Career Pathways at Deer River is all ‘hands-on’

By Emily Carlson Herald-Review May 8, 2022

Deer River Schools agriculture education teacher Hannah Eckblad leads a wide range of classes included in the Career Pathways program.

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this final installment, we will turn our focus to the community of Deer River. Student Tia Schultz; Agriculture Education Teacher Hannah Eckblad; and Amber Kongsjord with RK Construction and Llyod’s Landscaping shared their perspective on being a part of the Career Pathways program.

Eckblad began her teaching career officially during the 2019-20 school year at Deer River. However, her passion for teaching began long before that.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I could talk,” Eckblad shared. “So when I got into high school I got involved with FFA, and because of those hands-on experiences and being able to see opportunities beyond school, I really wanted to give that to kids. So naturally I just slid into agricultural education after that.”

Eckblad also worked as a camp counselor after high school. She worked at a Bible camp in Wisconsin and at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, Minn. This was another chance for her to see how well-suited she would be for a career in teaching.

“Working with kids and giving them the different hands- on opportunities at camp and seeing their faces light up when they learned stuff, I knew that I was on the right career path. And there’s no doubt in my mind that this is where I want to be for the rest of my life.”

Falling under the Natural Resources and Agriculture Pathways, Eckblad teaches a wide range of classes at Deer River. Topics include wildlife, forestry, food science, plants, animals, and more. Eckblad also leads the Deer River FFA chapter and was able to take students to the State FFA Convention for the first time this year.

Eckblad had an interesting start to her teaching career as the world shut down and schools moved to distance learning in her first year of teaching. This continued into her second year of teaching with distance and hybrid learning models. Finally, this current school year has brought some sense of normalcy back into her classrooms and with that comes more excitement from her students.

“Being able to see kids get excited again because last year it was hard to do anything. No matter what it was,” Eckblad said.

A great example of this was when Eckblad’s students came to her with the idea to start a Conduct of Chapters team, which falls under the Parliamentary competition branch of the FFA. Eckblad, who was an avid participant in Parliamentary Procedure as a high school student, was willing and able to support those students.

With the last two school years being altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasis on the Career Pathways program had to take a back seat. However, Eckblad shared that students do pay attention to what Career Pathways are and what classes are needed to fulfill a particular pathway when choosing their classes.

“They do read them, they do pay attention and there are kids who want to have that little check that they went through the career pathway,” Eckblad said.

Hand-on experiences are a key pillar to the Career Pathways program. Eckblad works with her students to choose a work-based learning project that will connect to their career interests. Some students get part-time jobs, some do job shadowing, and one student even started their own landscaping company. The main focus of these is to help the students test out new things.

“Seeing them find interest in things that they didn’t know they had interest in is super fun,” said Eckblad.

Looking toward the future, Eckblad is excited for the upcoming FFA Banquet where students will be recognized for their accomplishments. As for next year, she is looking forward to having a new hydroponic growing system, where plants can grow in just water and a nutrient system, ready for her classes to learn from. Eckblad hopes that the collaboration aspect of Career Pathways will continue to develop in the future as well.

“One of my favorite parts of Career Pathways is that collaboration piece,” Eckblad said. She continued, “If we team up with local schools and do what we do well, and pass some students around so students can experience what they are interested in, it’s going to increase opportunities for students and that’s our ultimate goal.”

Tenth grader Tia Schultz has taken classes in both the Healthcare and Education pathways. Being able to learn about different careers that she is interested in has already helped narrow down what she might do in the future.

“Before I was really set on going to be a nurse or a doctor, and I think that now it’s not something I want to do,” Schultz said.

As a part of the Education Pathway classes Schultz has taken, students select a teacher to be their mentor to job shadow. She chose her mom, Kari Schultz, who is a special education teacher at Deer River schools. Tia shared that she was able to work with students in her mom’s classroom, and even though the class is over, she still enjoys going to her mom’s classroom everyday.

“I don’t think I would have ever thought that I wanted to go into something like teaching or special education before, but now I love it,” Tia said.

Tia also mentioned that she really enjoyed learning from her teacher ​​Sondra Tokarczyk, Instructional Coach and Education Careers Exploration Instructor. In her Education pathway classes she has learned more about the details of becoming a teacher, what the job entails, how much schooling is needed, and more. Beyond that she has done job shadowing, independent research and other activities. Tia said that being able to work with people in-person, rather than distance learning has been nice.

“That was actually really nice, getting to know some of the other people and interacting with them,” Tia said.

This summer Tia plans on working as a cabin cleaner and coaching for the Grand Rapids Special Olympics softball team. Although she still has a couple years left of high school, she believes that the experience of trying a Career Pathways has helped her find new interests.

“I really liked the Career pathways class that we had to do. Just because you don’t really know. You don’t really have any experience. You kind of have a general idea of what you want to do in high school, but if you don’t have any way to test out those things and get out,” Tia commented. “I think this gives you a better grasp of what you want to do.”

Amber and Llyod Kongsjord own RK Construction and Llyod’s Landscaping based out of Marcell, and their children attend Deer River schools. Additionally, both do a lot of coaching for the Deer River FFA team and specifically work with the Nursery and Landscaping teams once a week.

“The kids that were in the nursery and landscaping team, they’ve come and they’ve worked for us,” Amber shared. “They’ve come to get to experience it hands on.”

While the hands-on experience for students is beneficial, it can be tough for businesses to take time out of their schedule to work with the students.

“It’s an interesting place where we work because it’s very seasonal. You have to make your income in such a short amount of time, but sometimes you just have to slow down and reach out to the younger generation and teach them,” said Amber. “I think that’s the hardest thing for businesses to stop and do.”

However, Amber added that they continue to learn alongside the students when working with them. She also sees the benefits of giving students the chance to try something new.

“It’s about being able to get kids experience,” Amber said. “You need these experiences and I think that’s the biggest key for any career path. Without the experience it’s really hard to be able to know if you’re going to enjoy that.”

Whether or not the student finds their dream career while working through Career Pathways, there will certainly be something they can take away from the experience.

“The kids that are learning this, they get to keep it forever,” Amber stated. “It’s a pretty cool reward to give our passion to some young kids and maybe make it their passion. I think that’s the biggest thing that we get out of it.”


Connecting with the Community

Highlighting the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways, this series follows the success individual schools and communities have found with the innovative program. In Floodwood, Industrial Arts Teacher Dave Rohde, 11th grader Carter Grant, and Director of Ambulance Services Jenni Zahurones shared their experiences working with the program.

