When Michael Tate graduates from Burlington High School today, he and many of his classmates who enrolled in the school’s Community Connections and Career Connections program, will have something many high school students around the country lack as they take the next step toward their career goals – experience working in the industry.
From August 2017 to May 2018, Tate worked with the staff of the Tulsa District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers John Redmond Lake Office performing a variety of tasks and he said the experience taught him about the Corps of Engineers mission and helped him decide on a college major.
“I like being outdoors and I played in the mud a lot as a kid but I never thought of an outdoor career until I enrolled in the program,” Tate said. “Before I came to work here I thought the Corps controlled the dams and managed campsites. The Corps of Engineers isn’t just a park or camping organization; they manage lands and wildlife and helping people use the natural resources while protecting those resources.”
During the five hours per week Tate worked at the John Redmond Lake Office, he shadowed rangers, maintenance workers, and the office’s environmental specialist.
“When we agreed to participate, we didn’t want to give Michael busy work,” said Julie Carey, the environmental specialist at John Redmond. “We wanted him to see the project and work in a variety of locations.”
Among the tasks, Tate completed during his tenure were repairing plumbing lines, cleaning up post storm debris, installing snow fencing, clearing illegally dumped tires and installing new signage at campgrounds. Tate’s primary project was to convert a paper record of Corps of Engineers real property into a spreadsheet and create a photo book with detailed geographic coordinates. Tate provided detailed information for more than 60 Corps structures.
“If we have a tornado or other natural disaster and we need to identify a structure we can now compare it with the GPS coordinates and photos from the book Michael created,” said Carey. “Michael saved us a lot of time by going out and recording the data for our Geographic Information System and creating the book, and his work will have lasting benefits.”
Students enrolled in Burlington’s Community Connections and Career Connections program spend their first semester researching careers that interest them, prepare resumes and cover letters and then spend one hour per week working at a local organization or business to gain a better understanding of those industries.
The program also helps students determine whether they like what they think they want to do.
“Kids get to figure out what they like and what they don’t like so they don’t go to college and waste a lot of money in the wrong major,” said Tammi Hanson, one of two Burlington High School teachers who oversee Community and Career Connections.
Hanson said her own son participated in the program while a student at Burlington High School and it helped him eliminate a potential career choice.
“He told me, ‘You can make a lot of money but it’s just so boring’ and so he went a different route and he’s a stockbroker now,” said Hanson.
While finding positions for students in a small town is challenging said Hanson - Burlington reported a population of just under 2700 in the 2010 census – the community has supported Career Connections and there have been many good fits. The local hospital is a popular choice of students and even a chiropractor in town returned after participating in the program as a high school student.
“Some of these kids are amazing. I’ve had business owners say, ‘I want this kid to take over my practice one day’,” Hanson said.
For Tate the program has helped him decide on his college major and prepare for his career goals.
“I couldn’t pick out one specific thing that I liked about working at the Lake Office. I liked it all,” he said. “It was a great experience; I’d recommend it to anyone.”
Tate intends to major in Wildlife Ecology and Biodiversity in college and perhaps become “Ranger Michael.”