It started in 2017 with a National Science Foundation grant. New Mexico State University was one of 12 universities in the country to receive the cyber-infrastructure training grant. But as the fourth year of NMSU’s Cyber Infrastructure Training and Mentoring (CI-TraM) program wrapped up at the end of July, a program called Career Exploration Training and Mentoring was already gearing up to take its place this fall.
One of the most popular parts of the program for high school students was career preparation and exploration. As part of the original CI-TraM team, NMSU taught students how to develop a network in the workplace, advance their technical skills, and take ownership of managing their career path.
“It makes a good transition from high school to DACC or to freshman year at the main campus,” said Diana V. Dugas, principal investigator for the CI-TraM project. “DACC is taking this program and running with it. Robert Mitchell is teaching two dual-credit courses this fall. He is using the CI-TraM curriculum, but modified it to comply with a DACC course. The DACC course is continuing the career exploration and preparedness modules and expanding the tech modules.”
Mitchell, a DACC adjunct instructor who was also a CI-TraM project manager over the past year, is continuing the training that started in CI-TraM as a special topics course called Career Exploration Training and Mentoring or CETraM.
"What we’re trying to do is help high school students recognize their own capabilities,” Mitchell said. “We’re helping them determine answers to questions about not only the computer world, but also engineering and science fields. The exploration can lead to anything they want. Last semester a student said he wanted to be a neurologist, but after the course he changed his mind and decided he wanted to go into hospital management.”
Over the last four years, the CI-TraM program mentored and trained 81 interns who spent seven hours a week for two semesters at NMSU’s Computer Center as a job site to learn technology skills in addition to career coaching. Numbers were lower during the last year and a half due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although students still gained valuable life skills.
In a survey of the interns, students in the program said they gained communication and networking skills as well as the confidence to talk to people in their field of interest.
Mitchell’s course sets up students with a personalized career goal plan while teaching them how to improve their resumes, elevate their speech presentations and develop an electronic web-based portfolio to show various professionals and organizations offering opportunities for internships.
“They will journal 12 interviews per semester and it sets them up with a network of contacts for future potential professional positions,” Mitchell said. “Then we try to align their plan according to their degree. There are certain core technical activities such as Excel, financial literacy, career search, portfolio and mini bio. The goal is to have a professional-looking resume, technical training and a number of contacts to increase their chances of landing their first professional job.”
The final exam in the course involves students choosing a job posting, sending it to their mentor and Mitchell setting up a meeting as though he were interviewing them for that job.
Dugas is pleased to see the program’s success continue beyond the CI-TraM grant through the partnership with DACC. Dugas’ team plans to continue following the students’ long-term progress after they graduate from college to track how they incorporate technology and the other skills they’ve learned into their careers. “When we give these students guidance now, we set them up for success later in life,” she said.