MARQUETTE - A relatively new volunteer committee is working to help create more career and technical education opportunities in high schools across Marquette and Alger counties.
The Career Technical Education Committee is the culmination of an idea shared by a few people, but which quickly ballooned into a local movement.
"Four of us got together and decided that we needed to do something," said Stu Bradley, the committee's chairman. "We just sort of started adding people when we found out (where) they worked."
Members of Gwinn High School’s team in the 2013 U.P. Construction Skills Challenge saw wood and check out plans for the sauna they built in April. A new volunteer committee is working to encourage area districts to emphasize hands-on learning methods and career technical education opportunities among high schools. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Members of Gwinn High School’s team in the 2013 U.P. Construction Skills Challenge lift part of the frame they built for a sauna during the competition, which took place in April. The all-volunteer Career Technical Education Committee is hoping to encourage area school districts to teach skills and will lead to good-paying jobs that don’t necessarily require four-year degrees. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
From left, Dickinson-Iron Tech Center students Caleb Harrington and Tommy Taff check the plans for a sauna during the 2013 U.P. Construction Skills Challenge in April. The Career Technical Education Committee is hoping to help establish more career and technical-focused classes in Marquette and Alger Counties. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
The committee's original four member are Bradley; Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Coalition; Brian Sarvello , who is Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency's Career and Technical Education data director; and Derek Bush who is the Lake Superior Community Partnership's business development representative.
From there, they added Sandey Meyskens, who works in student internships and career pathways for MARESA; Stephanie Zadroga-Langlois, manager at Manpower; Frannie Belton, coordinator for the Marquette-Alger College Access Network; and Wendy Beach, business service manager at Michigan Works.
Officially formed in January, Bradley said the group has been busy meeting with people involved in education across a broad spectrum.
They've met with local representatives of Gov. Rick Snyder, and have met with State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette and U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.
Bradley said the group will meet with representatives of both U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-East Lansing, and U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D-Southfield today.
Bradley said the group has outlined 10 goals, which it will focus on in the coming months:
"We're trying to create an atmosphere where kids think it's alright for kids to go into (technical fields)," Bradley said.
In that vein, the group is hoping to raise awareness about the career and technical education opportunities available to the area's young people, both in high school and at the college level.
Bradley said the group is also hoping that area school districts can begin working together more efficiently, allowing students to travel between districts more often.
"We're trying to get the school district's to streamline their schedules just on a volunteer basis," Bradley. "Maybe they all start at 8 o'clock, have breaks at the same time."
That way, Bradley said, it would be easier for students to move between schools without missing valuable class time.
Bradley said the committee has also met with Northern Michigan University officials in an effort to help bolster the relationship between area school districts and the university, which has an extensive number of career and technical educational opportunities within its Technological and Occupational Sciences department.
With a long list of goals, the committee has its work cut out for it, but Bradley said he's hoping raising awareness about these types of careers can help keep students from accruing too much debt by working toward a four-year degree they may not even need.
And the financial incentives for some techincal occupations that don't require four-year degrees - such as web developer, plumber or mechanic - are growing according to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Four years is getting so expensive, so hopefully, reducing the (time in college) so kids don't have student loans of $20,000 and are making $20,000 a year," Bradley said.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.