Stock image of the Ford Parkway Bridge in Minnesota, illustrating bridging the achievement gap

Bridging the achievement gap

There’s a lot to love about the state of Minnesota. There are wonderful people, the famous state fair, and two beautiful cities flanked along the mighty Mississippi River. However, to stand up as a bastion of opportunity for career and technical education (CTE), educators in Minnesota know they must reckon with some of the state’s shortcomings.

Across the nation, and in Minnesota, there exists an incredible disparity regarding women in technical careers. Most jobs requiring a technical degree employ less than 25% percent women. Achievement gaps such as these stem from a variety of factors like income disparity and access to opportunity. And they require a nuanced approach to resolution.

Passionate educators produce big results.

Dedicated, passionate educators like Bayza Sumpter Weeks, the executive director of community partnerships at Dunwoody College of Technology, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are working hard to address the disparities. Weeks elevates opportunities for underrepresented groups from high school through higher education and into their careers. She is spearheading two major programs for the college: Pathways to Careers and Women in Technical Careers.

Pathways to Careers

The Pathways to Careers program begins in as early as 11th grade, identifying diverse students, building relationships and providing mentors. Individuals are invited to a summer program that focuses on team building, community service and career exploration. Then, with the assistance of their mentors, they may spend the following school year participating in project challenges and exploring postsecondary enrollment options. Following graduation, students are invited to participate in more summer programming, which involves job shadowing, industry visits and college preparation. The program also offers a stipend as well as the opportunity to receive a scholarship.

“The program introduce young students to a variety of opportunities,” said Weeks. “Introducing students to technical careers, professionals, and project challenges allows them to properly navigate these opportunities that so many aren’t typically aware of coming out of high school.”

In an effort to address a persistent achievement gap, Weeks is working to strengthen the Pathways to Careers program. This program connects the college with community partners to develop pathways for underserved and underrepresented students from Minneapolis, to help them reach graduation and connect with local resources. Weeks has expanded the network of partnerships with businesses and aligned community partners. And, with their support, Weeks hopes to build a strong network for students to access high-quality CTE. This is true regardless of whether they attend Dunwoody.

Women in Technical Careers

The Women in Technical Careers (WITC) scholarship program provides students with up to $10,000 per year. Eligible participants also receive a $1,500 child care stipend. Throughout the program, students are mentored by women professionals from the same industry and placed in a cohort that involves monthly professional development workshops. On top of that, participants engage in one-on-one advising and a summer orientation exclusively for women in the cohort.

WITC helps women succeed in technical degree completion at Dunwoody and prepares them for careers following graduation. The program is aimed at both women starting their careers and those looking to make a career change. And just like with the Pathways to Careers program, Weeks is leveraging community and business partners. Women within various technical industries offer their service and expertise to mentor and work alongside students as they navigate their pathways to professional careers.

“Dunwoody’s long-standing community partners will be crucial to eliminating barriers for women to enter and succeed in technical industries,” explained Weeks.

Look forward to new opportunities.

We know these efforts can’t address inequities across the greater Minnesota area or the entire country. But the efforts of Bayza Sumpter Weeks are making an incredible impact on the community. And they can be replicated. Hiring needs for jobs requiring technical skills continue to increase across the state and country, and Weeks has identified an opportunity to bridge the achievement gap while filling those workforce needs.

“We’ve seen a lot of success through these programs, and I hope to continue building and refining them so we can continue to make an impact on the lives of our students and across the entire industry,” she said.

Shepard Rogers is a communications professional working across the technical education and professional field. Rogers is committed to uplifting marginalized voices and groups within the industry and working toward a more inclusive technical field.

Read more in Techniques: Technological Transformations.