CAPS scaling across rural Iowa

Washington High School has launched a new program to introduce students to professionalism.

The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) is billed as a collaboration between businesses, the community and education. It’s a nationally-recognized program and Cherokee is the seventh school district to implement it in Northwest Iowa.

This is the first semester for the program locally. Instructor Tim Stoneking works with six  CAPS students known as associates. The associates must dress professionally each day and are expected to address Stoneking by his first name, allowing the teacher-student dynamic to be akin to workplace professionals.

The associates appreciate the idea of dressing professionally. They say it inspires respect and presents the idea of seriousness and professionalism.

CAPS aims to teach responsibility and future-ready skills that will assist associates when they enter the workforce, from prioritizing tasks to creating their resumé. Stoneking explained that the first part of the program is geared toward prepping associates to take on a large project.

“They need to know how to send professional emails and letters, do handshakes, make eye contact and act professional because they’re going to go out and meet people in the community,” he said. “We want to look professional and act professional. We had to get all of these things trained before we do our big projects.”

They’ve attended programs with professional speakers, businesses and other CAPS groups, learning about business strategies and more. Associates were taught about personality assessments. Such programs taught them ways to work with different kinds of people, including those who might not be easy to collaborate with.

CAPS associates meet at Beck Engineering, where they can see how a professional business operates on a daily basis. They are divided into two groups for their semester projects. The first group, with Colton Samsel, Adam Kohn and Jack Waldner, is working with Melinda Brown and the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. 

Samsel said they are doing a spin-off of the “Dirty Jobs” television series.

“(Brown) is having us go around to different businesses and make videos, just like two to three minutes, highlighting the job that the business is wanting to bring attention to because they might be having trouble finding people to work,” Samsel said.

The first video they are working on features RJ Thomas Manufacturing. They attended meetings, toured the facility and are looking forward to producing the final product, which will be shared by the chamber. The trio is hopeful to produce other videos before the end of the school year, but concentrating on one business at a time.

The second group with Pamela Garcia, Logan Thorson and Heidi Ellis are working with Cherokee Regional Medical Center. Their goal is to help CRMC expand its volunteer program. Garcia and Ellis have focused on advertising, marketing and updating the CRMC website. They have created flyers and contacted churches and businesses to promote the program.

Thorson has been working on a junior program for CRMC. The program, with summer and fall options, is designed to get younger people, starting at age 16, interested in volunteering at the hospital.

The summer program would run over eight weeks and volunteers become eligible for scholarship opportunities after so many hours are performed. 

The fall program is work-based learning over the course of a semester, offering volunteers the option to try different things. 

“They (CRMC) are looking for people to greet patients coming in, if they need help or directions,” Thorson said. “They want friendly faces for people to see when they come into the hospital. They hope to expand to some other things like out in the gardens.”

Stoneking said this would be an educational opportunity for students to explore the hospital and its various career paths, learning about the different fields and gaining exposure to new, practical knowledge.

CAPS will take these students beyond the average high school experience. It encourages them to consider a career path and how to get there. Thorson described that they must attend three interviews, two of which are in their field of interest, and one that is “just out there.” This gives associates the opportunity to question people in a field they are interested in pursuing.

Waldner, for example, was able to talk with a sports agent over email while Thorson spoke with a former engineer.  

The associates and Stoneking are appreciative that the Cherokee community has been receptive. Associates presented an “elevator pitch” to business members, introducing themselves and the program, while looking for partnerships.

“It’s really a connection between the businesses, community, and students,” said Garcia. “It’s purpose is to prepare students for their purpose in the real world and help us get there. We really focus on building communication or problem solving, innovation and collaboration and then we want to develop these professional skills and traits that would be beneficial for us in the future.”

It is important to note that CAPS is not asking for anything from the businesses or community other than an opportunity to work with them. Garcia said “We essentially want to give back to the business and allow us to help them.” Stoneking added, “We’re looking for a handshake, not a handout.”

Stoneking would love to see businesses in our community reach out to CAPS. 

“We want to work for you and we’ll solve a problem for you,” Stoneking said. “So that’s where I need problems.”

Basically every business has problems. CAPS is looking for the minor problems that a business might never get to because they are busy putting out fires or handling daily operations. 

Although they are booked for this year, they are spreading the word for next year’s CAPS associates to have the opportunity to be involved with some projects that will help other businesses. 

“They’re learning things that you just can’t teach in the classroom,” Stoneking added. “You have got get out and do these things. And that’s why we need these professional skills to go out and act as professionals in Cherokee.”

The original article in the Chronicle Times here.