Rohde has taught at Floodwood Schools for over a decade and is a pastor at the Floodwood Assembly of God Church. He has also worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for the Floodwood Ambulance Service since 2010.

Providing opportunities for his students to learn as much as possible about careers available to them is a key focus in Rohde’s teaching.

“That’s one thing I try to do in the shop is make sure I can show the kids as many different trades as I can so they can at least get a glimpse of what it would be like and maybe spark some interest,” said Rohde.

Rohde’s classes often work on projects that are used in their communities. Past projects have included building cabinets for the city hall, a donation box for the police department, deer stands, a sauna, and a stairway entrance for an elderly couple in town.

Rohde says students feel more invested in these projects since they know it will be out in their community.

The classes Rohde teaches fall under the Construction and Manufacturing Pathways. His classes have gone on tours of L&M Radiator and Swan Machine; 218 Trades have come to the school to speak with his students; and he will be taking students to a trades career convention at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) this May.

Past students have also participated in work-based learning opportunities which allow them to earn school credit. Rohde hopes to offer more of these opportunities in the future, but needs more businesses to coordinate with.

“The hard thing we have with Floodwood with Career Pathways is having more of those opportunities where our kids can work,” Rohde commented.

Rohde noted that having Zahurones come to the school to talk about the ambulance service was a success and he hopes more businesses would approach the school with opportunities.

“That’s where I’d like to see more of the businesses get on board with Career Pathways,” Rohde said.

Grant started his EMR classes in November 2021 after hearing about the program from Zahurones when she spoke at Floodwood School. Now he is a fully-trained EMR with the goal of continuing down this career path in the future.

“I love the ambulance,” said Grant. “It puts a whole new perspective on what I want to do and I think I’m going to pursue—become an EMT and then a paramedic. It’s fun. I like the adrenaline rush.”

Zahurones commented that the young people she works with, such as Grant, have great energy, are willing to learn and need to have very high levels of integrity. Zahurones grew up in the healthcare field and started working in home care at the age of 16. She worked with individuals with spinal injuries for 15 years and then moved into a staffing position coordinating moving people into nursing homes.

Zahurones started the process of becoming an EMT when she was 19 years old.

“What I realized is that even with my healthcare background of working with people one-on-one with pretty severe injuries, it wasn’t enough,” Zahurones commented.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to complete the training after needing a sinus surgery. Years passed, she and her husband had three children, and eventually moved to Floodwood. She shared that she received a postcard in the mail one day saying there would be free training for the ambulance service in Floodwood and she knew her opportunity was there. She has now been a part of the ambulance service for six years.

One of Zahurones’s first goals as director of ambulance services was to see how she could better the service.

“One of the things that I found in a lot of my interactions was utilization of the younger individuals, or the high school students,” said Zahurones. “There are certain areas that do that better and integrate them better and for a lot of the bigger areas, it just gets missed.”

Floodwood is one of the few places in the state which has a junior program for high school students to be on the ambulance service team. There have been three students in Floodwood who have joined the ambulance service as EMRs, including Zahurones’s daughter who was the first to join the program.

“There’s just such a strong need from the ambulance service and there is such an opportunity for them to be able to invest and learn so many skills,” Zahurones said.

She shared that while there are limitations on the high school students, they are seen as a full team member.

“We use them like any other member,” Zahurones stated. “When there is a situation that seems inappropriate for a younger member then we just pull them back. Otherwise they are a full running crew member.”

Zahurones mentioned that working with the ambulance is a great opportunity to gain life skills, and would be an excellent add-on for anyone wanting to go into the healthcare field.

“It’s a skill you can jump into, get free training, participate in your community, give back to your community, and skills that you’ll keep forever,” she noted. “It’s a pretty valuable opportunity for them.”

Zahurones hopes to have more students join the team in the future and that they can expand the hours students can be on-call for the ambulance services. She also mentioned that although the ambulance service is doing well, they could always use more volunteers.

For students considering their future careers, having the opportunity to learn from adults outside of school through opportunities such as internships, job shadows, facility tours, employment, and more, is key. And while much of the Career Pathways program is based directly in the schools through academics, the program would not be complete without its connections to the communities it is in.


Career Pathways in Remer: ‘A larger school offering in our small rural setting’

Career Pathways student Nathan Johnson (left) is pictured with Northland Technical Education teacher Mark Gravelle.

Continuing the look into the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, the Herald-Review highlights individual schools and communities. This week, the focus is on the community of Remer. Student Nathan Johnson; Technical Education teacher Mark Gravelle; and Manager of The Remer Junction Shawn Dickinson all shared their perspective on the Career Pathways program.

Gravelle has taught at Northland-Remer Community Schools for 21 years and was recently awarded as the 2022 Northland Community Schools Teacher of the Year. Born and raised in Bemidji, Gravelle is a graduate of Bemidji State University where he first majored in Industrial Technology and then returned to earn his teaching license.

“I chose technical education because I was always interested in learning, doing and making things since I was very young,” said Gravelle. “I enjoyed all of my high school IT classes and I like learning new things.”

Over the years, Gravelle has seen many changes at Northland Community Schools, particularly in the shop where he teaches most of his classes.

“I don’t think there’s a piece of equipment in here, besides that timesaver, that was here when I started,” Gravelle commented. “Everything was old and junk, and worn out, and I just phased everything out.”

Gravelle teaches many classes within the Career Pathways program—particularly the Manufacturing Pathway— including manufacturing, welding, engineering, carpentry, product development, digital product development, and woodworking.

“My Product Development students have a wide assortment of products they are making and selling to customers,” Gravelle shared. “Lots of projects in every class!”

He also teaches the class Supermileage. In this class, students build a vehicle that is brought to a competition at the end of the year. The goal? Have the vehicle with the best miles per gallon. The class is thought of as a capstone course within Career Pathways.

“We are nearing the completion of building another Supermileage vehicle for the MTEEA (Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association) event in Brainerd,” Gravelle stated.

The competition will take place in Brainerd May 9-10 with schools from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan competing.

“It’s a lot of work. This year wasn’t as bad because you can modify an existing car so we took one from a couple of years ago. It’s a really nice, solid car and just did some heavy modifications on it,” Gravelle said.

Senior Nathan Johnson has been taking as many of these classes as he can over his high school career, including the current Supermileage, manufacturing, welding, and carpentry. He has been able to take some of the classes twice to continue to build upon his skills.

“You definitely see a better job this year than last year,” said Johnson.

Johnson has a few ideas for his plans past high school including getting a business degree, working as a truck driver, getting a trades degree in carpentry, or working for his parent’s resort. Johnson’s parents own the Evergreen Lodge in Longville.

