Exploring life after high school

Anna Parrish Beard, project coordinator for the Diesel by Distance program at Wallace State, takes a turn behind the program’s virtual reality training goggles as part of a joint career and training day held Monday at Cullman High School.

Amid strange economic times, local demand for workers in a variety of technical and vocational fields remains strong. It’s a trend that educators believe isn’t likely to subside anytime soon, leaving a lot of high school students with more options to weigh as they decide where their working lives might take them after graduation.

At Cullman High School on Monday, Wallace State Community College showed up to offer a firsthand demonstration of just some of the wide array of programs the college offers for young people considering exactly those kinds of options.

In partnership with the city school system, WSCC hosted a college planning seminar for CHS students and their families to deliver an up-close look — even through the lens of VR glasses — at how the college in their own backyard can help prepare them for high-earning careers via a host of training programs and partnerships with local and regional industries.

The event was the first of its kind to be held at CHS, but its aim was to show students that there could be more than a university degree program waiting after high school, for those who want to get right to work.

“Our goal is to align every Cullman High School CTE [Career & Technical Education] program with dual enrollment opportunities at WSCC,” explained city schools secondary & career technical education coordinator Lindsay Brannon.

“We want to get the message out that there are Career Tech dual enrollment opportunities where students can earn college credit while in high school. In turn, when students graduate they will be prepared to go straight into the workforce and earn competitive wages. Industry leaders are looking to us to help provide their future workforce. Hopefully events like this will be a win-win for our students, Wallace State, and local industry leaders.”

The event was designed to showcase Wallace State’s programs in a hands-on way, and that meant tables lined with plenty of interactive educational displays and knowledgable WSCC staff to talk about them. From Nursing to STEM to aviation to robotics and electronics and more, CHS students were treated to anything but stale pamphlets and prepared sales pitches: Instead, they got to check out medical manikins, robot arms that operate with near-microscopic precision, and even peer into a virtual reality headset to see how the school’s Diesel by Distance program can deliver remote virtual training to aspiring mechanics.

“One thing we hope to accomplish with this is to show students at CHS what’s available beyond gong to a four-year college or university and going straight into a degree program,” said Suzanne Harbin, vice president for advancement at Wallace State. “A four-year degree isn’t for everybody, and what a lot of students may not realize is that many of the programs we’re showcasing here today can prepare them for jobs that pay very well — without a four-year degree.”

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