Building Bridges to Careers expands

Pairs students with local businesses

Photo by Peyton Neely Employees of Combined Insurance work together during a business meeting at the Epicenter on the bottom floor of the Armory on Front Street.

MARIETTA — Not only has a Building Bridges to Careers Epicenter opened this winter but the program has also expanded its partnerships within three school districts and the career center and was recognized by Gov. John Kasich last month.

“We hope to expand and include more and more businesses,” said Tasha Werry, Building Bridges to Career facilitator.

Building Bridges to Careers is a nonprofit organization working to bridge the gap between education and employment for all students in Washington County. The Epicenter is an entrepreneurial and education center based around real world work experiences. The site provides space and time for strategic collaboration with businesses and schools.

Small businesses housed in the Epicenter are supported in an incubator-style environment while they grow. High school and college students can collaboratively participate in programming alongside the entrepreneurs-in-residence to increase soft skills and see what it is really like to start a business. Student programming includes job shadowing, internships, career mentoring and problem-based learning.

“It’s still a work in progress but we are continuing to improve,” said Tonya Davis, Building Bridges to Careers coordinator.

Kasich recognized Marietta City Schools for successfully developing multiple ways to increase personal career experiences for students with Building Bridges to Careers but it doesn’t stop with Marietta.

“We have partnerships with not only Marietta City Schools but also the (Washington County) Career Center, Fort Frye Local Schools and Warren Local Schools as well,” said Davis.

Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton said the district has had a partnership with Building Bridges to Careers since 2014 and plans to renew it at the next board of education meeting.

“They help us get a perspective that not all educators get,” said Newton. “We want to help our students be prepared to enter society and to be productive.”

Barb Schafer is the program’s facilitator for Warren Local Schools.

“Building Bridges has helped us with job shadowing, internships and mentorships,” said Schafer. “They also find a monthly speaker every month to come and talk with our middle school.”

Lizzie Lehman, 16, of Marietta, interns with the Epicenter two days a week. She is currently a junior at Marietta High School.

“I’ve mostly worked with the insurance agency and really learned a lot about insurance I honestly didn’t know,” she said. “I’ve learned how to set up computers, about software programs and more computer filing.”

Lehman said she enjoys interacting with the businesses.

“I would love to see a few more student interns there but not too many so it doesn’t turn into a social event,” she said. “But to see the businesses expand before anything would be great.”

Werry said Building Bridges has developed many programs to create direct connections between students and local businesses.

“We also wanted to take advantage of the entrepreneurial ecosystem that has been growing in the area over the past couple of years,” said Werry. “Our student surveys have shown a high interest that students have in starting their own business and along with the Entrepreneurship Pathway offered at Marietta High School, we needed to provide the support for them to explore this more deeply. At the same time, there were small businesses interested in working with students as they take the next step to grow their business.”

Students will now have the opportunity to job shadow with small businesses and learn more about their field of interest while learning about being an entrepreneur in a collaborative environment. They will also have the chance to be involved in internships which will allow them to earn high school credit.

“The ‘entrepreneurs-in-residence’ will have help to grow and expand their business and our students will gain real world experience they can apply later in life. They will also learn networking skills, develop contacts for future references and begin to build a resume,” said Davis. “The possibilities are endless and we can’t wait to see how the program develops for our students.”

John Bowling, district manager for Combined Insurance, is one of the companies inside the Epicenter.

“Pamela reached out to me with this idea,” he said. “Once the Epicenter location was determined, we saw it as perfect. We were just getting ready to move out of our old location.”

Bowling was recently located in the Putnam Commons on Putnam Street but saw the Armory as a more centralized location.

“There are several big things to like about the Epicenter,” he said. “The job shadowing and community involvement is just what we were looking for. We want to help the young people look at different career choices.”

Small businesses interested in becoming members at any level or interested in more information, can contact Lankford at bb2cepicenter@gmail.com or 740-525-5800 or Werry at twerry@mariettacsdoh.org or 740-374-6500. More information about Building Bridges to Careers can be found at buildingbridgestocareers.org.


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