Johnson commented that taking these classes have given him a well-rounded set of skills. Gravelle also noted that many of the classes help teach students how to fix problems on their own.

“It’s the basis of being self-sufficient,” said Gravelle.

Remer Junction is cooperative and a part of the Northern Star Coop based in Deer River. The convenience store offers a variety of services alongside the usual gas, food and drink, including scooping bait, filling propane tanks and hand-dipped ice cream.

Dickinson has been the manager of the Remer Junction for 15 years, starting the job in April 2007. He shared that after years of experience in other jobs, managing the Remer Junction has proved to be the hardest.

“Because I’ll be honest, I’ve done a few different things in my life and managing a convenience store I think is far beyond what anybody realizes,” said Dickinson.

He explained that many of the challenges come from the fact that the job is heavily based in customer service.

“It’s all customer based really,” said Dickinson. “That’s the reminder I have to give everybody. And we are a cooperative so whenever somebody walks through that door, odds are they are probably your boss.”

The Remer Junction supports students in multiple ways including through donations given to the school and specific programs like the Supermileage class, and scholarships for students.

Dickinson also employs high school students from Northland Community Schools and for many it is their first job they’ve ever had. Many of the students have been able to work on their customer service and public speaking skills as the job requires plenty of interactions with people.

“You’re really an educator. You’re not just somebody who’s checking time cards and giving them a list. You’re growing and developing these students, and that’s what a teacher does,” said Director of Next Career Pathways Scott Patrow about Dickinson.

Going forward, Dickinson said he would be open to working alongside the school to provide more opportunities for students such as internships or working for school credits, perhaps within the Business Career Pathway.

“If there’s a child and their parents agree that they really want to get them some life experience, I can’t imagine anything better than being in a public place and you’re dealing with people,” said Dickinson.

As Johnson thinks back on his time in high school, he would encourage students to take hands-on classes such as the ones has been in.

“I’d take as many of these classes as you can because whatever you are going into, you’re going to have to know some aspect of this at some point in your life,” Johnson commented.

Looking to the future of Career Pathways at Northland Community Schools, Gravelle hopes to continue offering classes to students that will help prepare them for whatever field they are interested in; to stay in touch with industry trends; and to build on cross-district opportunities with neighboring districts. He also hopes to add another class that is specific to CNC machining.

“It broadens the opportunities for our students,” said Gravelle. “They can get exposure to courses that we don’t offer in our district. A larger school offering in our small rural setting. They just have to take a chance and try something new.”


‘We try to give them a little taste of everything’

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to Bigfork High School. Student Caden Kallinen; Technology Education Teacher Stuart Ostendorf; and Chief Operating Officer of Bigfork Valley Hospital Angela Kleffman all shared their perspective on the Career Pathways program in their community.

Career Pathways Student

Kallinen is a senior who plans on attending Luther College next fall to pursue a degree in Physical Education, and also plans to get his coaching license. Kallinen has been a part of the Education Pathway at Bigfork High School and is currently taking the Introduction to Teaching class.

Through the Education Pathway, Kallinen has learned about building relationships with students and staff at a school. He will be helping out Mrs. Maxas’s 6th grade classroom as a part of a field experience day and is looking forward to helping the younger students grow in their education.

“Career Pathways has definitely helped me in deciding what degree to pursue next year, by giving me classroom experience in highschool I have been able to see the classroom from more of a teacher perspective,” Kallinen said. “I would recommend Career Pathways as they give high schoolers great opportunities to see what career they may pursue in the future.”

Career Pathways Teacher

Ostendorf has the unique perspective of working in the field before becoming a teacher. He graduated from Bigfork High School in 2001, went to Bemidji College where he earned his Associates of the Arts degree. Next Ostendorf transferred to North Dakota State University where he received his degree in construction management.

He moved back to his hometown area and was working in the construction industry when a family member showed him a job opening at Bigfork Schools for a shop teacher. He applied and has been there ever since. Since Ostendorf’s original background was not in education, he taught on a variance for the first few years. He is now applying for a Tier 3 teaching license.

Ostendorf noted that St. Cloud University is the only higher education school to offer a Technology Education program in the state, and there are low numbers of students in the program. Ostendorf speculated that one reason for this may be that it is easier to make more money in the field than it is teaching. However, there are upsides to teaching such as having more time with family.

“For me, the benefit of having time with family outweighs the extra money that you could make in the field,” said Ostendorf.

Ostendorf teaches a variety of classes to students in 7-12 grade. From carpentry, project management, welding, small engines, general automotive, and other technical education classes, many of his classes fall under the Manufacturing and Construction Pathways.

Students in his classes get to work on many projects such as building dugouts for the new ball field in Bigfork, cabinet making, building toboggans, learning how to make snowshoes, and more.

“I try to make something that’s fun to make, something they can take pride in and use for the rest of their life,” said Ostendorf.

He also strives to give students an opportunity to sample different industries while they are in school.

“The shop is almost like a salad bar. Here’s a little taste of welding, here’s a taste of carpentry, here’s a taste of electrical. We try to give them a little taste of everything,” Ostendorf commented.

Going on field trips is a nice change of pace for students. Recently, Ostendorf’s classes were able to tour Swan Manufacturing, L&M Radiator, and Blandin Paper Mill to see what it would be like to work in these trade industries. He hopes that the Career Pathways program at Bigfork will continue building these connections between students and outside organizations.

“It would be nice to get a few more business partners so every semester they [students] could get to go up to a shop and do some small engine repair, or some body work, or work with a local contractor,” said Ostendorf.

Career Pathways Business Partner

Angela Kleffman shared more about how Bigfork Valley has worked with the schools through Career Pathways and the Healthcare Pathways, primarily through hands-on experiences such as job shadowing and internships. Healthcare staff are also able to present to classes to speak with students about their profession. With COVID-19, these opportunities for collaboration have decreased. However, Kleffman shared they would love to develop remote opportunities for students and also expects the summer healthcare internship program to resume again this spring.

Kleffman began working with IASC in 2017 and shared more about why Bigfork Valley wanted to work with Career Pathways. She focused on helping identify areas of need, as well as looking at what are the education requirements and experiences needed.

“We recognized the need to encourage and support local recruitment and retention efforts for healthcare as the staffing shortages loomed,” said Kleffman. “

Since some of the teachers teaching in the Healthcare pathway may not have direct experience in every field of healthcare, Bigfork Valley wanted to help fill that gap.

