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MCCC Receives Grant to Help High School Students
Formulate Futures in Business


West Windsor, N.J.- For high school students with big ambitions, the path to high-wage jobs and acquiring the requisite skills is not always clear. A new three-year $340,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Education has been awarded to the Business Division at Mercer County Community College to help students statewide start the conversation about their future careers. The goal, says MCCC Business Professor and project administrator Ellen Benowitz, is to provide an educational bridge from school to work, making students more aware of the relevance of their high school curriculum and better prepared to chart a course for career success.

Entitled "Career and Technical Education (CTE) Partnership: Enhancing Teaching and Student Leadership in Business, Management and Administration, and Finance," the project has four career-focused goals:

  • The development of statewide CTE programs that align with New Jersey's high school Core Curriculum Standards, as well as industry standards;
  • The development of a CTE classroom module that charts at least one pathway to a high-wage, high-skill or high-demand occupation;
  • The delivery of statewide professional development workshops for secondary administrators and educators; and
  • The enhancement of student leadership opportunities in career and technical organization.

Former MCCC student Natalie Tolle ('07) set
her sights on a career in advertising while still in
high school. Today she is an account executive
at Oxford Communications and is completing her master's degree at Rider University.

According to Benowitz, first steps for the project will begin later this school year with the formation of two statewide advisory commissions - one for Business, Management, and Administration, and one for Finance. Their mission will be to identify business needs and current industry credentials and certifications. Also on the agenda for the first year is the development of a workshop for educators that introduces the concept of career education and its relevance at the high school level. The second and third years of the grant will expand on the numbers of schools visited and teachers served.

Benowitz says it's important to make education relatable to career goals starting in high school. "If you are going to insist that a student learn algebra, for example, there should be tie-in with the real world of work. Students are more likely to put their heart and soul into their courses if they see the relevance." She points to fields such as carpentry and hospitality management, where math skills learned in high school are essential to good business.

The grant will enable Mercer to build on its already flourishing partnerships with high schools. The college hosts an annual Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) conference for 150 high schools with approximately 4,000 students traveling to Mercer from around the state for competitions and workshops. Additionally the college has assisted high schools and vocational schools with curriculum development and has awarded college credits to high school grads for advanced learning.

Former MCCC student Natalie Tolle '07 knows the importance of career education starting in high school. Now an assistant account executive at Oxford Communications in Lambertville, she recalls that her first exposure to the advertising world came randomly when she was a junior at Bordentown Regional High School. A retired ad exec who was serving as a substitute teacher for her art class gave an assignment to create an ad. His reaction to her simple, direct ad was electric. "Agencies take months thinking about concepts like this," she recalls him saying. He encouraged her to consider a future in the field.

Originally planning to be a teacher, Tolle turned in a whole different direction. By her senior year in high school, she had begun interning at a local ad agency. Once at MCCC, she majored in marketing and got active in Phi Beta Lambda, Mercer's FBLA chapter, serving as state secretary for two years and winning national awards at two leadership conferences. Tolle transferred to Rider University to complete her bachelor's degree, where she reactivated Rider's dormant PBL chapter. She expects to earn her M.B.A. from Rider in spring 2011.

Tolle notes that even in this difficult economic climate, she landed a job quickly. The difference, she believes, was her interview skills and people skills. "Lots of people have good grades and a good resume. PBL really prepared me. I had a much better grasp of how to present myself and how to succeed."

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