WATERLOO — Early on, students in Aaisha Flint’s introduction to nurse aide class learned how to properly wash their hands and put on gloves.

“You’re going to be hand washing all the time,” said Flint, who demonstrated turning off the faucet with a dry towel after scrubbing their hands. “You’ll get used to doing this and you’ll find yourself doing this all the time.”

The class is part of the nursing program at the Waterloo Career Center, which opened at the north end of Central Middle School in the fall of 2016. The nursing lab is filled with hospital beds where students hone their bedside technique on mannequins and each other. It’s one of the five career and technical education pathways currently offered by the center, with more planned in coming years.

There’s a growing emphasis on career education at other Cedar Valley educational institutions, as well. Programs are designed to teach students more about career areas and help them develop skills for a job or further education in a field.

Cedar Falls High Schools’ Center for Advanced Professional Studies is in its second year. With three programs based at workplaces in Cedar Falls, students choose projects and work with professionals in a field of their interest.

Hawkeye Community College’s Adult Learning Center is under construction in downtown Waterloo to replace its Metro and Martin Luther King Jr. centers. The college’s noncredit adult programs will move there, as will expanded credit classes aimed at nontraditional students.

Waterloo Community Schools is in the midst of renovations at the career center to expand its footprint to 80,000 square feet so as many as 17 pathways can be offered. Others that have already started are digital graphics, advanced manufacturing, information technology-networking and early childhood education. The education pathway started at the Elk Run Preschool, and officials have now decided to make that its permanent home.

A total of 153 students from East, West, Expo and Cedar Falls high schools are taking 85-minute block classes in the five programs this semester.

The nurse aide students can sit for a test to become a certified nursing assistant after finishing their classes. For many, though, that would only be the start in a planned medical career.

“I want to go into cardiology, so I thought this was the perfect first step for me,” said Ariela Sakanovic, a West junior.

“I want to become a nurse anesthetist,” added West senior Leila Masinovic, noting the program has been a good experience. “I like it a lot.”

Growing program

Down the hall from the nursing lab, students are working on computers to design a machine component as part of a class in the advanced manufacturing program. The large room is outfitted with numerous pieces of manufacturing equipment: mills, lathes, welding stations, computer numerical control machines, a plasma cutter, a surface grinder and others. Its equipment students will learn how to use them during the course of classes in the program.

“It’s better than classes at West, because it’s job specific,” said Admir Music, a senior in the basic design and modeling class.

Junior Hunter Pierce said the advanced manufacturing pathway appealed to him after taking industrial arts classes at West. “If your thing is you’re all about trying to solve problems, thinking outside of the box, this class is for you,” he said.

Along with earning a CNA in nursing, information technology students can earn certifications in A+ and Cisco computer service and networking. Jeff Frost, the district’s executive director of professional technical education, said the education pathway will eventually include an early childhood certification that would allow students to work for licensed day care programs.

More certifications that can either qualify or help better prepare students for a job are planned. Among the programs to start next fall is sustainable construction and design, which is expected to offer certifications in OSHA safety and concrete, for example. “We would love to have all of our programs have some certifications tied to them,” noted Frost, as well as internships or apprenticeships.

Other pathways starting next year are digital interactive media, marketing management, and web programming and development. Additional programs expected to be rolled out in the following three years have not yet been determined. Those are decided with input and the ongoing support of related businesses across the community along with other data.

“We get job reports in the Cedar Valley, we look at state and local information,” said Frost. “We make sure that there’s a pretty strong need for that occupation field” before adding a program.

There is an agreement between the Waterloo and Cedar Falls districts allowing students in each to take the others’ career classes in an effort to offer the most choices. Frost said other reciprocal agreements could eventually be developed with more surrounding districts.

Partner businesses

Waterloo students also are enrolled in Cedar Falls’ Center for Advanced Professional Studies program, or CAPS. Its three strands and their locations are technology and engineering at Viking Pump, communication and design at Mill Race and education at the University of Northern Iowa. Next fall, the program will add a medical and health services strand that will be based at Allen College.

In January, as second semester was getting started, the 40 students from all the programs gathered at Mill Race, a co-working space, for a videoconferencing session with an entrepreneur who wanted to market a product she had created. During the three-day “design sprint,” groups of students collaborated to create a logo and a tagline for the product. Each group worked on a concept and then presented it to the client, again through videoconferencing.

“Have fun with this, this is a great opportunity,” Ethan Wiechmann, CAPS lead instructor, told students in one of of the sessions. “You want to think more of ‘Shark Tank,’ less of school” in pitching the idea.

After finishing that initial effort, students began collaborating on projects in their area of interest that were proposed by partnering businesses and organizations. The class lasts just over two hours most days. “They learn a lot about individual careers in the Cedar Valley,” said Wiechmann, noting “we’ve got to be closing in on 100 partners that we’ve worked with.”

Students need to meet the requirements of the clients, but creativity and collaboration are important to that process. “There’s no right answer and that’s one thing I want them to realize,” he added. Just like the design sprint, students will make presentations to the clients when projects are complete.

“One of the big takeaways is confidence,” said Wiechmann.

Learning skills

Hawkeye’s three-story 45,000-square-foot Adult Learning Center under construction downtown north of U.S. Highway 218 along U.S. Highway 63 is on pace to open in the fall. Adult basic education, high school diploma completion and English language learner classes will be offered there as well as credit programs in nursing and CNC machining.

Along with offering classes, the center will provide services for students like a clinic and child care, offer a coffee shop and cafe, and include space for a student art gallery and community events. The cafe and child care will double as lab opportunities for students studying in applicable areas.

Currently, Hawkeye’s Metro and King center programs serve 2,000 students, but the new building will have space for at least twice as many.

“We built this building anticipating growth,” said Linda Allen, the college’s president. “Students are going to come to us in this new facility in greater numbers.”

A pilot program that allows students to begin learning a job skill as they earn a diploma or hone English-speaking skills will help with that growth. Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training focuses on such “contextualized learning” to address a skilled worker shortage by training people faster. Participating students can earn their CNA or complete the computer numerical control machining program.

“The reality is many students find it difficult to make the transition from the metro out to main campus,” said Allen. “Now, because we’ll have the capacity, we can actually offer full-blown credit offerings and some noncredit (courses).”

Nearly 75 students enrolled in I-BEST during 2017. Allen said 86 percent successfully completed their program, 27 percent continued at Hawkeye’s main campus and 35 percent were able to get a new job. Additionally, 79 percent of the nursing students passed the CNA.

“We will continue to add programs, but at this time we feel very good about using CNC and CNA,” said Allen. “That’s where we see a skills gap and a work force need.

“What we’re really trying to do is to help people get those middle skills jobs and grow our communities,” she added.