CAPS stands for the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, and this is the first year the program has been a part of the comprehensive educational experience provided for students at Waukee High School. CAPS is not a second high school, trade school or vocational program. CAPS provides students with the opportunity to deeply explore professions of interest through a problem-based, inquiry learning method. Students are given the opportunity to collaborate on real-world projects through partnerships within the metro business community. As the program nears the end of its first year, Waukee students and teachers reflect on how CAPS has provided Waukee students with unique opportunities for learning.
What is CAPS?
The CAPS philosophy is built around the idea that all students must acquire cutting-edge skills to be successful in the innovation generation. CAPS represents the collaboration of education, business and community, providing students with a unique, immersive experience, resulting in highly skilled, adaptable, global innovators and leaders. The learning will be student-driven, and teachers will facilitate the learning process through profession-based learning opportunities.
The first Waukee CAPS courses began this fall with roughly 120 students. Students enrolled in the program spend part of the school day onsite at satellite locations hosted by local businesses. Waukee CAPS currently offers four main strands: financial and insurance; business, technology and communications; engineering; and human services. There are plans to launch a fifth strand, bioscience and value-added agriculture, for the 2015-16 school year.
In order to apply for the CAPS program, students must be juniors or seniors and be willing to spend 2.5 hours each day away from Waukee High School at satellite locations. They must wear professional dress as determined by the field of study and provide their own transportation to class.
Students have been able to take classes such as foundations of banking and investments, exploration of health sciences and medicine and foundations of multi-disciplinary design: architecture and engineering. Students are housed on-site at various businesses like Shive-Hattery, FBL Financial or DLR Group.
Unlike an internship or trade school, local and global business partners participate with highly skilled instructors to provide authentic exposure and skill acquisition in 21st century professions. Students can earn college credit and/or certifications while earning core and elective high school credit.
“The first year of Waukee CAPS has been an amazing journey,” says executive director Chris Bergman. “The young professionals are demonstrating high ability in terms of content expertise and professional skills such as critical thinking, complex communication, creativity, collaboration, accountability, productivity, flexibility and adaptability.”
A unique experience
When it comes to designing CAPS courses, an advisory board made up of professionals and educators determines what sorts of skills and knowledge would be ideal for young professionals to possess as they enter the workforce. Michelle Hill teaches designing communication solutions, which is part of the business, technology and communications strand. She says it was an involved process as they designed the course.
“We put together a curriculum team with educators and business professionals,” she says. “I have web developments, programmers, marketing people, designers… a good, broad cross-section of people. We got together and hashed out what the big skills are that students need to have, then we whittled it down to the essential pieces. Then we try to find people in the community we can partner with.”
Hill’s students are housed at DLR Group, but they’ve had the opportunity to work with various other businesses on projects as well. Students are able to work on projects in marketing, video production and graphic design, to name a few.
“It’s a supported classroom,” Hill says. “The teacher can correct in real time. With an internship, they’re off on their own but here, if someone needs coaching, the teacher is there to help out with that. If the student needs a skill set, my job is to connect them with the people that can give them those skills so they can deliver what they need to.”
Dr. Holly Showalter teaches exploration of health sciences and medicine in the human services strand. She came to teaching after 13 years in health sciences, so she jumped at the chance to be involved in CAPS when it came to Waukee.
Students in her class are housed at Des Moines University, and they have been able to do things like visit Mercy West Lakes hospital and test the da Vinci robot to explore new ways to perform surgery. Soon they will work on a project with Drake University in its pharmacy department and, ultimately students will be authors on a medical journal paper. They will also be partnering with Unity Point clinics to create a new web-based ordering system for its cafeteria.
“Everyone wants to be in surgery, and we can’t do that every time,” Showalter says. “Everyone thinks of all the basic stuff doctors and nurses do, but they don’t think of all the things that make the hospital or clinic run, so this way my students are exposed to that as well.”
What students think
Katie Markey, 18, is a senior currently taking the foundations of multi-disciplinary design: architecture and engineering course taught by instructor Joe Bormann. She says she wanted to get involved in CAPS because she plans to attend the University of Iowa next year and double major in engineering and dance, and this way she could get a taste of the field before college.
“I’m not sure what type of engineering I want to pursue, so this gives me a chance to try them out,” she says. “I’ve been able to work on structural engineering and mechanical engineering, and right now I’m working on a civil engineering project for the city of Ames, because they will be adding a roundabout to an intersection on the Iowa State campus.”
Emily Brekke, 17, is taking foundations of insurance and actuarial science. As a strong math student, she’s been told a career in actuarial sciences could be for her, but she had no idea what that meant as a day-to-day job.
“CAPS has proven so much more beneficial to me than I previously anticipated, and I had high expectations coming into it,” she says. “Being constantly surrounded by actual working adults in a real business atmosphere has helped me to gain communication, analytical and professional skills beyond belief. It’s not that I’m just learning about insurance and actuarial science; I’m learning what it means to be a true professional in any industry — these skills will help me no matter where I decide to take my future.”
Brekke says she isn’t just working on a hypothetical homework assignment — she’s working an actual real-life project. And she’s also learning how to be a self-sufficient adult.
“If I need to print something, I have to venture into the maze of cubicles to ask our coordinator, not simply rely on (my teacher) to do it for me,” she says. “Basically, I’ve learned to work with adults in a way that I never would have before. The cool thing is that they view me as a colleague because of this, rather than simply a kid they feel obligated to help out.
Hill says business partners that she’s worked with have been impressed with her students’ ability to deliver high-quality work. Bergman says she has had a similar experience.
“Although I have always been a firm believer in capacity of young people, there have been individuals that have been amazed at the level at which the Waukee CAPS young professionals can deliver,” she says. “Understanding that if the bar is set high, the students will rise, is a mindset we are continuing to grow. Through the business partners’ trust and willingness to provide projects and opportunities, we have been able to evidence this and gain even more projects and partners.”
Hill’s students have even gone above and beyond the CAPS project parameters, taking it upon themselves to do additional work. A designer-writer-journalist student in the fall realized that a lot of students didn’t have the funds necessary to have senior photos taken, so she took it upon herself to contact a studio to see if she could use their space to take the photos for free. Soon, as she got to know the families involved, she was undertaking a project to ensure the family members had appropriate winter gear.
“Their skills have transcended CAPS,” Hill says. “A lot of what we do, we want to add value to the community, and students have decided on their own to do passion projects, and they use their skills to benefit the community.”
Next year, Waukee CAPS will add two additional sections of exploring health sciences and medicine at a new site to be determined. Additionally, a global food systems course will be hosted at Kemin Industries and an information management design course will be hosted at LightEdge.
This year, around 100 students and 250 business partners have participated, and Bergman says the program will almost double in students next year.
The CAPS building will be opened in Waukee in the fall of 2016, and it will be a hub for collaboration between business, education and the community. Bergman says they will continue to host courses within businesses, as the immersive experience affords students a true feeling of the various cultures within industries.
“Waukee CAPS is developing young professionals that will thrive in the 21st century and will support growth and success within our metro and state,” Bergman says. “If your business or you would like to be a part of this, please feel free to contact us through the contacts on the website: www.waukeecaps.org.”