“We collaborated with high school instructors across the county and even had a teacher from Greenway spend time in each of our hospital departments one summer to be better informed about what working in healthcare looked like,” Kleffman shared. “Participants building the framework of the IASC Collaborative were motivated and passionate about the work and those involved understood the need.”

Kleffman’s hopes for the future of the Career Pathways program are to continue showing local students what healthcare careers are available to them and to build a strong workforce for the future.

“I’m hopeful that this program will continue to encourage healthcare opportunities for students by providing early exposure and knowledge about rewarding career paths,” said Kleffman. “I believe that this collaborative has the ability to not only build a stronger healthcare workforce but also retain students in our rural areas by creating career opportunities in their home communities.

Principal of Bigfork Schools Ken Decoster also shared some thoughts on the Career Pathways program. In his first year as principal, Decoster has gathered that the program is good both for students who know what they want to do after high school and those who don’t.

“I love the names, they’re pathways. They are things that can lead students in certain directions and help get them better prepared if they know what they want to do after, or even find out what they want to do after high school. So I’m excited about the program,” said Decoster.


Breaking Down Barriers

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to the community of Hill City. Student Brenden Humphrey; School Nurse and Teacher Cassandra DeLung; and Chris Bishop from Bishop’s Performance Auto Care Center shared their perspective on the Career Pathways program.

Senior Hill City student Brenden Humphrey and Cassie DeLung, school nurse and teacher.

The Career Pathways program is still growing at Hill City School. While some classes may not be offered on-site, the school has worked to give students the opportunity to take classes via telepresence or by traveling to other schools.

Brenden Humphrey is a senior at Hill City High School and plans to attend Hibbing Community College next year to pursue a degree in Electrical Maintenance.

During the past fall semester, Humphrey and another student from Hill City took a Manufacturing Pathway class in Remer where they focused primarily on metal work. One project they worked on was creating a knife.

When asked if he thought it would be beneficial for students to take more classes from other schools, Humphrey said, “I think it would be nice, especially for the class I took because I actually learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t learn here.”

Cassandra DeLung, Hill City school nurse and teacher, noted that being able to collaborate with other schools gives more opportunities to their students.

“I love how it breaks down the barriers… Career Pathways goes hey, if you’ll do telepresence, we’ll get you a machine. If you’re willing to do this, we’ll bus your kids over,” DeLung said.

Many of the required classes at Hill City fit within different pathways. Once a student advances farther into a pathway, they will take more elective courses. DeLung, along with Greenway teacher Allison Butterfield, teaches one of the Healthcare pathway classes—Intro to Healthcare—via telepresence for multiple IASC schools.

DeLung pointed out that some students might not realize they are a part of a pathway just yet.

“We have talked about the Career Pathways, and we have pushed it. But you know, COVID took priority these last couple of years,” said DeLung. She continued, “We just have to get back there now that we are moving forward with COVID.”

DeLung knows first hand what it is like to have to put some of these offerings on the backburner because of COVID. Just a couple of years ago, she was helping lead a new class at Hill City in collaboration with Northland School for students to complete their CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) training. The first year the class was full, but it was stopped due to COVID-19 because the in-person element of learning was required of the course.

“Next year, we are determined to get it up and running,” DeLung stated.

Another exciting program DeLung is working to bring back is Healthcare Occupations for Students of America (HOSA). This is a school activity where students travel to compete in exciting competitions related to healthcare fields.  DeLung was part of a group a couple of years ago that created a HOSA chapter in the area. They were able to attend a competition with a group of 50 students. Students competed, attended workshops and were able to see what it is like to work with healthcare technologies such as x-ray machines or MRI machines.

“The goal is to just get it up and running again this fall, so be looking for information on that,” DeLung shared. “I’m here if there are any questions about it. It was so fun a couple of years ago.”

To contact Cassandra DeLung about the HOSA program, email

DeLung added that giving students the opportunity to have these hands-on experiences can easily get underrated. Humphrey also shared that he hopes more students will take classes such as the one he took in Remer, or at least know that the option is available to them.

“I think everyone should join Career Pathways because you learn so much and it is a lot of fun,” Humphrey said.

Chris Bishop with Bishop’s Performance Auto Care Center in Grand Rapids, knows that hands-on learning experiences are beneficial. The business has had multiple student internships throughout past years. One of those students, Matt Clarke, has been working at Bishop’s for three years now. His first two years were during high school and he is now working as an employee while he goes to college. Clarke went to Hill City High School and was connected to Bishop through Hill City Industrial Technology teacher Colby Gallagher.

Bishop shared that it has been great to have Clarke as an employee and that the hand-on experience of working with someone in a trade is highly beneficial.

“Anybody who is going to high school who is wanting to be in the trades should be able to find someone who they can apprentice with,” Bishop said.

Bishop has also had local classes visit the shop to learn more about the work they do. Recently he hosted a group of students from Hibbing.

“I took apart a transmission for them and educated them on it. They’re doing transmissions right now and that’s what we specialize in,” Bishop shared.

Although there aren’t any current student internships at Bishop’s, they would like to have more in the future. Bishop hopes that the Career Pathway’s program will be able to continue growing in order to keep promoting the trades industry, especially as it has become increasingly difficult to find people who are trained in the trades industries.

Bishop added, “They need to spend more effort promoting the trades… If you’re good at working with your hands, work with your hands.”

Next Career Pathways is a program that is far-reaching and still growing. As schools work to manage the difficulties of COVID-19, continuing to provide opportunities to students through programs such as Career Pathways will only serve to benefit the students and the communities they are in.


Next Career Pathways at Grand Rapids High School

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to Grand Rapids High School (GRHS). Local business owner Megan Kellin; 10th grader Emma Braford; and science teacher Shelly Lindstrom shared their thoughts on Next Career Pathways. 

Braford took the Small Wildlife Management class through the Natural Resources pathways, and will be taking Woodland Stewardship and Large Wildlife Management classes next year. She is particularly excited for the foresting project she will get to do in the Woodland Stewardship class. 

“From being in Small Wildlife Management, I learned how to follow the problem solving cycle and how to apply the aspects of the sustainability triangle—ecological, economic, and social—to that cycle when solving an environmental issue,” Braford shared. 

After high school, Braford plans to attend college to get her four-year degree in Agricultural and Natural Resources. She said that Career pathways helped her to think about what she would like to do after high school by showing her the wide variety of options within the natural resources field and what type of schooling is required for each career.

“I’ve had my eyes opened to what wildlife biologists do and Career Pathways has not only driven me to aspire to be a Wildlife Biologist, but has also helped steer me in the right direction,” said Braford. 

