Career Academies: Preparing Students Today for a Thriving Tomorrow

Categories: Innovating for Impact

This is the first post in a new series called “Innovating for Impact,” where Greater Twin Cities United Way president and CEO John Wilgers invites readers to engage in learning and conversation around new ways to address our community’s most pressing needs while developing long-term, holistic solutions.

Do you have an idea for how we can support our community and transform our region into a great place to live for everyone? Please share it in the comments section.


At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we know big challenges require big ideas. That’s why one of my key focus areas is innovation. As we begin another school year, it’s the ideal time to update you on Career Academies – one of our core innovations.

Career Academies - five nursing students work togetherFirst, some background: Minnesota faces one of the most serious opportunity gaps in the nation for students of color in part because of lack of access to key services. And, by 2024, there will be 400,000 unfilled jobs in our state – many requiring post-secondary education.

To address this, Greater Twin Cities United Way launched Career Academies in 2015. To date, nearly 5,000 high school students (half of which are students of color) have participated in the program, preparing them for in-demand jobs through real-world career experiences while earning college credits and industry credentials. For more, take a look at this MPR story highlighting the benefits of Career Academies and other high school career pathways programs.

What’s Next for Career Academies?

Our expansion efforts include:

  • Ensuring internships and meaningful work experiences for Career Academies students.
  • Developing teacher pathways for students of color, as diversity in teaching boosts the learning and confidence of students of color and enhances the learning experience for all students.
  • Deepening our support to ensure students of color and youth from families with low incomes have clear pathways to education and wealth-building careers with no college debt.

Meet Lesly, Future Addiction Counselor

Lesly - Career Academies StudentLesly, a former student at Brooklyn Center Academy, missed her sophomore year to become a full-time caretaker due to addiction issues in her family. After that experience, Lesly realized she wanted to pursue a career in addiction counseling. “I want to work in my community…to help people get out of drug abuse,” said Lesly.

So, when it was time to return to high school, she enrolled in Career Academies. “The program really pushed me to want to be something,” she said.

As the first person in her family to go to college, Lesly is gaining the skills and confidence needed to pursue her dream job and direct her own future. And, she’s helping her little sister do the same.

She added, “My dad is the proudest guy in the world, and he says my sister now has someone to look up to.”

Share Your Ideas

Together with our community partners and donors, we’re helping our students find and leverage their innate strengths as they prepare for a thriving future. If you have an idea about helping our students succeed, please share it in the comments section below. Thank you.


John Wilgers, Prseident & CEO

John Wilgers joined Greater Twin Cities United Way as president and CEO in May 2019. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, he has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor.

Career Academies students work on piece of equipment

2 thoughts on “Career Academies: Preparing Students Today for a Thriving Tomorrow

  1. John,

    First, congratulations on you new career. Outstanding choice.

    I have been unsuccessfully advocating for a Career Academy to be located somewhere north of 694 and 94. There are many small/medium mfg and distribution businesses there but no Career Academy. Start with Cummins or UPS (and, of course, Reviva).

    1. Thank you, Dave, and thank you for your comment.

      Greater Twin Cities United Way-supported Career Academies require investments of multiple partners, including businesses, schools and post-secondary partners. Additionally, districts need to serve at least 40 percent students of color and students from low incomes. There are several communities in the geographies you listed that match those demographics and will be strongly considered as part of our final expansion through the 2022-2023 school year.

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