A Student’s Voice on Career and Technical Education

Flameworking. Robot building. Custom painting. High school.

These seemingly disparate ideas fit together seamlessly for 18-year-old Taylor Clow, a thriving senior I met recently at New Jersey’s Gloucester County Institute of Technology (GCIT). The Teaching Ambassador Fellows— teachers working for a year to bring educators’ perspectives to the U.S. Department of Education— have been traveling the country to meet with teachers, students, and other stakeholders to hear more about what’s working in their schools and what’s challenging them.

Taylor Clow and Dan Brown

Dan Brown and Taylor Clow. Photo courtesy of Judy Savage.

Taylor’s passion for the opportunities generated through the GCIT community was inspired, and it underscored the dramatic need for more high-functioning career and technical education (CTE) schools throughout the country. His hands-on successes are examples of what President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address when he announced a challenge: “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

After my visit to GCIT, Taylor emailed me with more about why his experience at GCIT was so valuable. Here is his student perspective on CTE:

My experiences here at GCIT have been such an adventure, full of opportunities that I embraced. Freshman year, I began it all in the Collision Repair Technology program, a part of the School of Transportation Technology. I also joined the “FIRST Robotics” team, and that was the best decision I have ever made. With the primary guidance and support of my science teacher, Rowan University, and the parents serving as mentors to the Robotics Club, we had an amazing, inspiring rookie year, full of busy nights and weekend build sessions. I learned mechanical design, construction, CAD and fabrication of parts in the Rowan machine shop. I LOVED this!

I was the captain of the robotics team for three years; what started out as a club has provided me with the goal and direction for my future to study at Rochester Institute of Technology as a mechanical engineer. I have been offered a summer job with one of our mentors.

As a result of my passion and enthusiasm for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics], my science teacher and my guidance counselor nominated me for the High School Scholars Program at Rowan University Engineering Clinic, and I was selected to participate.  The workshops and lectures were so exciting to be a part of, and I was paid. The networking with Science Teachers, Engineers and students from all over the region all interested in promoting STEM was actually a building block for me to get involved in many other interests.

Through my study, I became very interested in doing custom painting with airbrush on vehicles. During my sophomore and junior years I became involved with GCIT’s fabulous SkillsUSA program, which provided opportunities for me to compete in the State of New Jersey’s Custom Painting competition. Both years I competed, I won a gold medal and received tools, a large toolbox, and an experience of a lifetime. I also won two $20,000 scholarships. During my senior year, I served as a mentor to younger students.

Because of the accelerated academic program at GCIT, I had earned enough credits to graduate early second semester. I used this opening to apply for a flameworking class at Salem Community College, and I was thrilled when I was accepted. Because of the GCIT administration’s help with this arrangement, I have had an incredible opportunity studying flameworking with glass guru Paul Stankard, one of the most renowned glass artists in the country.

When senior year came along I applied to three colleges: Michigan Technological Institute, Ferris State University, and Rochester Institute of Technology. I was accepted into the mechanical engineering department of all three schools. I have also been accepted into the Scientific Glass Technology program at Salem Community College.

I attribute my success to the guidance and leadership of my teachers, and to my guidance department for their support. My SAT scores were not that exceptional, but I impressed my teachers enough to believe in my hands-on abilities and skills to write amazing letters of recommendations for me.

Sincerely,

Taylor Clow

Here’s a blog post about the school visit by Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. Also check out Taylor’s website featuring some of his work at taylorclow.yolasite.com

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-2013 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

7 Comments

  1. As a School Counselor, I am very interested in Career and Technical Education. Technology complementing solid teaching strategies can do wonders for closing achievement gaps. In a Title I school, I am currently loving the book Focus by Michael Schmoker… It should be a MUST READ for all policy-makers. PLEASE.

  2. I am a school counselor who works with students who attend our area career-tech school (Penta Career Center). This post highlights the positives so many don’t hear about regarding CTE. My students who finish programs at Penta leave with a strong foundation for their future endeavors. We are fortunate to have a wonderful school in our backyard for them to attend. These students of mine (and from the other 15 member schools) never fail to amaze me with their talents, depth and breadth of knowledge of their field, and passion. I continue to say-working with CTE is one of the very best parts of my job!

  3. There is no question that the hands on mechanical experience will be a bonus for Taylor, and other students who are able to participate in these programs. In my experience as a life coach, I have seen adults with less exposure to marketable skills than these young students are acquiring in GCIT and similar programs. Great work, practical application is so much more valuable than theory, and I am sure your program will prove my opinion.

  4. Career and Technical Education is a great opportunity for students to become involved in. The National FFA Organization and agriculture classes in high school taught me more life skills than the traditional classroom. I can safely say that because I was involved with CTE I’ve been able to successfully move through college, obtain internships, and hopefully secure a future career.

  5. An excellent story for those who still doubt the value of Career and Technical Education. Congratulations to all on a job well done.

  6. Super!

    How about also if the U.S. DOE makes available basic technology to all students like requiring high schools to teach kids how to drive.

  7. After serving as an evaluator for the NYS FCCLA Star Events, and then reading this article I am again blown away by the wonderful work our students can do. I love Taylor’s point about not having the best SAT scores, but having the hands-on skills his teachers found to be exceptional. Obviously he is more than college ready with this career background. All students should have such option and opportunity.

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