Becca Eddy, a senior at GRHS, has taken nearly all of the healthcare pathway courses and had an internship at Essentia Health Deer River/Grand Rapids Medical Centers last summer. 

“These classes helped me gain background knowledge on what I was seeing and learning about during my internship. They helped jump start my future career. I encourage everyone who might be interested to take these classes,” said Eddy. 

Braford also would recommend other students should participate in Career Pathways.

“Someone may have a general idea of what they want to do, such as I did, but Career Pathways will help narrow down their idea by providing courses they can take to get a feel for different career paths out there,” Braford stated. “Once someone does have an idea of the career path they want, Career Pathways classes will get them on track for their career before they’re even out of high school. Career Pathways is a great way to prepare for life after high school.”

Lindstrom has always been passionate about learning. Her original plan going into college was to major in biology and then go to medical school. 

“But as often happens in life, unexpected experiences began to make me question the plan I had for myself,” Lindstrom said. 

After becoming a leader of a study group, she realized that she really enjoyed preparing for the group and helping her fellow classmates understand the material. 

“After several people asked if I had ever considered being a teacher, I realized I had to stop and reevaluate,” Lindstrom shared. “I realized that I loved science and I loved sharing that love of science with others. The rest was easy.”

Lindstrom became a biology teacher with an emphasis in human anatomy and physiology. She has been teaching for the last 26 years. Currently she teaches seven science elective classes as a part of the Healthcare Career Pathway at GRHS. 

When asked about the exciting things going on in her classes, Lindstrom said, “the greatest excitement that I see is not just what is happening in one class, but the whole pathway together. I am fortunate enough to have the same students two or three times a day and over the course of two years. I have the opportunity to see their learning build layer upon layer.”

She added that students have the opportunity to explore potential careers in order to find one they are passionate about. 

“Students who complete the pathway are incredibly prepared for what comes next,” said Lindstrom. “They have been given a firm foundation that they can build on after school whether it be a CNA, technician, nurse, dentist or dietician.”

Lindstrom is also excited to continue building partnerships with entities outside of the schools. Currently her classes partner with Greenway High School and Itasca Coummunity College to teach two of the fundamental healthcare courses. Students in the healthcare pathway are able to gain experience through an internship. 

“Our students have been interning in Grand Rapids and Deer River and experiencing every aspect of the healthcare field: physical therapy, medical lab technicians, general surgery, radiology, pharmacy and more,” Lindstrom said.

From her perspective, the greatest benefit the Career Pathways program offers to students is the chance to become familiar with the broad and rewarding area of the job market. 

“Jobs are available in the job market on all levels from certificates, year long programs, two year programs, bachelor degrees and PhDs,” Lindstrom stated. “The pathway clearly provides them a leg up. But the most vital component is that our students find it beneficial as well.”

Megan Kellin knows the importance of making sure students know what opportunities are available to them. Kellin is the owner of The Lake and Company and co-owner of Hotel Rapids; and the founder and owner of be.Media House. The Next Career Pathways has worked with be.Media House as the program worked on its branding and launch. 

Kellin has been a guest speaker numerous times with local classrooms. Most recently she spoke to the marketing class at GRHS. She talked to students about owning a business, learning how to be a good conversationalist, the importance of networking, and how to get out in their community.

“They were so attentive,” said Kellin about the students. 

Kellin said that she would like to offer employment to students through the Career Pathways program in the future. She has already had experience employing high school students and said, “high school students have been our best employees.”

Kellin is passionate about showing local students how many opportunities they have in this area.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the Career Pathway program, no matter where it is,” said Kellin. She continued, “I kind of wanted these kids to understand how many resources they have in this community.”

When Kellin thinks of the future of the Career Pathways program, she thinks of her own kids. 

“I want to build a community that I want to raise my family in,” said Kellin. “We’re maybe there. I’m still looking at other communities and how they’re doing it, not necessarily on a Career Pathways level but what kind of opportunities am I looking for when my kids are in high school?”

Kellin added that not only is she interested in the program for personal reasons, but also for her businesses. She sees great opportunities in the ability to connect with students and utilize young minds.

This connection between businesses, students, and teachers is critical to the Next Career Pathways program. The next steps will be to continue building on these bonds, and to share that with the greater community. 

“My hope is that the program will continue to grow in its familiarity,” Lindstrom commented. “Students and parents need to be aware of the options the pathway provides so they can make sound scheduling choices throughout high school. The community also needs to know that we have students ready, willing and able to learn in their place of business. They just need the opportunity.”


Creating Centers of Excellence

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. For this highlight we will turn our focus to Nashwauk-Keewatin High School. Teachers Joe Gabardi and Luke Adam; students Braden Depaulis and Myles Nagler; and Dan Edwards with Midwest Manufacturing and Mechanical, Inc. spoke to the Herald-Review about their experience with Career Pathways.

Luke Adam is a mathematics teacher who also teaches the Spartan Angling class as a part of the Natural Resources Pathway.

“I have taught math for nearly 20 years and have always loved to fish,” said Adam. “I have always wondered how I can integrate the two, as teaching students how to fish doesn’t even sound like work! I don’t have a degree in Natural Resources, but just a passion for the outdoors and teaching.”

Spartan Angling is staying busy with projects this year, including learning how to build fishing rods and how to tie knots. Students are also beginning to learn about fish behaviors, biology and migratory patterns. The class is preparing for their first trip to Blue Lake where they will fish for panfish, as well as a trip to Lake of the Woods. Students will stay overnight at Border View Lodge in early March to fish for walleye and learn about running a resort.

Joe Gabardi is an industrial arts teacher at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and teaches classes that are a part of the Manufacturing Pathway. He teaches Industrial Metals 1, Industrial Metals 2, Industrial Metals 3, Production Management, Women’s Shop, as well as the Career Pathways capstone Manufacturing Career Internship Course.

“My father was an automotive and welding instructor for 33 years,” Gabardi shared. “Growing up I always had an interest in hands-on work. Throughout my high school years, my knowledge and passion for the trades only grew. It was a perfect fit for my passions of industrial tech along with the enjoyment of helping others.”

Gabardi said there is always exciting projects happening in the shop program. Currently, one of his classes is working on an electric conversion vehicle.

“We are in the process of taking a 1984 Pontiac Fiero and converting it into an electric vehicle,” Gabardi explained.

Furthermore, Gabardi is looking forward to beginning year three of the career internship program within the Manufacturing Pathway. Beginning in the second semester of this school year, he will have 15 students from Nashwauk, Grand Rapids, and Greenway out working with industrial partners all throughout the local area.

