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New Mexico State University students help middle schoolers explore career options

Nineteen New Mexico State University master's and doctoral students spent more than a month working with Las Cruces seventh graders, urging them to begin their career exploration early and providing them with the tools to do so.

Graduate student Harlan Austin was one of nineteen students to work with Las Cruces seventh graders in a career exploration exercise. (Photo by Michael Kiernan)

Voegeli and Carole Ferriman, career specialists for the Las Cruces Public School District, solicited the help of Eve Adams, assistant professor in counseling and educational psychology at New Mexico State, and 19 of her students for the pilot program. In working with the seventh graders, the student counselors attempted to increase career awareness and prepare them for a smoother transition to high school courses.

The program encompassed all the Las Cruces middle schools. The career specialists, volunteers from business and industry and the university students began visiting the schools in early April to teach the seventh graders how to use a computer program called "Career Futures," which asks students about their interests and abilities and generates a list of possible career options, based on the responses. Some of the seventh graders' teachers were also involved so that the students were able to follow up with writing an effective resume and continuing to build their career portfolios.

"We did this at the seventh grade level because we wanted to get them while they were open and receptive, so that we could keep their curiosity about various occupations alive," Adams said. "If people have an idea of what it is they're working toward, they're more likely to do well in school."

Voegeli said the seventh graders who went through this program will be better equipped to choose helpful elective courses when they reach the high school level.

The graduate students also benefitted from the program by experiencing firsthand what it's like to be involved in career counseling, which is one aspect of what they may be doing after earning their degrees, Adams said.

Harlan Austin, a first-year master's student in counseling and educational psychology from Columbus Grove, Ohio, said the program opened his eyes to the differences in cognitive development in seventh graders.

"Some of them knew exactly what jobs they were interested in, while others had difficulty simply reading the statements on the computer program. Realizing the amount of variance in cognitive levels is important for me as a career counselor because not every student can be treated the same," Austin said.

Robyn Rehbein, a first-year master's student in counseling and educational psychology from Austin, Texas, said the program gave her an opportunity to apply the skills she learned in Adams' class.

"It's one thing to learn about skills in a classroom and another to be able to actually use them. This helped me prepare for the future by giving me examples of questions that I will deal with," Rehbein said.

Adams and Voegeli said the enthusiasm and positive response from the seventh graders was encouraging, and they anticipate repeating the program next spring.