ProjectMe: An Approach to Career Exploration in High School
By Destiny O’Rourke
Career development with the high school population can be challenging for several reasons. One is that college and career readiness content is continuously redefined and tweaked at national and state levels. The economy drives the conversation about what students need to be successful after high school. As that conversation reaches the school level, it is interpreted and delivered in various ways that may or may not be effective due to the priority level and time commitment it is given. Furthermore, students are in a specific career developmental stage. They are also establishing their self-concept while trying to gain experiences that will help them narrow down their options for life after high school.
While the foundational set of knowledge and skills that applies to college and career readiness is similar, the specific content students need to master is influenced by national and local contexts, as well as students’ goals and aspirations, including the postsecondary program they wish to enter (Conley, 2014). The ways in which career professionals combine these resources to guide students in career exploration are vitally important to their postsecondary success. Bowling Green High School (BGHS) in Kentucky introduces ProjectMe, a program that combines Super’s theory of career development with the state’s Department of Education model of career preparation and exploration framework, titled Transition Readiness, while closely aligning with the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA, 2019) guidelines to engage students in useful, age-appropriate career exploration activities.
Combining Super’s Career Development Stage with the State of Kentucky Model
Donald Super’s theory of career development speaks to the idea that everyone fits into a particular career development stage. He describes five stages: Growth, Exploration, Establishment, Maintenance, and Disengagement (Super, 1990). High school students fall into the Exploration stage, typically right for those between the ages of 15-25. The Exploration stage is when students are learning about the different types of available work and what it takes to get into those lines of work. People in this stage are starting to narrow down what kind of work they want to do and are dabbling in training experiences related to that work. Super also mentions that self-concept is paramount in how a person engages with career development at this stage. He also says it is essential for people to pursue work that strongly expresses their vocational self-concept for exciting and meaningful work.
Based on Super’s theory, high school students should be engaging in activities that develop a positive personal self-concept and a positive vocational self-concept. Super calls the tasks associated with this stage of adolescence crystallization (Super, 1990). The crystallization task begins with forming a preferred career plan and the considerations involved in how it might be implemented (Zunker, 2016). Students at this stage of vocational development are participants in career development via associated tasks. Therefore, they could benefit from deeper introspection, with proper guidance offered by a trained career development professional with a template that combines these critical elements from Super’s theory.
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) introduced a model that aligns with Super’s concept of a preferred career plan. The KDE model of career exploration for high school students, titled the Individual Learning Plan (ILP), is consistent with Super’s concept. The model requires school districts to implement an ILP for each student in grades 6-12 to aid their transition into adulthood. The ILP is meant to help students strategically think about, plan for, and track progress toward their long-term career aspirations while being mindful of students' developmental level. School districts have complete autonomy in creating and implementing their ILP, while KDE provides support and guidance to effectively implement the model.
Bowling Green High School ProjectMe: A Prototype
Using the KDE model and Super’s career development theory as the backdrop, BGHS developed a prototype career development framework to help fill the existing gap in the provision of career exploration for its students. The school introduced its version of the ILP, called ProjectMe, in 2019. ProjectMe seeks to help students navigate their career development per ASCA guidelines. It also aims to utilize the college and career development activities that are already taking place in the school so as not to overwhelm faculty or duplicate efforts. The career development category of the ASCA guidelines has a set of activities differentiated by grade level, in line with Super’s vocational development stage and tasks. By the time a student graduates, they will have experienced critical exploratory lessons and activities tied to the vocational functions associated with their stage of development and their stated goals, providing tangible evidence of their exploration. The following represents the template of lessons and activities related to the BGHS career development framework.
- Develop a postsecondary plan – Students learn the components of an excellent postsecondary plan and begin to learn about each major postsecondary plan, including college, military, workforce, and a structured gap year.
- Career Assessments – Students take career assessments related to finding their interests, values, personality, and workplace preferences. Results are interpreted and reflected upon with an advisor.
- Resume, interview, job search, and professional skills development – Students participate in workshops to develop these essential career skills. This will grow into a mock interview scenario in which students can put their skills into action.
- Postsecondary goal setting and tracking. – Students set and track goals related to their career development plan, including college and career field trips, college and career fairs, job shadowing and co-op experiences, informational interviews, and optional participation in Career and Technical Education courses.
- Develop Job Framework – Students will develop a job framework that expresses tasks associated with their interests, values, personality, and workplace preferences. This will work in conjunction with researching current job postings so that students understand how to express their strengths in professional language.
Benefits with Lessons Learned
Students are better served by having a well-developed plan that helps them explore careers suited for their interests. Through ProjectMe, students learn to develop a robust and positive self-concept based on an intentional career development plan that includes exploration of self, careers, relationships, and postsecondary options. Besides, having faculty advisement as an integral part of the project means that students will receive services in a more efficient and integrated way over time. The benefit of this or any well-structured, research-based program is that students become actively engaged participants in planning their futures.
A fulfilling career does not usually happen by accident or luck; it is planned, contemplated, worked, and executed. A career develops because of the motivations, aspirations, and goals set by students. While career development professionals will never perfectly execute career development for every student across our districts, they must not be afraid to have a template intervention plan in a place built upon a recognition of the students' developmental level and professional goals. After all, career development professionals are comforted, knowing students can proudly articulate their plan based on well-chosen best practices of purposeful exploration and meaningful activities and tasks.
American School Counselor Association. (2019). ASCA National model: A framework for school counseling programs (4th Ed.). Author.
Conley, D. T. (2014). Getting ready for college, careers, and the common core. Jossey-Bass.
Super, D. E. (1990). A life span, life-space approach to career development. In D. Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates (Eds). Career choice and development: Applying contemporary theories to practice. Jossey Bass.
Zunker, V. G. (2016). Career counseling: A holistic approach 9th Edition. Cengage Learning.
Destiny O’Rourke is a College and Career Coach at Bowling Green High School in Bowling Green, KY. She advocates for every major postsecondary option and helps her students understand how each can lead them to a high quality of life. Though Mrs. O’Rourke focuses mainly on juniors and seniors, she is accessible and delivers college and career development advising for all high school grade levels. Her community collaboration efforts have led to students receiving valuable first-hand college and career experiences. She is entering her fifteenth year in college access work and has recently completed coursework for her CCSP certification. Her next career plan is to take on clients in private practice. She can be reached at Destiny.firstname.lastname@example.org