Industry careers: Mounds View district’s early college possibilities expand

Mounds View Public Schools has developed six new Early College pathways related to industry and occupational opportunities: engineering and manufacturing, welding, construction and solar energy, business, automotive, and associate of arts degree.

A career as a welder, solar technician or auto mechanic can now begin with college-credit classes at local high schools. 

Mounds View Public Schools is adding a new aspect to its Early College programs at Mounds View and Irondale high schools. The new Pathways to Possibilities program emphasizes industry and occupational college pathways for students who are interested in options other than a four-year college degree path.

“While we want kids to have every opportunity to attain that (a four-year degree) if they so desire, it is not for everybody,” said Assistant Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover. “College looks different for everybody.” 

Students will have the opportunity to sign up for classes in six new pathways this spring for the launch of the program in September, said Mindy Handberg, director of community partnerships.

The pathways include engineering and manufacturing, welding, construction and solar energy, business, automotive, and associate of arts degree. All classes will be for college credit and be held at the high schools, as are all of the district’s Early College classes. The district is well known for its Early College program; 97 percent of the class of 2017 participated in an Early College course and 91 percent received college credit for a course. 

The goal of the new pathways in the Early College program is to give students experience and exposure to more options, said Michael Werner, coordinator of post-secondary planning. Students are not tied down to a pathway if they take a course in it, he added. 

“The goal here is for students to have a better understanding of what they might be interested in pursuing,” Werner said. 

The program has been several years in the making, said Ridlehoover. The program is in response to a current demand by employers for a highly skilled workforce in the trades and other job fields, he noted. 

District staff consulted with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in choosing the six pathways that are expected to lead to high-wage jobs in high demand, said Colleen Wambach, district education consultant and former Irondale High School principal. 

The associate of arts degree pathway has actually been around since 2012. The district built off its relationship with Anoka-Ramsey Community College and other area colleges to develop the other five pathways. Current related courses offered at the high schools have been aligned for college credit. 

“Most of the courses in the pathways have been redesigned or are brand new or have been combined and designed and built with a post-secondary partner,” Ridlehoover said. 

The business pathway will be aligned to the Minnesota State System and the district will work largely with St. Paul College for its courses, Wambach said. 

Automotive courses were already offered at Irondale High School but have now been aligned with St. Paul College and other colleges.

A construction course at Irondale has been refocused to include solar energy components. Next year, students in the course will build ice houses with solar panels instead of plain sheds. The district has partnered with Century College for the construction and solar energy pathway, the only college in Minnesota that offers a degree in solar energy. Students will now be able to earn some credits toward that degree without leaving the high school. 

Woods classes have been refocused to include engineering and manufacturing. Computer programs are used to design and build items. 

Welding is being added as a high school course. The district received a grant to purchase various types of welding equipment. “We hear from everybody that welding is in huge demand,” Wambach said. 

Not all courses for the pathways will be available at both Irondale and Mounds View high schools; however, students from both schools can take the courses by attending the school where those courses are offered. 

The district hopes to partner with area businesses for field trips, job shadowing and summer internships, Handberg noted. Right now, it has already established a partnership with Mortenson Construction for its construction and solar energy pathway. 

“We could use assistance leveraging regional businesses about offering opportunities to high school-level students,” Handberg said. 

If a business is interested in partnering with the district on its new program, it should contact Handberg at 651-621-6094 or 

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