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Devin Barkhoff, left, and Frank Opoku participate in an exercise during project management training at Central Rivers Area Education Agency on Monday in Cedar Falls.

BRANDON POLLOCK, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

CEDAR FALLS — The workplace becomes a classroom in a growing Cedar Falls High School career program.

Nearly 30 students enrolled this fall in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. They will be tasked with completing projects for local businesses or organizations.

But to ease the transition from classroom assignments to office requirements, students took a crash-course in project management last week at Central Rivers Area Education Association.

CAPS started last spring at Viking Pump and is expanding downtown to Mill Race and at the University of Northern Iowa to the Schindler Education Center.

Students — called “associates” in the program — work directly with clients and are often part of a team completing projects.

“The students, you in this room, have the ability to self-organize and come up with an outcome that is beneficial to your clients,” said Trace Steffen, who helped lead the session and is chief executive officer of How Factory.

Angie Steffen of Far Reach, the other session leader, explained there are risks in understanding and executing their projects.

“You think you know what your client needs, but then you’re wrong,” she said. The students will need to continuously analyze how a project is going and make any needed improvements.

“Your job is to figure out what the answer could be, and there’s many answers,” said Trace Steffen. Students worked on a group exercise where they learned to keep asking questions so they could get to the bottom of problems they will encounter in a project.

They will work in one of three program “strands,” which meet daily from 1:15 to 2:55 p.m. It’s technology and engineering at Viking, communication and design at Mill Race and education at UNI. Teachers leading the programs are Maria Perez at Viking, Mark Aaldarks at Mill Race and Megan Droste at UNI.

Ethan Wiechmann, CAPS lead instructor, said hosts at the program sites along with other partner businesses in the community and even the city of Cedar Falls have submitted project ideas students can choose.

Project work will be a part of the education strand along with practical experience. “They’ll be doing a lot of things in classrooms to get that experience,” said Wiechmann.

One student from East High School, senior James Frost, is participating in the technology and engineering strand through an agreement between the Cedar Falls and Waterloo community school districts.

The training “will help us organize what we need to do” on the projects, said Frost. He is looking forward to gaining some business background and a more professional outlook through the program. “It seems like it’s going to be a good experience.”

Cedar Falls senior Hannah McElhose is enrolled in the communication and design strand. She appreciated insights provided by the project management training into “how the real world works.” CAPS is “definitely going to improve my communication skills.”

McElhose isn’t sure if she’ll pursue a career in business or go into the nursing field. She is taking a certified nursing assistant course later this year, but was also drawn to this program.

“I just thought the CAPS program is a really unique opportunity,” said McElhose.

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Staff Writer

Education reporter for the Courier

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