In an effort to help locals get a foothold in the health-care and energy industries, Unlimited Learning Center in Cortez is working to prepare students for entry-level career or postsecondary paths with new programming dubbed the STEM Prep Learning Labs.
With the help of a $450,000 Adult Education and Literacy Grant from the state Department of Education, Unlimited Learning staff and its partners have been working to develop the hands-on, industry-focused science, technology and math curriculum that fortifies concepts needed to get on a career-ready path, explained the center's executive director.
"To us, a GED is worthless unless you can get a good job with it," said Ann Miller, director of the Unlimited Learning Center. "So, through this new program we're hoping to train students who are thinking of enrolling in post-secondary program, going straight into an entry-level career to make a self-sustaining wage."
Unlimited Learning's partners in the grant include Pine River Community Learning Center in Ignacio and Montrose Adult Education Center in Montrose County. The health-care and energy STEM Labs developed at Unlimited Learning in Cortez will be used at the partner schools as well.
The curriculum is built on four principles: mechanical, electrical, fluid and thermal. Aside from hands-on labs in which students put basic STEM principles into action, the curriculum offers math and communication modules, and counseling.
The goal, Miller says, is to ensure mastery of basic concepts found in textbooks, and bring them to life for students - many of whom are second-language learners or have low reading levels - in practical ways.
"We want to increase motivation and answer the question many students have when they're reading something in a textbook or hearing it in a lecture: 'Why am I learning this?'" said Miller.
Coaches will assist students in completing lab and other activities, providing mentoring and referrals as needed.
Those who complete all four modules with a score of at least 80 percent may take the Accuplacer Test if they're interested in continuing education and will obtain a certificate of completion.
STEM Lab health-care instructor Caitlyn Reese, a Fort Lewis College grad with a bachelor's degree in cellular molecular biology, is building her curriculum.
"I'm excited. I think this is a super interesting way to learn these things compared to sitting in a lecture," said Reese.
Tony Otero, of the San Juan College School of Energy, is developing the curriculum for the energy track, Miller said.
To learn more about the program, call 970-565-1601.