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Career Academies: Preparing Students Today for a Thriving Tomorrow

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John Wilgers


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.

First, 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, 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.

About the Author

John Wilgers is the President and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, John has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Kansas.

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