“It has been a very successful program and continues to grow each year,” Gabardi stated. “I can’t thank all our business partners enough for their willingness to step up and welcome our students each year.”

He extended his thanks to the manufacturing business partners for the 2022 school year including: ASV, Zakobe/Cast& Color, Swan Machine, Midwest Manufacturing, L&M Radiator, Hibbing Fabricators, Range Steel, Northland Machine, Dakota Fluid Power, ISCO Industries, and ROX Speed FX.

“We are getting our future workforce exposed to many different opportunities across our region. Industry is looking for workers, and I have students looking for job possibilities,” Gabardi said. “The career internship program is helping bridge that gap.”

Braden Depaulis and Myles Nagles are both in their senior year at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School. The two have been taking classes in the Manufacturing Pathway since 9th grade. Both seniors shared that being a part of the Manufacturing Pathway has been helpful as they think of their plans past high school.

“It gives us a big idea on what we want to do and how you can do it,” Nagler said. “Especially with the teachers we have, and the machines and the equipment we have. The possibilities are endless with them.”

Nagler plans to attend Hibbing Community College (HCC) next year to pursue a career in law enforcement. Depaulis also plans to go to HCC to be a part of the heating and cooling technician program.

“It gives you a big jump on life,” Depaulis said. “It’s just a good experience.”

Both Nagler and Depaulis are currently in Gabardi’s welding class. Earlier this year the class built a trailer and now they are working to build a raised grill with a seating area around it for the high school

“It was a big learning curve for all of us to see what you go through to make something like that,” said Nagler.

The two seniors complimented their teacher, Gabardi, for the work he has done with his classes.

“It really comes down to your teachers too,” said Nagler. “Gabardi has given us so many opportunities on what you can do with this stuff and pushed us to become really successful. His program is definitely unbeatable here.”

Depaulis added, “especially all of the knowledge he has. He just passes that onto us to make us better and smarter.”

Gabardi commented that the program is always looking to add more industry partners to the team and to contact him or Scott Patrow, director of Next Career Pathways, if they would like to get started.

Dan Edwards at Midwest Manufacturing and Mechanical, Inc. knows a lot about the positive outcomes the Career Pathways program can have when partnered with a business. The business first connected with Career Pathways a few years ago with owners Mike Anderson and Mike Stigilich leading the way. Today, Midwest Manufacturing provides paid internships for students in the Manufacturing pathway which can potentially lead to full-time employment.

“I have two people who work here that were in the Career Pathway program and then worked through the summer, and they are continuing to work here,” Edwards shared.

A key element to the success of their internship program is the open line of communication between Gabardi and the business. Edwards shared that Gabardi does a great job staying connected to see what he should be teaching to the students.

Edwards sees this partnership as an opportunity to obtain future employees, but also to let students know of the good jobs that are right here in their backyard.

“Ultimately our goal is to spark interest with the kids in the community to keep them around here and show them that there are rewarding careers in this trade,” Edwards said. He continued, “Our problem around here is we don’t sell this area. It’s a beautiful place to live. You can live here. You can raise a family. I’ve never been unemployed. I went to school for welding and it’s been a great career for me”

Looking ahead to the future of Career Pathways, Edwards hopes that they will continue to advance the program each year to make it better for the students and the community.

“We want to grow with the community. We want a new school. We want the best for our kids and the best for our area,” Edwards stated.

Adam also shared his excitement as the Nashwauk-Keewatin school district voters approved a referendum this week which will invest $47.7 million to build a new school and an attached community wellness center. The new school is set to be built near the O’Brien Reservoir which will open many doors for the Spartan Angling class.

“A class period could be actually going fishing for an hour! Great opportunities await! We are currently working with the wood and metal shop to construct a spear house that will be used for the class and can be placed on O’Brien,” said Adam.

Another goal for Adam is to expand his program to other schools.

“I want to keep producing anglers who are passionate about the outdoors and are pursuing careers in Natural Resources,” Adam stated. “I would love to expand this class to other Iron Range Schools to offer more opportunities.”

Gabardi echoed this sentiment with his vision for the future of Next Career Pathways. He hopes to see schools within the program specializing in different pathways. He explained that each school could focus on one pathway in order to provide the best opportunities for students.

“Nashwauk could become the center of excellence for manufacturing and turn its focus more in the direction of manufacturing,” Gabardi said. “As students build interest through the manufacturing pathway in their home school, then they could travel over to N-K for half days their junior and senior years, and really focus on perfecting that interest. This is something we could accomplish fairly easily, and each school could participate and focus on specific areas.”

Currently, each school offers multiple pathways for its students to be a part of, but focusing on one could potentially save money.

“We all know education can be expensive, especially in the Technology Education areas,” Gabardi said. “By creating centers of excellence, we could focus equipment, training, and business exposures through one spot. It would be a win for both industry partners as well as the students in the pathway.”

The possibilities seem to be endless for Next Career Pathways as schools and business partners all work together to give students an opportunity to find their passions.

“Next career pathways as a whole are offering students the ability to get exposure to different career areas of interest,” Gabardi commented. “We can have students explore areas of interest and have a chance to see if it might be something they truly want to continue to explore. I see our program as an opportunity for students to find areas they are not interested in just as much as areas they are interested in.”


The Leaders of Our Future: IASC Next Career Pathways at Greenway H.S.

Continuing the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways series, we will highlight individual schools and communities. Various teachers, students and business partners will share their perspective on being a part of Career Pathways.

To kick things off, the focus will be on Greenway High School. Business and Education Pathway Instructor Pat Kittock, Greenway high school senior Summer Holm-Foss, entrepreneurial class students, and local business owner Wade Karnes all shared their experience with Career Pathways.

Kittock is a northern Minnesota girl who decided to go to college and get a degree in business.

After graduating with her undergraduate degree, Kittock got a fast-paced job working in the San Francisco Bay/Silicon Valley area of California. Through this job she was able to get her Master of Business Administration. After starting a family with her husband, they decided to move back to Minnesota and landed in the Twin Cities area.

“One day it hit me. This has been amazing and I’m proud of what I achieved, but I’ve always wanted to teach,” Kittock shared.

Kittock decided to go back to get her degree in education in order to teach at a high school level. Since then she has taught high school and also worked as an adjunct professor at Minnesota State Mankato in the education department. With all of this experience, Kittock was a perfect fit to help lead the Business and Education Pathways at Greenway High School.

