Carroll Community College Workforce Academy highlights career options for Boys and Girls Club youths
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Carroll Community College Workforce Academy highlights career options for Boys and Girls Club youths

Aug 12, 2023

A group of Carroll County teens enthusiastically donned augmented reality glasses designed to look like welder’s helmets hoping to outperform each other and their instructor by manipulating a simulated welding torch at a specified speed and angle.

Some of the students held their breath to steady their hand and improve their welding score.

The experience captures everything about welding except the smell and the heat, said Jeremy Ropp, the instructor and Carroll Community College coordinator of advanced manufacturing, innovation and information technology.

The welding exercise took place Tuesday and was part of the Summer Workforce Academy, which exposes students to careers in nursing, automotive repair, electrical wiring, business, pharmacology, dentistry and drone piloting from July 11 to 27. In its second year, the program also offers participants resume building, personality tests and lessons in interpersonal workplace skills and financial literacy.

The 14 youths enrolled in the workforce academy are among the 30 middle and high school students in the Boys and Girls Club’s yearlong Leadership Academy program. The workforce academy activities take place at Carroll Community College.

The workforce academy is geared toward high school students and helps the Boys and Girls Club realize its goal of transforming children into career-ready adults by exposing them to multiple fields that may develop into a passion, said club spokesperson Erin Bishop.

“We want them to explore their interests in different careers,” Bishop said. “We want to enrich their knowledge about what it takes to be in that career — what that career looks like and what the skills they need for it. And we want to expose them to actual hands-on experiences.”

The yearlong Leadership Academy is funded by a $25,000 grant from The Kahlert Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1991 by William “Bill” E. Kahlert. Kahlert, who died in 2011, was the co-founder of Evapco Inc., a worldwide manufacturer of evaporative cooling products, with corporate offices in Taneytown.

Participants are members of the Boys and Girls Club, which costs $30 annually, but the Westminster chapter spends about $4,000 on each member during the year. The club functions as an extension of the school day for about 175 students daily, according to Bishop, in addition to providing opportunities for summer enrichment.

Westminster High School rising junior Bree Vales, 16, said she discovered her career path as a phlebotomist, a technician who collects blood from patients, from a discussion at the dental assistant workshop this summer. She said based on her personality type and her desire to help those who are ill, she decided that pursuing a degree in phlebotomy from Carroll Community College would be the best first step to realizing her dream of becoming an emergency medical technician.

Drawing blood is a significant part of a phlebotomist’s job, and Vales is afraid of needles. However, she said the workforce academy helped her to realize that a fear of needles can be a strength for a phlebotomist, because it will make her more empathetic to patients.

Westminster High 2023 graduate Jailen Lemon, 18, will pursue a degree in nursing at Carroll Community College after having completed the Leadership Academy. Lemon became interested in medicine when her mother told her the story of how she was a miracle baby, born 27 weeks early and weighing less than 2 pounds.

“I always want to help people,” Lemon said, “and I always loved helping people and being there for them. Then I realized more about the medical field. I can deal with blood, I can deal with people panicking, I can deal with people having seizures or any type of medical issues. So, when I realized I was a premature baby, I wanted to help those babies … because it’s a miracle that I survived, and I want to help those babies survive.”

Lemon will begin community college classes this fall with a goal of becoming a registered nurse and working in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Of the six workforce academy students to graduate high school this year, five will attend Carroll Community College in the fall.

Angelique Jessup, 17, of Sykesville, will be a senior at Westminster High School next year, and is a continuing member of the Leadership Academy after having completed the inaugural summer workforce academy last year. She said the program expanded her horizons, and she was particularly interested in workshops highlighting entrepreneurship, medicine and welding.

“Doing welding was really fun,” Jessup said. “There were so many things that I liked about it.”

If Jessup’s dream of opening a restaurant-bakery does not pan out, she said, a career in welding would be a viable alternative.

The field of welding has one of the best ratios between investment in education and earnings once certified, Ropp said.

Carroll Community College’s welding program is supported by a partnership with Carroll County Public Schools that allows community college students to learn welding using equipment at the CCPS Career & Technology Center during evening classes. Students engage in augmented reality instruction using community college equipment before they are ready to weld for real.

Ropp said those who complete the six-month, 120-hour welding program and earn a journeyman’s license from the American Welding Society, can expect to earn around $53,000 per year.

Not every young leader in the program took naturally to welding, but Bishop said there is value in a student learning what career paths are not a good fit.

“I feel like it gives kids an experience where you’re hands-on with something that you’re passionate about, or something that you’re not passionate about,” Lemon said, “and that’s OK, as long as you know what you’re going to do in the future.”

Leadership Academy youth visit Carroll Community College on several occasions throughout the year, getting a better sense of the institution and the on-campus experience, Bishop said.

“It was really important to me that we’re putting the kids on this campus,” Bishop said, “and we’re removing some of the barriers, some of the hurdles, that come along with going to college. They are now comfortable being here.”

It is also important for youth to see themselves thriving in a community college setting, said Kathy Mayan, the college’s senior director of personal enrichment and continuing education.

“The exciting part for us was when the kids came on campus wide-eyed, not sure what they wanted to do,” Mayan said. “We exposed them to all of the workforce stuff and then they wanted more.”

About 16,000 square feet of renovated space in the former science wing of the old North Carroll High School building in Hampstead will house a second club location, which Bishop said will allow the summer leadership program to grow. She hopes more than 100 students will participate in the workforce academy in future years.

“They definitely helped me become more of a leader than I ever thought I would become,” Lemon said.