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Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative brings industry resources and opportunities to area students

The Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative helps rural students get connected to industries they may be interested in going into upon graduating high school. (Unsplash)
Dove Creek students will shadow jobs at Southwest Memorial Hospital

Dove Creek students will shadow medical professionals Wednesday at Southwest Memorial Hospital, and Mancos State Park will host a Colorado Parks and Wildlife job shadow on April 25 in conjunction with the Southwest Colorado Education Collaborative.

According to Founding Executive Jessica Morrison, the collaborative began three years ago through a $3.6 million grant awarded by Gov. Jared Polis to support education leaders who are “visionaries in the Southwest area.”

The collaborative supports education leaders for K-12 and in higher education, allowing them to share resources across the region and provide support to local students, specifically giving rural students more opportunities to learn about careers and industries before they graduate from high school.

Morrison said the programs helps the local rural communities to “come out of their silos while still keeping their unique identity.”

The collaborative’s vision is to specifically engage five careers and college pathways: health sciences, building trades, environmental, educator and hospitality tourism.

The collaborative currently works with nine school districts to help build these career and college pathways. Students learn about potential careers in these industries.

One of the ways they showcase these careers to students, specifically low-income or first-generation students heading to college, is through their job shadow opportunities.

“What our collaborative does is we go out and identify and work with industry leaders, and we asked them to put on a half-day job shadow that entails three to five hands-on or brains-on activities that really showcase the components of the career,” Morrison said.

The Dove Creek student shadowing event at the hospital will include not only doctors and nurses, but also professionals in radiology, scheduling, bookkeeping and more.

“The students get to come in and see what that looks like,” Morrison said.

After the job shadow, the collaborative receives feedback from students to help them figure out which industry they are interested in.

“Some may say, ‘I enjoyed this job shadow, but health sciences aren’t for me,’ and then we help students dig into other areas. If a student is interested, we help them dig further into those interested and the resources available to them,” Morrison said.

The collaborative also offers weeklong summer institutes with the same kind of premise and goals in mind.

These camps are free for students, who will receive a stipend if they attend.

“We know that there’s a lot of students who financially cannot afford to attend summer programming in the summer because they have summer jobs to support themselves and their families, so we removed that barrier,” Morrison said.

Each summer, there are three weeklong summer programs.

The first, behind the Drywall Summer Institute, will take place at Pueblo Community College Southwest starting on June 3. This summer institute will focus on building trades (emphasizing electrical and plumbing). The next one, the Health Careers Institute, will start June 4 at Fort Lewis College in Durango.

The last one, the ECI Summer Institute, will focus on environmental careers, starting on June 10 at Fort Lewis College.

Morrison added that these three industries were chosen because they are high-demand positions with a high need for employment at the moment.

The collaborative also launched a Southwest career database system called Career Launch Southwest, which functions as both a work-based learning platform and a way to connect industries with local students.

Industry professionals can use the platform to list job and internship openings or express interest in hosting a job shadow, facility tour or to be a guest speaker.

Students can use the Career Launch Southwest to search for local jobs and/or internships. To learn more about the program, visit swcoedcollaborative.org/career-launch-southwest.

Those who are interested in learning more about the Southwest Education Collaborative’s job shadow events or summer institutes can visit swcoedcollaborative.org/events.

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