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VIEWPOINT Career technical education serves as pathway to a meaningful life

by Sue Keith, Citrus Community College District Board of Trustees

California may soon find itself in the middle of a workforce crisis. According to the California Community College Task Force on Workforce, Job Creation and a Strong Economy, the state will have an estimated 1.9 million job openings requiring some form of postsecondary education by the year 2025.

With their strong career technical education (CTE) mission, Citrus College will play a critical role in addressing these labor market demands.

CTE does much more than prepare students for the workforce. It can also serve as a pathway to a rewarding career, an advanced education and service to others.

Whether a student has enrolled with the goal of earning an associate degree, plans to transfer to a four-year college, or is pursuing a certificate or skill award, Citrus College seeks to foster their professional and personal success. 

The college offers 20 CTE associate degrees, 35 certificates of achievement and 22 skill awards. Coursework is structured to connect with labor market demands, and provides extensive hands-on experience using industry-standard tools and equipment.

This detailed approach was behind the creation of Citrus College’s biotechnology program. Introduced during the fall 2015 semester, the program began as a 20-unit career pathway, leading to a certificate of achievement in bio manufacturing.

Upon completion of biotechnology coursework, students are prepared for employment as biological technicians, manufacturing production technicians, quality control technicians and environmental monitoring technicians.

Claremont High School and biotechnology program graduate, Mikaela Gutierrez used her certificate to obtain a position at Eurofins Eaton Analytical in Monrovia. Originally hired as a laboratory technician, she currently works as a scientist who conducts microbiology analyses on various water sources.

“My favorite aspect of this job is knowing that I am making a positive impact on society through public health,” Ms. Gutierrez said. 

One of the greatest benefits of CTE is the impact it has on the community. First, CTE programs provide students with income mobility. After completing their education, students return to their communities with increased wages and purchasing power. More importantly, they also return with their newfound skills. While this enables graduates to meet labor market demands, it also empowers them to use their skills to give back to their communities.

In several of Citrus College’s CTE programs, a strong emphasis is placed on service learning. Students in programs such as cosmetology and dental assisting are encouraged to volunteer their services within the community, allowing them to practice their skills while helping others. For many, this becomes a lifelong passion.

Captain Aaron Fate of the Claremont Police Department (CPD) is a prime example of a successful CTE student with a passion to serve others. After completing Citrus College’s administration of justice program, Captain Fate was hired by the CPD. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and he has served the city of Claremont for the past 19 years.

Captain Fate’s story is like that of many career technical education students. Although the traditional view of CTE is that it is solely focused on occupational preparation, the reality is that more and more programs are serving as pathways to four-year colleges and universities. Students may enroll because they want to earn a certificate, but they continue on until they receive their associate degree and transfer.

Ms. Gutierrez said that the Citrus College biotechnology program helped give her a sense of direction. 

“Without this program, I would not have had any exposure to the industry and what it entails. I believe programs like this really help to shape students into being the best they can be,” she said.

Captain Fate shared a similar sentiment.

“My experiences at Citrus College and the quality of the faculty were both driving forces behind my desire to pursue a career in law enforcement,” he said. “As a high school student, I enrolled in a criminal justice class and found the material so interesting that I knew I wanted to learn more. Prior to that, I hadn’t given much thought to a particular career path.”

As a member of the Citrus Community College District Board of Trustees, I am proud of the fact that Citrus College is highly ranked among the state’s 113 community colleges for CTE certificate and degree completion. 

Preparing students to enter the workforce is something the college does incredibly well. The fact that Citrus College also prepares students to live meaningful and rewarding lives is something that warms my heart.