For 16 years as a school counselor, Pete Drury saw it all, providing students at the East Marshall Community School District with the support and guidance to navigate their classes and young lives. Now serving as one of Iowa’s college and career transition counselors at the Iowa Valley Community College District, Drury plays a special role in helping high school seniors prepare for life after graduation and tackling career exploration head on.
College and career transition counselors, known as CCTCs, are a recent addition to Iowa’s cadre of support for high school seniors. They assist with all things related to postsecondary preparation and career readiness, such as college applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), individual career and academic plans, career assessments and other needed assistance.
“As the CCTC, I can focus my energy on helping kids understand what next steps they need to take,” Drury said. “I’m glad to be a part of their journey and help make it a reality.”
Each CCTC role is unique, depending upon the school district’s needs. Some CCTCs work with anyone from the senior class while others work specifically with identified student populations who may need more support such as first-generation students, English language learners, military families, students with disabilities and more.
“CCTCs can really customize their services to the school district and students’ needs,” said Erica Woods-Schmitz, CCTC consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “They will work in tandem with the school counselors and administrators to see where their resources and efforts need to be placed based upon the district data and goals.”
CCTCs also have the unique position of assisting students after high school graduation who enroll in the CCTC’s home community college. They stay on as an advisor to these students during the summer before fall enrollment and through the first year of study. For this specific role, Drury is more than just a familiar face for these students. He has set up social outings, schedule reminders and even individual campus walks to help freshmen find their first-day classes.
Drury, in his second full year as the CCTC for Grinnell and East Marshall community school districts, is a part of a recent wave of newly created CCTC positions housed at community colleges across the state. Over the past two years, 30 CCTCs have been hired to assist Iowa high school students, and two additional positions will be filled soon. CCTC expansion is anticipated to continue well into the 2023-24 school year, too.
“The goal is to grow the program across the state,” Woods-Schmitz said. “We will have an additional round of grant funding opening on Oct. 1 to help expand the number of CCTCs. The more CCTCs we can have, the higher the impact we can have with students in Iowa.”
Like other CCTCs, one of Drury’s main roles is helping students discover potential career pathways. Students who start exploring job fields of interest while still in school can gain knowledge of what areas they’d like to pursue after graduation and whether it is found through further education and training or directly in the workforce.
Career exploration can be a big job, and luckily for Drury, he has help. Terri Hungerford, Iowa Valley’s intermediary coordinator, works frequently with Drury to set up work-based learning experiences for students. She works with several school districts in Marshall, Poweshiek and Tama counties to set up opportunities like job shadows, internships, worksite and college visits, career fairs and more.
“Often, students think they want to go into a specific career, but after participating in a work-based learning experience, decide it isn’t a right fit or go in a different direction,” Hungerford said. “Intermediaries can really help students experience different career options and align them to what they are interested and skilled at.”
Intermediaries like Hungerford focus solely on work-based learning opportunities for career pathway discovery and can provide schools with valuable connections to local businesses that can offer hands-on learning and networking. Having a presence of both intermediary coordinators and CCTCs in Iowa schools provides wrap-around services for high school students looking to forge their way post-graduation and find a fruitful, future career.
“Having CCTCs like Pete has helped tremendously,” Hungerford said. “The CCTC meets with students regularly and knows what career exploration needs are out there. I can then work with the interested students in setting up learning experiences that can help them get hands-on experience and better understanding of what a particular job field entails.”
Last year, Drury and Hungerford partnered on a parking lot pop-up event at East Marshall High School, where several area businesses met with students and provided information on their job duties and opportunities. Students at the event could connect with potential employers and try out different types of equipment and simulations. In-demand career fields like welding, emergency medical technician, energy management, cement mixing and more were featured.
“The collaboration with Pete on these events has been great,” Hungerford said. “He can help set up logistics with the school, and I can find the businesses to participate.”
Due to its success, additional parking lot pop-up events and career-oriented opportunities are being planned for this year, particularly one at Grinnell High School that will be open for all Poweshiek County students.
The partnership between Drury and Hungerford will certainly continue to grow during this school year, and students at East Marshall and Grinnell will have many opportunities for career pathway discovery. For Drury’s second year as CCTC, he also looks forward to expanding his assistance to students to help strengthen their individual possibilities as well as the capacity of Iowa’s future workforce overall.
“Since the CCTC role hadn’t existed before at Iowa Valley, the first year focuses on trying to figure out the pieces and contacts,” he said. “This year, I can hit the ground running and help navigate different things that a student needs to be prepared for their future. With current worker shortages making an impact on our communities, it is an important task. CCTCs can really make a difference to help sustain and grow Iowa’s workforce.”