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We’ve all heard, and even used, the phrase “try it before you buy it” and how it applies to numerous consumer products, but what if we could apply it to the thousands of dollars that are individually spent on attending college? Turns out, we can and… we are!

For 20 years, GPS Education Partners has helped high school students develop skills needed for technical careers in manufacturing by connecting their learning to the real world of work through a successful Wisconsin-based Youth Apprenticeship Program. Now GPSEd is mapping another pathway to success inside our own offices to help connect more of today’s college-bound students with tomorrow’s careers. Developing more career pathways and guiding students along this journey starts with developing strong career awareness for each student.

Working with New Berlin West High School, GPSEd was approached to help support a student interested in a career pathway outside of manufacturing. Andrea Kuhne, a student going into her senior year of high school at the time, was seeking a unique training opportunity within the accounting field. This time, instead of utilizing a business partner, Andrea was welcomed right into the GPSEd office. 

According to Deb Cox, Vice President of Business Services at GPSEd and mentor of Andrea, this work-based learning internship is very similar to the one involving our Education Centers. Once it was clear that GPSEd could take this on, it became seemingly natural to provide this new version of student support.

“We ask businesses to do this [mentor students] and to support us all the time, we can return the favor and do the same,” Deb explains. “What Andrea does here is not like a normal internship [at GPSEd]. It is more closely aligned with what students do. There’s accounting service basics and other core competencies along with a practical application of what she’s being taught in school”. 

Andrea follows the Business Financial Management Pathway which is a deeper and more defined learning program. Here, she learns about her field of interest and about thriving in an office environment, and developing strong 21st-century soft skills. This entails professionally constructing emails, effectively communicating with coworkers, and having various office responsibilities on top of her in-depth accounting work.

Andrea’s love of math sparked a desire for a future career with numbers during her sophomore year. After talking to counselors, she took her first accounting class. Coming to GPSEd in the fall of 2020 with that entry-level accounting education, she was mentored by three different professionals in accounting and finance. Over the next year, she grew her skills to be able to work independently on maintaining accounts and bookkeeping among other, may I add impressive, responsibilities.  

The uniqueness of this experience comes from Andrea being able to professionally test out her interest before attending college (hence, try it before you buy it!). “I’m more confident going into my future because I know about how the business world actually works rather than just classes and the problems they give there,” Andrea recalls. “I’m able to understand more about how a company works and how money actually flows. I can understand the backbones to an actual company with finances.” When asked about her future and if she feels ‘ahead of the pack with this internship under her belt she said, “I have a head start because this [internship] is showing me that I really want to do accounting and is giving me ideas of different ways that I can do that.” She continues by saying, “I’m more excited and prepared to join the workforce because I created good bonds here and can reach out in the future to use them as references and guides”. It’s undeniable that Andrea will have an edge over other students in college. The curriculum will contain some material that she will have already learned by doing, here at GPSEd. 

“I liked the fact that [GPSEd] is about helping students in high school and I’m here doing the same thing differently,” Andrea said about what drew her to GPS Education Partners. Deb then explained that students were rarely able to get this experience so young in the first place in the past, now add the rarity of being placed within a smaller, more personal, nonprofit organization. It really opens up the idea of the different careers and companies that are out there waiting for young students to join the workforce. “I just think it’s a great program as someone who was in high school thinking about these careers in accounting, I wish it would have been available to me,” Deb adds.

As for how this program can be a permanent aspect of the GPSEd work-based learning pathway? Deb says there is every intention to continue moving this program forward. With another potential student coming in this fall when Andrea heads to college, there is hope that the program can be expanded and open to any business department that fits the student’s needs. While GPSEd is not at the point of growing the number of in-office students right now, Deb does not put it past us to be reaching out to more schools for this type of student initiative further down the road.

Albeit fun and exciting, starting college can already be notorious for being overwhelming. With everything around us constantly evolving to be larger and more complex, some things should just remain more straightforward. Among those things, navigating your career path! Because why does being confident in your direction while attending college feel like a luxury that only some achieve? 

In 2021, it’s key to recognize that the old woodshop high school courses are not the only way to test-drive careers before college anymore; there are ample opportunities to rein in your career awareness early on. These opportunities go from internships, apprenticeship programs, and co-ops all the way to expansive work-based learning programs that help students gain exposure and experience for their first road test.

Take this as a sign to give yourself a head start. Whether that be through the manufacturing route or the business avenue, there’s a pathway for everyone. Get on the right track with work-based learning programs and let it provide you the confidence for building a fulfilling career early on, just like it has done for so many others and just like it will continue to do here at GPSEd.

Written By

Alyssa Derpinghaus
GPS Education Partners

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