Creating Valuable Connections

Over the past four years since I started the agricultural education program at my school (Little Axe High School in Norman, OK), I have made a great effort to connect my students with as
many potential career paths as I possibly can. It is very common for students at my school, and other low-income rural schools, to feel isolated and cut off from potential employers. This can cause them to have an unfounded lack of belief in themselves, as well as a lack of hope that they can find high wage, high skill, in-demand employment.

One of the ways we have tried to combat this way of thinking is by bringing potential employers, or those that provide pathways to employment, to our school to speak with our students. Year one, the only connection I made was with Tulsa Welding School, who came and talked to my Agricultural Mechanics class. This year, I have employers reaching out to me and asking for students for part-time work that could lead to full-time employment upon graduation. We also started our inaugural Little Axe Career Fair this year, which we had on April 28. Our school counselor, teachers, and staff worked together to contact employers in the area that are either looking, or will be looking, for employees to fill positions from food services at the University of Oklahoma, to apprenticeships in boilermaking, to jobs on post at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, OK. Some of these employers were looking for immediate or very soon start dates and brought applications for our students to fill out that day. A couple even conducted interviews with our seniors seeking post-graduation employment. It was such a success that we can’t wait to do it again next year, but with more potential employers.

So how do you get from Point A (one connection) to Point B (multiple connections)? Just ask! Many of us will soon be attending our students organizations’ state conventions, our annual state
ACTE summer conferences, or another professional development event where potential employers will be available to talk to. Talk to them! Get their contact information, accept that business card, and build that rapport. Make a list of local businesses that could be hiring in your area as well. Then, when you get back to your school, make those phone calls and send those emails. The worst anyone can say is “no”, but more likely than not, they are more than willing to come and talk to whole classes full of potential employees about what their company does and what is required for employment.

Many of my students, and yours, have no idea what they want to do with their lives (I am 27 and still don’t know what I want to do with mine). By giving them access to every potential employer that you talk to and says yes to that career fair, or to just coming for a class visit as a guest speaker, that is one more option they can add to their list of cool things they might want to do, as well as the knowledge of how to get there. So, like Nike says, “Just Do It!”, and don’t be afraid to just call or email and make those connections with potential employers near and far.


Ashley Jensen

Agricultural Education Division New Professional Fellow