When Kittock started at Greenway High School in the fall of 2019, there was no business program established. She was able to help build the business program from ground up and has seen it grow in a short amount of time.

“I’m super proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in two and a half years and with COVID on top of it,” Kittock said.

Kittock shared that the Education Pathway works closely with Itasca Community College’s (ICC) specialized teacher preparation program Class Act. Through this collaboration high school students in the Education Pathway are able to get field experience in actual classrooms, which can be a very eye-opening experience.

“The Education Pathway is for anyone who is interested in teaching, but also just working with children—so school counselors, school nurses, social work—because in all of those careers you would have to know what it’s like to work with kids,” Kittock added.

The Business Pathway starts off with an exploratory course called Business Careers Exploration. This shows students how broad going into a business field can be. From there students are able to take more specialized classes such as marketing, business and law, accounting, etc.

“The idea here is that business is a huge umbrella,” said Kittock. “I think it’s the number one graduated college major.”

Students have the option to take a capstone class to complete their Business Pathway. They can either be placed with an internship in the community, or to do a project based learning (PBL) capstone. Last year’s Advanced Marketing Project Based Learning class worked with the owners of the Grand Rapids Culver’s to pitch advertising ideas. This year’s class has been invited back to take part in the experience this spring.

Other highlights in the Business Pathway have included hearing from Itasca County Attorney Matti Adams; visiting Hotel Rapids’ yurt to learn from local business owners; designing and presenting hotel plans for a class project; a day at the Timberlake Hotel to learn about hotel and restaurant management; and even starting a new business. Kittock’s Advanced Business PBL spring 2020 class was interested in entrepreneurship and came up with the idea to open a store in the school—Raider Retail. The in-school store is open every Wednesday and is completely run by students.

“It is 100% authentic learning,” Kittock said. “They are running a business.”

Westin Smith, Dean Villeneuve, Tae’Von Wells, and Grant Rychart are some of the students who took part in launching Raider Retail in May 2020. All four of the students shared that they enjoyed doing the project at Culver’s and are excited to return again this year. Villeneuve shared that these experiences have helped him as he thinks of his future plans.

“100% because we get to meet people,” said Villeneuve. “It helps me to expand my view on different career options.”

Wells and Smith echoed these thoughts.

“I plan to weld and eventually become an entrepreneur,” Well stated. “This Pathway has opened a new look at business to better understand future career options.”

“I plan to attend University of Minnesota-Duluth for Sports Management,” Smith shared. “Taking the Business Pathway has led to what I want to pursue in college.”

Greenway senior Summer Holm-Foss jumped into the Business Pathway this year to take the Hire Me Internship class, as well as the Law and Business class. She wanted to take the Law and Business class because she had thoughts of becoming a lawyer when she was younger. However, after taking the class, she has realized that isn’t the path for her.

“I feel like it made me think more about what I like and what I’m good at,” Holm-Foss said.

And even taking the law class showed me what I don’t necessarily want to do. I feel like that’s what the classes are really good for—an opportunity to try it before you jump into college and just decide.”

Holm-Foss will have an internship with Arrowhead Promotion beginning mid-February where she will get to work with a variety of departments within the organization. She has also been the voice of the Raider Review, a radio program that talks about Greenway school highlights on local stations, for the first semester of this school year.

“I feel like it really helped me be more confident in myself and speak better. … I wouldn’t say I want to be a radio person, but it was a great experience,” Holm-Foss shared.

Post-graduation plans for Holm-Foss include attending ICC to earn a two-year business degree and then transfer to Alexandria Community and Technical College for a degree in fashion merchandising. One of the most valuable takeaways Holm-Foss has come from her Hire Me Internship class when they took the Clifton StrengthsFinders test.

“I felt like that was really helpful to find out what skills you’re good at,” said Holm-Foss.

Some of Holm-Foss’s top strengths included Achiever, Learner and Focus.

When asked if she would recommend participating in Career Pathways, she said,  “Yes, I think it’s a good opportunity to see what you do like and what you don’t like.”

In the end, this is what the Career Pathways program is all about for Kittock—giving students the opportunity to experience what a certain career pathway is really like. To peel back the curtains and show what life is like beyond the classroom.

“The best way to teach business is what’s going on in the business world.” She continued, “The students here have skill and passion; and diversity of thought and talent; and it’s super cool to be among them and expose them to ideas.”

Wade Karnes knows all about the benefit of connecting students to the business world. Karnes has been working with Career Pathways since its inception, specifically through the Manufacturing Pathway. Karnes is the owner of Zakobe Metal Stampings, LLC and Cast & Color LLC: Fish Hooks Manufacturer in Bovey, Minn. Karnes is also the president of Arrowhead Manufacturers and Fabricators Association (AMFA).

Karnes and his son Zach Karnes attended original advisory committee meetings for Career Pathways to help get the program rolling. Since then they have been guest speakers, hosted word study students, and have had an internship program. One of the first interns at Zakobe LLC through Career Pathways is now an official employee.

“It was such a neat experience. Basically you are borrowing them and you get to see what type of people they are before you actually bite the bullet and put them on fulltime,” Karnes commented. “Students get to come and see if this is the career for them. It’s not costing them anything. And as a business owner, I find it a win. Not only am I getting people experience in the trades, they are also finding out if that’s what they like.”

Although the business hasn’t been able to have any interns this year, Wade hopes they will be able to bring another one on as soon. He also has hopes to begin an e-commerce website in collaboration with the students in the Business Pathway to sell their Cast & Hook product, split the profits, or potentially establish a scholarship fund.

“It’s kind of my passion—getting kids interested in the trades because right in high school. There weren’t a lot of people pushing for trades when I was in high school,” Wade said.

Wade shared that he has seen the realities of less students going into vocational trade careers through his work with AMFA. All businesses that are a part of AMFA have been struggling to find employees.

“The demand is there, we just need to find the bodies that are interesting and get everybody connected,” Wade said. He continued, “I think it’s just finding that way to connect with the kids and get them interested in it, and get them to realize they can go out to different companies or even different types of jobs, whether it be manufacturing or nursing, and they can find what they like before they’re out of high school and having to pay for it.”

Kittock also realizes the importance of giving students the opportunity to explore different career paths.

“Our young people today, they are the leaders of our future,” Kittock stated. “That’s why I feel privileged to be here to launch our next world and country leaders.”


The Next Step for IASC Next Career Pathways

Patrow steps into role as new director 

The Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) Next Career Pathways program is beginning a new chapter as Scott Patrow steps into the director position. Patrow comes into the role with over two decades of experience and a passion for helping students explore all career paths.

