For many high school seniors, a common question looms over their last year: what’s next? Lorain County Community College’s Bridges to Success program helps high school seniors answer that question and build an action plan.
The program, funded by a grant through the Ohio Department of Education, was piloted in partnership with Avon High School during the 2021-2022 academic year. More than 20 students explored career pathways that lead to industry recognized credentials and in-demand careers in advanced manufacturing, computer and information technology, healthcare, and business and entrepreneurship. Students connected with LCCC faculty and engaged with local industry partners through customized hands-on labs and workshops. After completion, students could choose to pursue a short-term certification and seek employment or continue on in their educational pathway.
“Bridges to Success is designed to develop our local talent pipeline,” said Deanna Strauss Hersko, manager, K12 Career Technical Pathways & Programs at LCCC. “Bridges puts students on a pathway to earn an industry credential, which validates the skills they possess and provides students with early employment opportunities.”
Participating students also earned LCCC credit taking student success and career exploration courses, cumulatively saving over $4,000 in tuition. Avon High School graduate Vince Ventresco says his experience in Bridges to Success introduced him to LCCC and confirmed the college would be part of his next step.
“It was a no-brainer for me. I really didn’t want to spend all that money on an expensive college tuition and live in a dorm somewhere,” Ventresco said.
Ventresco, who added that LCCC’s student-to-instructor ratio was also a positive, wasn’t alone in his thinking. More than half of the students who participated in Bridges to Success enrolled at LCCC the following fall. Part of the staying power comes from students finding the right career path, which is what Bridges to Success is all about.
“We targeted our invitations for Bridges to Success to those who were without direction for post-secondary goals,” said Avon High School principal, Kristina Dobos Buller. “When presented with a free exploratory option, a scholarship of sorts, doors opened for students. It was incredible to watch our students feel valued by LCCC’s and Lorain County’s investment in them.”
While co-designing the program’s deliverables, Avon’s school counselors shared that every district has this undecided population of students to support. They believed Bridges could be a model program delivered throughout Lorain County and they were right; LCCC has been approached by several districts to explore how to take Bridges to Success from pilot to implementation.
Once students decided to enroll in LCCC post-graduation, the program connected them with various scholarships, including priority placement into LCCC’s Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) scholarship program. In all, Bridges to Success students earned scholarships valued at over $45,000, some from the State’s Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program, which supports undergraduate students in STEM-focused academic programs.
After rotating through the various academic pathway workshops, from cooking classes to cleanroom tours, Ventresco decided LCCC’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Microelectronic Manufacturing (MEMS) was the right choice for him. He said Intel’s decision to invest more than $20 billion in the construction of two new chip factories in Ohio helped.
“I liked the whole electronics process, and how the components we’re soldering here fit into a big, large-scale company like Intel,” Ventresco said.
Like many of LCCC’s career pathways, the MEMS program has an Earn and Learn component built into the curriculum, which requires students to spend part of their time working in the field. Ventresco hopes to complete part of this requirement working for Repair Bit, a company that repairs machines used in bitcoin mining.
“They showed me around the facility, and it was pretty cool,” he said. “What interested me the most was that the soldering station there looked exactly like the one that we use on campus. I felt like I could have just sat down and started soldering right away.”
Seeing first-hand the similarities between company and classroom showed Ventresco how well-aligned LCCC’s MEMS program is with local industry. And it gave him even more confidence that the Bridges to Success program pointed him toward the right next step for him, and that he’s gaining the industry-recognized skills he needs to succeed.
Ventresco is among several former Bridge to Success students who are on the cusp of earning an industry-focused credential. He and two classmates studying MEMS can earn the standard certification in soldering, and others have already completed the coursework needed to take the State Tested Nursing Assistant exam and the real estate sales exam.
For Buller, the Bridges to Success model proves to students – and their parents – that providing focused opportunities for post-graduation can lead to success for those whose plans are not yet made.
“Parents glow when we speak of the program,” Buller said. “Each parent has complimented the bridge that was actually forged for his or her student from high school classrooms to post-secondary options. Previously unknown opportunities are at their children’s fingertips. That’s our goal.”