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Vo-tech Education: It's Not What You Think

Posted: January 27, 2011

"People assume that tech schools don't lead to college. That just isn't true," Bob Veilleux commented at the beginning of his presentation. And it wouldn't be too much to say that saying "vo-tech" brings up a lot of different associations and connotations- most of them not terribly positive. In the past, it can seem to imply things like "not going to college", "less than great", "only for certain kinds of people".

Bob Veilleux, an Economic and Community Development Educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension, is out to change that. Located in an office in the facilities of the Seneca Highlands Area Vo-Tech school, he gets to see the workings, needs, and benefits of this kind of education for both students and communities.

And the stereotypes? "It's not what you think, and that is why we started Techsploration."

This program was aimed at exposing younger students to the opportunities and benefits of a vo-tech education at a younger age; not just as they are going into high school, and not just from a guidance counselor, but real, hands on exposure and experience. In the North Central part of Pennsylvania, the opportunities for the kinds of highly advanced job skill training that is available become particularly important and are often under-utilized.

And these aren't shabby jobs either. They are jobs that require high end math and engineering skills, computer skills, leadership training and more. The program contained two primary aspects: leadership and the hands on. "We aren't just interested in getting people trained in technical work but in learning work relationship and communication skills that will be needed in any job." After this, the students hit the shops. Over two days, the two different age groups got to try out working in several different trades. The 5th and 6th graders spent time in areas like computer repair, culinary arts, and building/construction trades areas. The 7th - 9th graders spent time with metal work, heavy equipment, and computer networking. Instructors focused on showing the ties to science, engineering, and math. In the building/construction trades program, students programmed a laser engraver to engrave a design onto the wood-working project that each student made in the program.

And the attitudes started changing. Students responded with positive reviews. One student expressed how she had come in thinking that she was set on culinary school, only to discover that what she liked more and was actually great at was computer networking.

But the big change came with the parents: in their "pre-techsploration" reviews, they put the value of a vo-tech education at 6.5 After the program?

Averaging about 9.5.

Another success from the program was the use of grants. Through a grant obtained in partnership with a local nonprofit, this program was available for free for 40 students, allowing a greater range for recruitment in the community and opening up the opportunity for more students.

For more information about Techsploration, contact Bob Veilleux. A final report and evaluation is available as well as slide show of pictures of the event.

By Dana Ray

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Dana Ray