their eyes to all of the possibilities,” he said, “not just related to four-year degrees, but also to advanced manufacturing.”
One way Simmons tries to open their eyes to those possibilities is through planning field trips to a variety of manufacturers in the area.
“When students hear manufacturing, they think hard labor and that you have to have strong backs and strong muscles,” he said. “What we’ve been able to prove to them is that advanced manufacturing is a whole new arena out there. We’ve been able to take them on field trips, like Niagra Water in Olive Branch. It’s 800,000 square foot facility and almost all of the manufacturing there is automated. No one who works there lifts over five pounds.”
Students also have opportunities to attend career camps, held at area colleges during the summer, as well as job shadowing programs with area businesses and health care facilities like Northeast Mississippi Medical Center.
Simmons spends at least one day a week at each of the four county schools – East Union, Ingomar, Myrtle and West Union. He said within those schools, he works with approximately 770 students in the 9th-12th grades during a few select class periods.
“My goal for them is for each student upon graduation is that they have a plan in hand and a plan in mind as to what their next step is going to be toward their career,” Simmons said. “One of the things I tell students is that, by 2030, most of them will be employed in a field that hasn’t even been invented yet. So I want to help them prepare.”