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By John Bailey jbailey@hickoryrecord.com Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY – Career and Technical Education (CTE) is all about showing students the career opportunities within their own communities.

Catawba County Schools CTE Director Mark Story said his district decided to host a Careers Summer Internship to allow incoming freshmen and sophomores the opportunity see a variety of different industries and give them a chance to think about the classes they’ll need to take for specific fields.

The students visited local companies and training sites including the simulated hospital at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC), Frye Regional Medical Center, the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies, Sherrill Furniture, Bassett Furniture and the CVCC Furniture Academy.

Students also learned about the growing fields of mechatronics and computer integrated machining. They took college visits at UNC-Charlotte and Gaston College at the end of the week.

“We’re really giving them a fast track of everything we can do around Catawba County, of what’s going and what’s available,” Story said.  

CTE programs include various career fields, which has expanded in recent years.

“We have engineering. We have computer programming, software engineering, manufacturing, nursing,” Story said. “We really cover everything in school today except reading, writing, arithmetic and the arts.”

The number of students seeking opportunities through Catawba County Schools CTE programs has grown as well. When he first started in his position, Story said between 180 and 200 students would participate in the program.

In the 2015-16 school year, 735 students were placed in 130 local businesses while the program added and expanded programs like computer science, aquaponics, robotics and welding, according to k12careerconnection.com. Catawba County Schools also had 2,440 students earn industry recognized credentials.

The CCS Career and Technology program is set up a little differently from other school districts.

Story has career development coordinators who work directly with him and act as a sales team. In other systems, those jobs are based at a school, and they spend their time teaching classes instead of making connections with potential partners in different industries.

“We don’t go to companies asking for help, we go in saying we’re trying to create you an employable product, and we can’t do that if they can’t be exposed to it,” Story said.

St. Stephens High School sophomore Lenny Thai has an interest in science and engineering but enjoyed all the different places he saw during the week.

“We explored a lot of what Catawba County has to offer,” Thai said. “Every day had a really good thing. Frye hospital was really interesting. We got to see their radiology, oncology center, so that was fun.”

The visit to the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies had the biggest impact on Thai.

“We looked at new science advancements like virtual reality, augmented reality, and we looked at programming with Python,” Thai said. “We actually did a spherical photo inside the building. That was great.”

By the end of the week, he realized a career in engineering could take him into a variety of industries.

“It can apply to the medical field, the furniture field, you could be anywhere,” Thai said.

When Haley Anderson, a Fred T. Foard freshman, heard about the opportunity this summer, she liked the idea of getting to see more companies and industries in the county.

“I’ve always been interested in looking at businesses and career paths, and I thought this would be beneficial,” Anderson said.

Even at her age, she said she worries about her future and what kind of jobs she’ll find after graduating in four years.

“You never know if there are going to be enough job opportunities where you want to actually go so you have to think about other options,” Anderson said.

Her mother works in the furniture industry, so she enjoyed the visit to Sherrill Furniture and what she learned about the industry.

“It’s nice to see other opportunities in furniture, not just cutting and sewing. It’s a lot more than what you think it is,” she said. “I really want to do more internships in the future. I’m hoping to do them every year during the summer.”

At the CVCC Furniture Academy, the students got to hear Cindy Fulbright’s story of working her way up in the furniture industry to become a plant manager before going into education as a project manager at the college’s academy.

“I think this gives the students a foundation to work for in order to decide what they want to do whether it’s in furniture or in any other manufacturing industry,” Fulbright said.

“You’ve got to have a goal you want to work for, and I hope this visit helped them realize if you come into something and set a goal, you can advance to a great job in the future.”

For more information about the CTE program in Catawba County Schools visit k12careerconnection.com.

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