By Laken Dillow
Photo by Keri Stegall
According to the Virginia Department of Education, fewer than half of high school graduates in Southwest Virginia either go on to technical training, higher education, or join the military. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Center for Education and Workforce, youth who are uninformed of potential local career pathways are more vulnerable to dropping out of school, unemployment, or even underemployment, with a large sum of education debt and no direction.
As part if its Ignite program, the United Way of Southwest Virginia has begun working with public schools in the region using a software package designed to help students find their way forward into the world of work. MajorClarity creates learning environments for students in all stages of their education, says CEO Joe Belsterling. He created the software, which aids middle and high school students in career exploration because of his own experiences; more specifically, the lack thereof.
“It’s a two-part journey,” says Belsterling. “The first inkling of MajorClarity started because I realized that every time I needed to make a major life investment, I received an opportunity to try it out first, with the exception of picking a career path.” He refers to test-driving a car before making the major purchase or attending open houses when looking to purchase or rent a space to live.
“My desire was to give students the opportunity to ‘test drive’ a career, so to speak,” Belsterling says. “I saw the potential to impact the educational system in the country. I wanted to help the rising workforce determine their career readiness or technical training paths through an opportunity that I wasn’t given.”
MajorClarity partners with K-12 schools to improve students’ college and career opportunities through video and activity-based content. The interactive software matches students to courses their school offers, as well as post-secondary pursuits based on the best career path for them. Richmond, Va., serves as the hub for the successful start-up company, however many other states have adopted it for its successful career coaching approach.
Educators receive access to an organized dashboard of all student profiles for easy management and can track student’s progress through real-time analytics. Students generate a portfolio through personality, interest and learning style assessments that allow them to hone in on specific pathway-aligned course planning. Videos featuring industry professionals, as well as career simulation activities have proven to engage students up to twice as much as other career coaching and exploration efforts. In fact, MajorClarity has a near 80 percent completion rate, leading to a more vibrant career planning approach.
Carroll County High School (CCHS) brought MajorClarity into their school system with the help of United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite Program.
Larissa Brady, the 11th grade Guidance Counselor at Carroll County High School, has been dedicated to assisting students in educational and career exploration since November of 2012. According to Brady, CCHS has always done a great job at meeting the needs of their students. Approximately two years ago, they began to look for a resource that centralized and unified all students from middle to high school that was user friendly. The collaboration among the CCHS school system, United Way of Southwest Virginia and MajorClarity began in 2017.
CCHS, which has an approximate enrollment of 1,150 students now holds an annual three-day event called Intersession. Intersession allows students to sign up for courses available that are specific to secondary education and employment opportunities that wouldn’t typically be offered in any regular standardized curriculum.
“After students complete their profile and find their specific interests through MajorClarity, they are able to apply that information during Intersession,” Brady says. “We take students on field trips to colleges and to local employers, which engages them greatly. One 11th grade student discovered through MajorClarity that she was interested in education, which we used to set up sessions in the classroom with elementary students.”
Carroll County High School is also a broader participant in United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite program, which assists in partnering schools with local businesses to provide internships to students in the region. As United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite program coordinator at Carroll County High School, Brady plays a key role connecting student interns to local businesses.
Travis Staton, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia stated, “Every day our youth face important decisions that are likely to impact their future. These decisions include deciding on potential career opportunities that can lead to their overall economic self-sufficiency.” Because of this, United Way of Southwest Virginia is providing MajorClarity to every school in Southwest Virginia, impacting nearly 30,000 students. This investment in our youth is helping to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for jobs here at home.”