Patrow began his career in education in 1988 as a business education instructor in Floodwood. He recalled needing to set up 10 worksites for the business internship students he would be supervising before the first day of school. However, he was hired in mid-August so there wasn’t much time before classes would begin. Thankfully, he was able to find those 10 work sites. Now he looks back on that experience as a precursor for his work with Career Pathways.

“That was a career pathway basically,” said Patrow. “It was a capstone class, a capstone program, which we still see that language today.”

From there, Patrow worked at Grand Rapids High School in the business education department. He took a job as the school-to-work coordinator for the district after a few years where he acted as a liason for the school to the business community.

“That also gave me a really good perspective of vocational type experiences for students,” Patrow commented.

Additionally, Patrow has received vocational licenses and worked on the Class Act program through Itasca Community College. He retired in the spring of 2021 after serving as the K-12 principal and activities of Bigfork Schools for 16 years. After enjoying a month of full retirement, Patrow started looking for an opportunity to fill his schedule once again.

“When I retired, I always knew I wanted to keep connected and stay busy and working,” Patrow commented. “Career Pathways had posted for a business engagement specialist which Claire Peterlin was the former director.”

Claire Peterlin is the former director of Career Pathways.

“Claire did an amazing job of pulling eight different schools together, creating an awareness, planning a foundation of how we want to have our pathways set up, going in and getting those set for each school,” Patrow stated.

Patrow felt that the job description for a business engagement specialist was the perfect match for his capabilities and what he was looking for. When Peterlin stepped away from the director position, it was offered to Patrow which he then accepted.

“It wasn’t like I’m going to try something totally new,” Patrow said. “This is something I have quite a bit of training and experience for.”

About Next Career Pathways

Next Career Pathways was created as a solution to the problem of employers needing skilled workers and a contrasting narrative saying there were no good jobs in Northeast Minnesota. Employers and schools in this area knew that they could better support students and show them the job opportunities that were available to them right in their backyard. Next Career Pathways came together through a collaborative effort between IASC, Itasca Community College, and the business community. The main goal? To allow students to have true career exploration in high school combined with real-world experiences that will help them through the next steps after high school.

“We want to help students determine what pathway they are suited for with their gifts, talents and abilities; and then also help coordinate experiences that best prepare them for the next step,” Patrow stated. “Whether that’s direct entry into the world of work, or more likely direct entry into some post-secondary education, whether that’s a two year or a four year.”

All high schools in the IASC offer Next Career Pathways. These include Grand Rapids High School, Nashwauk-Keewatin High School, Greenway High School, Deer River High School, Northland Community School, Bigfork High School, Hill City High School, and Floodwood High School. There are seven pathways within the program, including business, construction, computer science, healthcare, education, natural resources and agriculture, and manufacturing.

Patrow noted there are different sizes of schools participating in the program. From the largest school—Grand Rapids High School, to slightly smaller two section schools—Greenway, Deer River, and Nashwauk-Keewatin, to the smaller high schools of Bigfork, Floodwood, Hill City and Northland.

“All three bring unique opportunities, but also some challenges as well,” Patrow said.

Each school offers a registration guide for students to follow for each pathway. These guides show required and recommended pathway courses students should take to best step themselves up for success in their future careers. It also gives them an opportunity to see if they like the career field they are interested in, before committing to a post-secondary education program.

There are also opportunities for students to take a class offered at another school through interactive telepresence classrooms. IASC schools follow a common schedule which allows students to attend these classes seamlessly through this virtual collaboration.

Career Pathways is also working alongside IASC Carl D. Perkins Act Director Jane Shade to make sure the programs are working efficiently with each other. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act provides funding for secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs.

The next steps for Next Career Pathways will be to really tackle the question of—why should a student take a career pathway? Patrow stated they need to work to improve their work-based learning experiences to supplement the academic part students are receiving at school, which will help students transition into that next step after high school. Opportunities could include internships, career fairs, guest speakers, job shadows and more.

“These need to be quality experiences, especially at the end of our pathways, culminating projects are called capstone projects. Those need to be really developed and refined to where a student will say this is one of the best things I did in my high school career.”

Upcoming highlights

This story is the first in a series of eight community highlights that will be featured in the Grand Rapids Herald Review. Keep your eye out for these upcoming stories which will all feature a teacher, student, and business from an area community where Next Career Pathways is making an impact.


Among the top-5 in the nation; Grand Rapids teams represent Minnesota at national event

Via Grand Rapids Herald Review

The Grand Rapids FFA chapter had two teams place top-5 in events at the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo held in Indianapolis on Oct. 27-30.

Both Grand Rapids teams represented the state of Minnesota at the event.

The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources team gave a presentation on waste management and placed fifth in the Environmental and Natural Resources Career Development event. The team consisted of Cole Tolrud, Tyler Curtiss, Emma Braford, and Hannah Grose of the Grand Rapids FFA.

The environmental and natural resources event allowed students to apply classroom knowledge to real-life situations. This event focuses on testing students’ problem solving and decision-making skills in

environmental and natural resources. These areas concentrate on soil profiles, water quality, waste management, and the use of global positioning units.

The Durant (Florida) FFA team placed first in the event.

In the Forestry Career Development Event, Minnesota took home fifth place with a presentation on how to prevent and combat invasive species. Minnesota’s team consisted of Eric Gunderson, Jacob Anderson, Andrew Linder, and Brock Pavelich of the Grand Rapids FFA.

The forestry event tested students’ skills and knowledge in the area of forest management. Event components include a general forest knowledge exam, tree identification, timber cruising, tree/forest disorders identification, a chainsaw practicum, forestry issues interview, and a team activity.

The Forsyth (Missouri) FFA team took home top honors.

“The adversity that these teams had to endure over the past year and half has been nothing short of amazing,” Grand Rapids FFA Advisor Shawn Linder said. “They understand what hard work means and this competition gets them prepared for the outside world when they graduate.”

Preparing for the national convention was no easy task, as several Grand Rapids team members graduated high school earlier this year. Tolrud, Curtiss, and Gunderson graduated from Grand Rapids High School this spring. The Minnesota State FFA Convention is held in the spring, and graduating seniors who qualify for the national convention can still participate through October.

Linder said it was also a challenge for many teams to bring a full roster to the competitions due to illnesses and COVID restrictions.

Linder has taught agricultural and natural resources at Grand Rapids High School for the past 20 years and this year’s two Grand Rapids FFA teams were the 19th and 20th teams to represent the state of Minnesota at the FFA National Conven