How an innovative program and the personal connection of coaching put three small-town students on the path to success.
For students in small, rural communities, college is often a dream that goes unfulfilled. For those who do make it to college and complete their degree, they often have to move away to a big city where the better paying jobs in their field are more readily available. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, 98.7 percent of all population growth between 2008 and 2017 came from metropolitan areas — and this “brain drain” is one of the reasons why. The northern panhandle of Idaho is one such rural area. In 2014, the state created Idaho PTECH to help connect the dots between student and employer needs.
A win-win for current employers and future employees
The idea behind Idaho PTECH was to give students from small rural towns the opportunity — and the tuition funds — to earn a career-ready associate’s degree in one of Idaho’s growing career fields. This includes information technology, medical assisting, and airplane maintenance and composites. Employers got the skilled, educated workers they needed, and graduates got a good paying job without having to leave the state.
As part of the program, PTECH students have access to InsideTrack Coaches to help them with everything from balancing life in and outside of school to developing communication, persistence, grit, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills. This series tells the stories of three of these students in various stages of completing their degrees and beginning their careers — students who all worked with Coach Supervisor Hayley Kimble.
“That conversation changed my life.”
When Andrew was a high school sophomore in Sandpoint, Idaho, a counselor told him about the PTECH program, explaining that he could have dual enrollment in high school and community college — meaning his associate’s degree would be paid for. When he learned one of the career pathways was information technology and website design, he was sold.
Along with the PTECH educational track came Coach Hayley. “Andrew has put a ton of work and effort into figuring out his future job goals and forcing himself to network and learn the industry in a way that most high school and college students don’t do until their last semester, if at all,” says Kimble.
One of their earliest conversations was whether Andrew should go to a statewide creative technology convention (way outside his comfort zone) or to an anime convention (something he had been looking forward to), both held on the same days. He talked it out with Hayley — exploring the pros and cons of each and talking about goals. In the end, he chose work over play, deciding to attend the programming event.
“That conversation with Hayley changed my life,” he says. At the convention, he went to panels, listened to industry experts and met people in different branches of the computer arts industry. “It really piqued my interest in the artistic side of computer technology,” he notes. From that convention, he was able to obtain an opportunity working on a Kickstarter project developing virtual reality games
“Hayley was great at helping me with tips on scheduling — something I was really bad at. Between work, school, picking up my siblings and wanting to have downtime with my friends, I was always overbooked. Hayley showed me how to use a planner. Sounds simple, but it was like a lightbulb went on.” Andrew also credits Hayley with helping him with financial planning, tapping into available career services, and learning how to make industry connections using LinkedIn. “I didn’t even know what networking was,” he says with a grin.
Once he completed his foundational college credits through PTECH, Andrew continued his education at the University of Advancing Technology in Arizona. He’s currently in his final semester before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in game art and animation, specializing in character and environmental art. Andrew is also an art tutor at the school, helping other budding computer artists ply their craft.
“When you come from a small town,” Andrew says, “there aren’t many opportunities to see and be exposed to things related to the career you want. But you can’t let that stop you.” He recommends using LinkedIn, Twitter and corporate websites to see what’s out there.
“Find the online presence that speaks to you and connect to that community. Go to the ‘contact us’ page on a website and ask questions. Join a forum and learn more about your options. Get to know people in the industry. Don’t be afraid to reach out — you can talk to anyone and most people are willing to help.”
As for his connection with his coach? They still speak on a regular basis, even though Andrew’s PTECH days are well behind him. “She was great at asking the tough, out-of-the-box questions,” he said, “the things I never would have thought about. She got me to think about what I wanted to do after high school and explore different options for college. Without Hayley, I wouldn’t have known what to do — or how to get there.”
Working to close the opportunity gap
As the divide between rural and urban continues to widen — both in terms of job and population growth — it’s critical to give high school students a clear path to a career that provides them with a livable wage and the ability to remain in the area. By incorporating one-on-one coaching into a program’s support strategy, institutions, employers, and students all win. Students who may not have otherwise been considering college have a champion on their side — someone who helps them identify strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and develop successful time-management and academic habits — building a relationship that will motivate each student to reach their full potential.
Through the use of coaching in the Idaho PTECH program, rural students were able to obtain the college degrees and workplace skills required for high-growth industries in their own backyard, helping to bridge the gap between education and industry.