Gorge students meet with local civil designer, Emmanuel Flores

Gorge students meet with local civil designer, Emmanuel Flores, during a “Lunch with a STEM Professional” event in early 2020. These opportunities will be much expanded through this work.

THE DALLES — For years, employers across the nation have struggled to find employees with relevant skills. In the U.S., high school students receive much less work-based learning than in other countries even though there is evidence that students involved in career and technical education during high school are more likely to graduate and more likely to complete a post-secondary degree. Career connected learning is an approach to integrating career awareness and education into the high school experience.

Despite challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, local partners have come together in 2020-21 to launch Columbia Gorge Career Connect, a cross-sector, bi-state effort to increase career exposure for local youth and help bridge the gap between high school and the workforce, by giving students access to guest speakers, job shadows, and academic internships.

Emiliano Ramirez, 11th grade engineering student at Hood River Valley High School, said, “I’m interested in participating [in an internship]; it will be a great opportunity for me to see what’s out there in terms of careers and connect me with industry professionals and people in my community that I would have never have spoken to without this program.”

This effort is led by the Columbia Gorge STEM Hub (Oregon), Career Connect Southwest Washington, and Hood River Valley High School. Many local businesses and schools have helped inform and support the planning and launch of Columbia Gorge Career Connect, including Cardinal Glass, Port of Cascade Locks, Skyline Health, The Dalles High School, Mill A, and White Salmon Valley Schools. Insitu, Three30Three, and Overwatch Imaging are among the companies that have contributed funds to support the work.

Through a matching grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, additional resources are coming to the Gorge to support this work on an unprecedented scale. A total of up to $142,660 will be awarded to the region for career connected learning, but every dollar must be matched by a local investment of time or money. Thus, the Columbia Gorge STEM Hub is seeking pledge requests from the community.

After initial launch commitments from early partners, the STEM Hub is seeking to raise $55,000 and at least 718 pledged volunteer hours.

The funds raised will support project coordination and event expenses, including some funds to carry over to subsequent years to help with sustainability. Volunteers are being sought to have their names added to a guest speaker database and support regional career expo events. Companies are being sought to host academic credit internships, provide job shadows, and eventually, lead worksite tours.

Columbia Gorge Career Connect is targeting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and jobs related to career and technical education programs at local high schools, including agriculture, digital media, computer science, and engineering. However, given that technology is integral to countless jobs and industries, even companies that don’t identify as “STEM” could be a fit for hosting an internship or providing guest speakers.

For example, a local non-profit may benefit from a social media intern or a food processing company could provide guest speakers about how programming is used for their processing lines.

Allie Doss, 10th grader enrolled in Integrated Media at HRVHS, said, “In addition to learning to work in a professional job setting, I would like to gain more in-depth and hands-on skills in the multimedia field, such as photography, video production, and graphic design. I hope this experience can guide me in my future regarding college and career decisions.”

Companies and individuals interested in supporting this effort can find out more and make a contribution pledge by visiting www.gorgestem.org/career-connect. While contributions will be welcome at any point for this ongoing work, there is a deadline of June 30 to count towards the matching grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.