Ideas in Action: Galveston Career Connect Prepares Students for Careers After High School

Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 | Safal Partners

Key Takeaway: Career and technical education in high school can inspire a culture shift in the way students plan and prepare for post-high school careers. Students help each other rise to higher expectations as they understand the benefits and requirements of earning post-secondary credit.

“We were out on the edge with all of this, experimenting. It was a slow start.”

When Galveston Career Connect set out four years ago to develop and train high school students for their future careers, admittedly, it wasn’t smooth sailing initially.

“The students didn’t believe us at first, but they believed each other,” said Bob Brundrett, Ph.D., the project coordinator of Galveston Career Connect at Galveston Independent School District (ISD).

But this Coastal Bend program is seeing the tides turn after it set out in 2014 to provide training and free college course hours for Galveston ISD high school students. Galveston Career Connect began with a $3.975 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program provides students from district high schools and one public charter school on Galveston Island with college credit and industry-level certifications. Students can follow six pathways: welding, electronics, Information Technology (IT), STEM Engineering, Health Science Patient Care Technician, and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). The grant provides tuition, books, fees, transportation, test preparation, uniforms, and renovations to some of the training facilities.

The program has served about 800 students since launching.

“After a lot of non-success, we began to have students that were successful and they talked with their friends, who then talked with their friends, and it changed the whole culture,” said Brundrett. “They began to figure out that if they were going to take these college-level courses, they really were going to have to study and work outside of class.”

Those success stories are now beginning to ripple out in the Galveston area. Just recently, a young woman from Galveston Career Connect’s EMT program was hired directly out of high school to work for the Galveston County Health District Emergency Medical Services. Another young man who completed the IT courses went on to earn CISCO certifications that opened the door for him to pursue cybersecurity studies in college.

Brundrett says the courses that earn students college credit are difficult, and students have had to adapt over the years. But they’re taking it in stride these days; more than 85 percent of the students stick with the program throughout their four years of high school.

“It’s taken a complete and total culture shift for our students,” said Brundrett. “One of the challenges has been getting high school students to understand they’re not taking high school courses. When they go to college courses, it’s a whole new standard of work. There are no second chances, there are no late assignments, there are no excused absences.”

Brundrett says the program’s community and college partners have been integral to its success. They partner with Galveston College, Texas A&M University at Galveston, the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the City of Galveston, and the Galveston ISD Educational Foundation.

“We have tremendous partners in the community that ease the load on what we’re trying to do,” said Brundrett. “And they’re not just partners in name only. They come, and they help with kids. There’s even a mentoring component.”

Those community partners even aid in administrative work, which helps Brundrett’s small but nimble team. Their five-member team advises about 500 students at a time (about 20 percent of all high schoolers within Galveston ISD), with about 200 new students added every year.

“It all goes back to community support,” said Brundrett. “Our goal has been to make this such an integral part of the city that it won’t ever go away.”