Springfield, MO

Education Outlook: Chamber series talks creative schooling

Panelists redefine career fairs, standardized testing and the set of skills every graduate needs

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Long gone are the days when learning was restricted to chalkboards and lectures.

In Springfield, now, the world of education is changing in an effort to keep students curious and better prepare them for whatever awaits outside their four classroom walls.

Four local education professionals recently sat on stage at the White River Conference Center, during the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Oct. 4 Education Outlook. During an hourlong discussion, the panelists talked new learning programs, methods of teaching and future trends inside – and outside of – the classroom.

But the main topic was embracing innovative ideas for educational systems and preparing students for the workforce to create a stronger pipeline of Springfield talent.

Implemented ideas
A variety of ideas and processes already have been implemented within the last several years to ensure Springfield students are learning what they need to, especially at college and university levels.

A partnership between Missouri State University and Rolla-based Missouri University of Science and Technology allows students to earn electrical or civil engineering degrees in the Queen City, said Tammy Jahnke, MSU’s dean of College of Natural and Applied Sciences.
Once MSU students have completed the freshman engineering curriculum with a 2.5 GPA or higher, they can apply for admission to Missouri S&T. All the rest of their courses are still offered on MSU’s Springfield campus. 

“It’s very unique across the nation,” Jahnke said. “And even more important, the students that are in the program all have internships, most right here in southwest Missouri, and over 90 percent of the students will get an offer from an engineering firm right here.”

Of course, many internships are made possible with the help of a little networking.

An event dubbed Reverse Career Fair by MSU takes the pressure off students, particularly those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, wanting to make a compelling first impression.

“When I would observe them at career fairs, they will walk around, but they won’t talk to anybody,” Jahnke said. “That’s really hard to get a job or internship when you won’t talk to anyone.”

Representatives are given three minutes to talk about their companies and what types of students they typically hire. Then, the representatives and students are spread out around tables for further discussion.

“It opens the eyes of our students to find out that a company not only hires chemists, but they hire computer scientists and mathematicians, and maybe a physicist as well,” Jahnke said.

Farther down National Avenue, Ozarks Technical Community College officials are kicking out standardized testing.

“Like most community colleges, we used Compass to place our students into English, math and reading. What that meant though, is students were getting their placement based on a high-stakes test,” said Matt Simpson, OTC’s director of research, strategic planning and grant development.

Furthermore, Simpson added, it meant students were ending up on the wrong path for their career or unnecessarily adding onto the amount of time it would take for them to earn a degree. Students beginning at OTC can now choose at which level they want to start.

“We’ve seen significant improvement as a result of that in students completing college-level math classes,” Simpson said.
Feeding the pipeline
MSU continues to prepare for a technology-based world by offering advanced classes in computer sciences. 

“We’re all working together toward the same end and that is to provide a workforce for our community,” Jahnke said.

Providing that workforce, however, doesn’t always mean pumping out college graduates.

For many students, continued education after high school may not be a desire, or even an option due to growing tuition. 

In the United States, student debt has exceeded $1.3 trillion this year, according to the May 2017 Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Furthermore, in 2016, Missouri college graduates left with an average of $27,532 in debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. Many young people choose to withstand the burden, but others might not.

To make up for a degree, Ozark Public Schools created a construction trades class that provides real-time work skills.

“We have students come in in their junior or senior year of high school and start building a house,” said Curtis Chesick, the school district’s executive director of communication and technology. “Through our instruction, students will walk out knowing how to build a house from the ground up and once they’ve completed everything they’ll have an OSHA 10 certification.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s 10-hour training for construction provides certification to entry-level construction workers, according to its website.

“They’re ready to go into the workforce, or they can go on to OTC and work through some programs there to even more refine their skills,” Chesick said.

It’s a needed program for a community with a shortage of construction workers.

Earlier this month, the Associated General Contractors of Missouri released workforce survey data showing almost three out of four contractors have difficulty filling hourly jobs. AGC President Leonard Toejes told a group at OTC that because of retirements, demographics and the 2008 economic downturn, the number of construction workers in the Show-Me State has reached critical levels.

There is an upside: Construction employs 118,700 Missouri residents, but AGC claims the industry offers wages higher than the state average of $56,000, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting. 

To help refine skills, Ben Hackenwerth, Springfield Public Schools executive director of innovation and information, pointed to externships for teachers as an important tool.

“It gives teachers and leaders [the ability] to see what is really happening, the jobs that are there today, as well as the jobs that will probably be there tomorrow,” Hackenwerth said.

Ideas for creative education are everywhere, the panelists said, as long as innovation is a way of life.

“Most of us, when we were kids, were used to seeing a teacher and a podium, lecturing, maybe writing on a blackboard or green chalkboard, and that was OK,” Chesick said. “But that’s not OK now. The kids today don’t learn the same way.”


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