Date: Tue, Oct 25th, 2022

Worlds of Work delivers area students the 'Wow Factor'

More than 2,000 students from the area participated in the Worlds of Work on the campuses of Great Falls College and the University of Providence on Tuesday.

“Inspiring,” Angeline Riener declared after attending the inaugural Worlds of Work in Great Falls on Tuesday. 

“I had a great time here,” the sophomore at Fort Benton High expanded. “I’m learning a lot … Overall, it’s a great place, the people are very nice.”

Riener was one of about 2,000 middle and high school students from the area who experienced hands-on learning in a variety of career fields Tuesday on the campuses of Great Falls College and the University of Providence.

The Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Cascade County put on the event showcasing more than 60 career fields.

Lacey Hallett, United Way impact coordinator, said WOW helps students connect the dots between what they are learning in their classrooms to their future careers. It also aims to address local businesses’ needs for a well-prepared workforce.

Consider it a success.

James Easton, who just started working at the state Chamber of Commerce, came up from Billings to volunteer for the event and was pretty blown away by the scope of the event as helicopters, tractors, race cars, first responders and other medical professions took over both campuses on the south side of Great Falls for the day.

“I wanted to see what it is and take this model … all around the state, bring it to communities across the state so the kids of Montana can see these experiences,” Easton said.

It wasn’t just the adults who were impressed.

“You could do CPR, and they taught you what kind of doctors or surgeons you can be, and they gave you a little guide on basically what you are doing to the human and how you can … save a life,” said Kamea Blackelk, an eighth-grader at North Middle School, who is interested in pursuing a career in health care.

Wade Nelson, a sophomore at Conrad High, was pretty amazed at the variety of career paths he was able to learn about.

“I’m learning a lot of new stuff about programming, 3D, stuff like that, and a bunch of welding. It was pretty fun,” he said.

What impressed him most?

“Mostly the welding because that’s something I want to go into after high school,” he said. “Mainly because I can travel, be around the country, other countries if I want to, that’s just the fun part of it.”

Great Falls College had 60 students and employees volunteer for the event, and it was worth it, said Dr. Stephanie Erdmann, CEO/dean of Great Falls College.

“Great Falls College was so pleased to host this event,” she said. “The joy, laughter and curiosity of the students brightened our campus. We trust that it opened their eyes to career paths they had never even dreamed of before and expanded their horizons. We also hope it inspired the eighth- and 10th-graders to talk to their counselors about dual enrollment opportunities available to them so they can explore their passions while in high school.”

Last spring, community leaders from the chamber, United Way, educators and legislators traveled to western Alabama to learn and replicate how that community is leveraging businesses to enhance students’ educational experiences and how schools teach students applicable job skills for local industries.

In Great Falls, students were given an opportunity to run a equipment, create concrete bricks, weld the Bison and CMR logos, try their hand at forecasting the weather in front of a green screen, run medical tests on dummies and write computer programs.

“Nothing of this scale has ever been done to engage our students in such a hands-on, interactive way,” said Scott Wolff, the chamber’s director of workforce education. “The best way to give the students an opportunity to learn what is available right here — in their own backyard — is to have them get their hands dirty, so to speak, and manipulate tools and equipment they would employ across those 16 different career pathways represented at Worlds of Work.”

Hallett said the hope is to continue WOW for eighth-graders and sophomores and to eventually add a spring event where juniors and seniors get an opportunity to apply for jobs and internships.

“We are connecting students with industry in a super hands on way that excites them and starts them thinking about career pathways that they can work on in the future but also today,” she said.

Tom Moore, superintendent of Great Falls Public Schools, was impressed.

“For years we’ve been trying to bring together the business community to work strategically with educators,” Moore said. “What I saw at the Worlds of Work was authentic engagement. Students were excited – there was literally a WOW factor.”

Hallett and Moore said it’s important that WOW goes beyond just a one-day event. From here, teachers and counselors can connect students to classes and extracurricular activities that can help them earn college credits and build the skills needed to succeed after they graduate.

“If there are students who are struggling and thinking about dropping out, we can engage them in their education by connecting them with opportunities that are meaningful to their futures,” Moore said.

Grace Rieger, a sophomore at C.M. Russell High, said she isn’t sure what interests her for a career, but she thought the event sparked a lot of ideas.

“I think it’s important to look at all of your options,” she said.

And Tuesday’s event gave her the chance to do that.

“I think it’s really interesting and a great opportunity to learn about different career fields that you may be interested in to actually get more information and dig deeper and experience what they do in their profession,” Rieger said.

Kim Skornogoski of United Way of Cascade County contributed to this report from Great Falls College communications.

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Record Number: 795