The Essential Skills – A Brief Overview + An Activity

NIU STEAM continues to provide leadership and resources with regards to providing students with learning opportunities related to the Cross-Sector Essential Employability Skills, also known as the Essential Skills.

Essential Skills

The Essential Skills and career exploration are increasingly being built into a wide range of NIU STEAM activities. As more and more students also benefit from these type of College and Career Readiness activities in Illinois schools, the alignment between enrichment activities through NIU STEAM and their regular work in school will further deepen and enhance students’ essential skillset.

For this activity, students begin by watching this short introduction to the Essential Skills that is on YouTube and is less than 10 minutes in length.

Then, students are introduced to the Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads video series on YouTube. Students are asked to scroll through the video titles and descriptions and select 5 that are most interesting to them.

Then, students will watch the five videos that they have selected and use this NIU STEAM Essential Skills Checklist to identify which of the Essential Skills are evident in which of the videos.

Finally, in small groups or as a class, students should analyze the results of their survey of the Essential Skills across the Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads videos, identifying the frequency with which different Essential Skills appear as well as any patterns that they may discover between highlighted Essential Skills and different Career Pathways.

December 2020

Career Pathways Student Conversations – Geneseo High School

Earlier in December, Travis Mackey, the principal at Geneseo (IL) High School, presented to the Illinois P-20 Network’s Career Pathways User Group about the development and use of the Alumni Career Connections feature of the Geneseo H.S. website.

As a follow-up, we met with four high school seniors from Geneseo High School to learn from them about their plans for postsecondary education and careers and to gain a better understanding of how they use their Alumni Career Connections tool. As is essentially always the case when listening to students speak about their experiences, there are a wide range of lessons shared by these students for educators to consider when planning in their own schools.

At the time of the publication of this video and blog post in December 2020, three of the four high school seniors were still in the process of finalizing their postsecondary plans. In each case, these students are planning on attending four-year universities, though these students recognized the importance of career exploration for all students and the important role that a wide range of postsecondary education options play in serving all students today.

Looking to the future, ultimately, all four of these high school seniors were steadfast in their commitment to prioritizing a love for one’s work and the need to make a difference for others as the ultimate considerations in selecting their careers and courses of study to prepare them for success in these careers.

December 2020

Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads – Cora Pauli – Electrical Engineer

Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads logo

Since students cannot be engaging in face-to-face or on-site work-based learning experiences, we’re bringing people from a wide range of occupations to students remotely. These videos will allow students to learn about their work, the skills that are most important in their work, and to benefit from the advice that these professionals have to offer students.

In this Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads episode, we interview Cora Pauli, who is an electrical engineer at HBK Engineering. HBK Engineering is regarded as one of COMED’s three most preferred companies to work with for project design. At an early age, Cora realized her love for mathematics and science and took the advice of her high school swimming coach at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School to study engineering in college. While in college, she interned with an engineering company where she learned about designing electrical distribution systems as well as learning AutoCAD. This experience contributed to her career choice as an electrical engineer.  In her current role at HBK Engineering, Cora works in the power sector and handles projects that focus on the design of electrical distribution systems, specifically Cora’s work focuses on what takes place between the electrical substation and the customer’s business or home.

The work that Cora does on a daily basis is a part of the Manufacturing, Engineering, Technology, and Trades Career Pathway.

In this video, Cora shares with us some interesting facts about being a woman in the STEM field. She also talks about the need for young graduates who are interested in this field to love numbers and understand the basics of electrical engineering but to also possess a strong willingness to learn and ask questions. In addition to being forthcoming with questions, other essential skills for new electrical engineers to have include strong problem solving and communication skills. From crawling through manhole covers under streets in Downtown Chicago to projects that take place in Illinois’ corn and soybean fields, Cora is pleased to help provide people with consistent, reliable electricity using modern tools, like connected gear.

Watch this Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads video with electrical engineer Cora Pauli.

To keep up-to-date as new Career Pathways Virtual Trailheads videos are released:

December 2020

Alumni as Career Exploration Resources

In referencing college & career choices,

“We tried to figure out a way that our students could figure it out…”

Travis Mackey, Principal – Geneseo High School

Illinois’ Geneseo High School launched a website for both current students and alumni called Geneseo High School Alumni Career Connections that serves as a key component of the school’s career exploration efforts for and with students. This site connects graduates from Geneseo High School, which is about 25 miles west of the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities, and the Illinois/Iowa border, with one another and, most importantly, with current students. Through the Alumni Career Connections website, Geneseo alumni become a resource for career exploration for current high school students, who all engage with the Alumni Career Connections website systemically as part of their classes.

The full video presentation from the Illinois P-20 Network Career Pathways User Group is below, and this post continues below the video. For more information on the Illinois P-20 Network Career Pathways User Group, contact us via email.

The Alumni Career Connections Website – A tool that facilitates connections

Geneseo High School worked with a local website design company that already serves as their website provider to build out the custom Alumni Career Connections Website tool, which includes a survey for alumni to share their information, a database back-end, and a website with search parameters, an interactive map, and the search results and information that alumni have entered. At the time of this writing, there are currently almost 1,000 Geneseo alumni who have voluntarily submitted profiles. (For context, Geneseo High School currently serves just under 900 students according to the Illinois State Board of Education Illinois Report Card.) The school has a goal of doubling this to 2,000 alumni profiles.

Alumni are emailed and encouraged to provide their profiles and serve as a resource to current students, and even once in the database, reminder emails are sent every three years in order to ensure profiles are kept up-to-date as people change jobs and move from one location to another. Additionally, it should be noted that a Geneseo Community Unit School District 228 team must clean-up and verify each submission individually. (For example, this is one way to ensure that postsecondary institutions are listed in a single consistent format rather than having some respondents list Northern Illinois University as NIU while others write Northern.)

Systemically integrated into instruction

Teachers throughout the school use the Alumni Career Connections website in order to bring alumni into the classroom as experts who serve as guest speakers for students. Additionally, as teachers connect with alumni in specific fields, they actively reflect on the alignment between what and how they are teaching and the current reality of different types of workplaces. As a result of those conversations with former students, teachers make adjustments to their own instruction.

In addition to this approach, which positively impacts students throughout the school, all tenth grade students participate in a unit in their English class in which they identify a Geneseo graduate who works in an occupation that is of interest to them, and students interview them. Students are supported through this process with both a combination of pre-written consistent questions across all careers and with the flexibility to develop and ask their own specific questions that are of interest to them and/or specifically relevant to the occupation.

Building a positive culture around career exploration and connectedness

Central to the idea of the Alumni Career Connections website, is that it works on a “personal level” for current students. As Mr. Mackey describes, connecting students to alumni, “people who sat in the same seats that you (current students) do and had some of the same teachers you have had” has a tremendous impact on helping career exploration feel real to current students and that their career aspirations are possible. The tool has two other important side benefits:

  • Alumni stay connected to one another and to the school.
  • Alumni reference the teachers who impacted them, and honoring teachers “really keeps our teachers going” as they see how they made a difference in the lives of alumni after they have graduated.

December 2020