Talent Talk: March 2019
Perry County ASPIREs to Inspire Students
Published March 19, 2019 by Erin Emerson, Vice President of Perry County Development Corporation
What is ASPIRE?
Speed dating…for careers? It may sound like a strange concept, but it’s a model we’ve adopted in Perry County to expose our students to the wide variety of local job and career opportunities in our County and the surrounding areas.
Picture this…a gymnasium full of around twenty tables, with one to two professionals seated at each one. Sophomore students arrive and are assigned to the various tables. The gymnasium, which typically holds lively, boisterous crowds is unusually quiet. To break the ice, the day begins with a handshake exercise where the importance of first impressions is emphasized. Students are encouraged to look the professionals in the eyes while introducing themselves. After introductions are made, the professionals provide some information about their career path and current occupation. It’s then the students’ chance to probe a little deeper. Each table has a list of talking points that the students can use to learn more about the professionals.
Every 10-15 minutes, an announcement is made for the students to rotate to the next table. During each rotation, the handshake exercise is repeated, giving the students multiple opportunities to practice mastering the important skill of making a good first impression. After a couple of rotations, a local professional takes the stage to speak to the students about his or her own education, career path, and life experiences.
Advice for Students
This year, female sophomores heard from Breanne Walsh, wellness expert and owner of a local fitness center. Breanne summarized her not-so-linear career path from pharmacy to fitness, describing how her profession allowed her to live in multiple states and even another country before being brought home to Perry County. As an entrepreneur, Breanne explained the importance of identifying a need and matching it with your own passion. She encouraged the girls to be the best they can be at whatever career they decide to pursue. “Develop strong habits and relationships. Face your fears, small and large. It’s not failure if you learn something along the way. Develop your strengths by defining your circle of competence. And most of all, surround yourself with people who make you a better person.”
Josh Harris, co-owner of a local construction company and an ordained minister, shared some words of advice with sophomore boys. He told the students not to be afraid to stand out. “Doing the same thing as everyone else will get you the same results.” Josh also stressed the importance of being dependable and having a good work ethic. “Go the extra mile, and simply do the things you say you will do. It can make all the difference.”
The speakers are followed by a few more table rotations and a break for lunch. Afterwards, a rather humorous mock-interview is conducted by two professionals who demonstrate both inappropriate and appropriate interviewee behavior and responses. The day-long event is wrapped with a final rotation which allows students to choose which professionals they want to speak with based on their interests and potential career paths.
The following day, students are surveyed to measure the impact of the event. Every year, the results have been surprisingly similar:
- Nearly 99% of students reported that they learned about a new career opportunity as a result of the event.
- More than 40% of the students indicated that they are now considering a different career path after meeting with professionals.
- More than 30% of students reported that the information they learned will result in them considering taking different classes in high school.
The event is hosted by the Perry County College Success Coalition, a member of a statewide network created by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and Learn More Indiana. The organizations within the network have a common goal of increasing the percentage of students who 1) enter college in the fall following their high school graduation, and 2) earn a college degree or certificate within the first four years of college. Coalition member organizations accomplish this by implementing local activities designed to help students enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
The Coalition was formed in Perry County in 2011 when local businesses, school corporations, non-profit organizations, and county government identified workforce as a major area of concern. Together, members of the Coalition determined the following:
- Students are not exposed to enough career opportunities.
- Students are unsure of what they want to do after high school, and their plans often do not match their goals.
- Curriculum in our high schools does not match our workforce needs.
- We are not communicating the opportunities that exist in our county and surrounding areas to students.
Based on these concerns, the Coalition created marketing materials, hot jobs videos, career pathways, and several annual events – ASPIRE being one of the most successful. The event has evolved since its inception in 2014. For the first three years, the event was held solely for female sophomore students, with the primary focus being to expand their perception of the careers available to them. “We know that girls often limit their career aspirations to fields traditionally dominated by women…teaching, nursing, etc. Our goal was to create an event that would expose them to ALL of the opportunities available to them,” said Kimberly Arndt, ASPIRE Committee Chair and one of the owners of a local heavy highway contractor.
Professional female attendees have included engineers, pharmacists, forestry technicians, manufacturing facility plant managers, dentists, IT administrators, metallurgists, morticians, financial advisors, police officers, environmental management specialists, accountants, business owners, the superintendent of an Indiana correctional facility, and local government leaders including the Mayors of the City of Tell City and the City of Cannelton and the Perry County Circuit Court Judge.
The girl’s event was so successful and received such positive feedback from professionals and students alike that in 2017, we expanded the event to include sophomore boys as well. “The event has really grown over the years,” said Jody French, Perry Central High School Principal. “We’ve shifted from focusing on non-traditional career opportunities to exposing students to the wide variety of jobs and careers that are available right here in our community.”
The Future of Perry County
Perry County, located in rural, southern Indiana, has a population of around 19,000. “Because we’re located in a rural area, there’s often the perception that we have little to offer in terms of career choices,” said Tell City Jr.-Sr. High School Guidance Counselor, Lisa Noble. “That’s simply not true. We want students to know that there are tons of local jobs that can provide great financial stability. And that we can help them begin to prepare for those jobs while they are still in high school.”In recent years, more and more college credit classes have been made available to local students. So much so that one in four Perry County students graduates high school with enough credits to be considered a sophomore in college. In addition to college credits, our local schools have created a robust internship program, allowing students to gain real world, on-the-job experiences while still in high school. Pairing those programs with events like ASPIRE helps ensure that we are doing all that we can to prepare our students for the career opportunities in Perry County and beyond.