Students at Meridian Technology Center are using hands-on experience in the classroom to get ahead in their careers, even before many of them graduate.
Masonry student Cantrell Haley attends Tech in the morning and spends his afternoons on a job site. The Stillwater student works for Shann Stones Masonry, a local residential masonry company owned and operated by Meridian Masonry alumni Zach Shann. At the beginning of the school year, the two connected when Shann was a substitute teacher at Meridian. Shann was impressed with Haley’s skills and work ethic and extended an offer for part-time employment if Haley was interested. Haley accepted Shann’s offer, and since then, he’s averaged working 15 to 20 hours a week on projects such as building fire pits, constructing a hearth for a fireplace, repairing a neighborhood entryway and completing an outdoor kitchen.
Haley earns credit in the Masonry program for the experience he’s gaining on the job. “It’s been a phenomenal experience working for Zach,” he shared. “In addition to gaining hands-on experience working in residential Masonry, I’ve had a chance to work on customer service skills and get an inside look at what it’s like to own a business. All of it has been invaluable.”
In addition to work-based learning opportunities for individual students, entire programs also have opportunities to put their skills to work. Earlier this year, the Stillwater Country Club approached Computer Aided Drafting Instructor Russell Frick and asked if his students would be willing to assist in the redesign of the club’s logo and tee boxes for the golf course. Frick knew this would be an excellent opportunity for his students to apply their skills and learn how to work with clients on new designs. The Country Club provided information regarding the size and dimensions to students but left everything else up to them.
When club staff members selected Remington Denton’s design, he worked with them to finalize his details. “We went back and forth, discussing elements of design that they liked and a few things that they wanted to be changed,” the Stillwater student explained. “This is what it will be like working in the industry, so it was a great learning process.”
Upon completion, his design moved to Meridian’s Precision Metal Fabrication program for production. Denton’s creation is now found at every tee box along the course.
Students in Meridian’s construction trades programs – Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Carpentry, Electrical Technology, Facilities Management and Masonry – get real-world work experience with the school’s Building Trades House project. Students in these programs work together to build an upscale home in a Stillwater neighborhood every two years. Between local subcontractors and Meridian programs, the house goes from a plot of land to a finished house.
Carpentry student Garrett Knutson has worked on the house and noted that while the experience has allowed him and his fellow students to apply the skills they learn in class, the advantage of this type of hands-on project extends beyond their ability to build.
“The biggest benefit of this type of project is the confidence you get from it,” he explained. “You’ve done the work in the classroom, but it’s not the same as when you’re working on an actual project. Working on something like the house gives us the confidence that we need to go along with the technical skills.”
Making Today Count with Work-Based Learning
Oklahoma’s Governor’s Council for work-based learning activities defines work-based learning as activities that provide Oklahomans with real-life or simulated work experiences to develop and apply academic, technical and essential skills required for success in the workplace. It includes career exploration pursuits, industry-related field trips, guest speakers, apprenticeships and internships, job shadowing and on-the-job training.
Because of the variety of activities that make up work-based learning, it looks different in every program at Meridian. For example, in the school’s health-related programs, students spend time in clinical settings working with patients; Cosmetology students work with clients in the school’s salon and Culinary Arts students plan and prepare food for The Terrace Café.
When students participate in work-based learning, they develop a deeper understanding of what it will be like when they enter the workforce, but work-based learning benefits employers.
“It’s hard to get a job if you don’t have work experience, but it’s also hard to get work experience if you don’t have a job,” explained Electrical Technology Instructor Wayne Ford. “Work-based learning gives students a chance to build their résumé before looking for a job. It also gives employers a chance to see a student as a potential employee. It benefits everyone.”
When students participate in work-based learning opportunities, they typically spend one day in the classroom and the remaining time working alongside an industry professional. The employer provides weekly progress reports describing what skills students learn and apply on the job. Progress reports also document that the student is progressing as expected.
“This is the time of the year for students when all of their efforts pay off,” Ford said. “Nearly half of graduating students in my class have finished the course curriculum and are already employed in the industry. That’s not something that’s unique to my program. It’s all across campus.”