Technology Center of DuPage prepares high school students for changing workplace
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Nathan Teske, a senior at Naperville Central High School, has spent half his day this school year and last at the Technology Center of DuPage getting a jump start on his dream of working in the field of automotive technology. Teske says not only has he received hands-on experience working on cars, but the center has motivated him to earn A's and B's in his academic courses and taught him how to interact with customers.
When Teske graduates from high school this spring, he plans to pursue a degree in automotive technology with college-level classes already under his belt.
If you go
What: Technology Center of DuPage open house
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22
Where: 301 S. Swift Road, Addison
Info: (630) 691-7572
"This school is really helpful," Teske says. "I feel more people should be aware of it."
Students, parents and the larger community can learn more about TCD, a college and career prep elective offering programs for high school juniors and seniors, at its Community Open House from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 301 S. Swift Road, Addison. Attendees are asked to sign up at tcdupage.org and can call (630) 691-7572 for information.
Often referred to as the best-kept secret in DuPage County, TCD is working on more ways to make its resources better known. The 250,000-square-foot center serving 24 high schools from 14 districts in DuPage County and Lyons Township offers classes — and often college credits — in 21 career fields such as culinary arts, cosmetology, fire science and manufacturing technology.
When TCD opened its doors 39 years ago as DAVEA, an acronym for DuPage Area Vocational Education System, its mission was to prepare students with skills to find entry-level employment after high school. But as the employment field changed and technology became more prominent, the center changed too.
Now, 90 percent of TCD students pursue postsecondary education and 60 percent are earning college credits while in high school, says Jim Thorne, director of the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, TCD's governing board. Thorne adds that statistics show that students with career technology training are more successful in college than their often less-focused peers.
"We're getting kids ready for career and college," Thorne says. "It's not your grandfather's vocational any more."
Vision for the future
Thorne says the 1,200 students attending TCD's morning or afternoon sessions range from honor students to kids with special needs. Some may be testing a career field to find out whether it's for them, but many come with clear goals about the type of employment they want to pursue.
"It's an exciting opportunity for kids who know what they think the future looks like," says Principal Steve Carr, formerly the principal of Westmont High School. "They have a more mature view of what their future looks like."
For many students, TCD is the best part of their school day.
"I love it here. It's better than being in school," says Alec Siwek, a Naperville Central senior enrolled in the TCD fire science program.
Siwek says he hopes to be certified as an emergency medical technician, then go to college to earn a degree in fire science and paramedic training.
"I just like the hands-on stuff," he says. "When we go out in the world, we have a foothold."
Carr says thanks to the partnership among two dozen high schools, TCD can offer state-of-the art equipment individual schools would be hard put to afford. The fire science program, for instance, has an ambulance and fire engine on loan from Wood Dale Fire Department. Culinary arts offers a spacious, well-equipped education kitchen. Cosmetology has a full-service salon that offers its services to outside customers at nominal cost.
The state-of-the-art equipment is what attracted her to the center, says Jessica Avila, a junior at Glenbard South High School and an aspiring aerospace engineer.
"They have an amazing 3-D printer," she says.
Avila visited TCD during one of the center's four annual Explore Days for participating high schools. She said the Steps in Engineering program in which she is enrolled offers a well-thought-out sequence of classes that will allow her to focus on aerospace engineering in the last semester. The engineering classes at Glenbard South are more geared to electrical engineering, she says.
"We get to learn a whole bunch of things about engineering before we start college," she says. "It's like a college-level class."
Real life education
Carr says cosmetology is the center's biggest program with more than 200 students enrolled. Cosmetology students often combine their training with a business degree after high school, he says. Other big programs, with between 85 to 100 students enrolled, include criminal justice, automotive technology, fire science and nursing.
TCD works closely with businesses and community organizations as well as colleges like College of DuPage and Northern Illinois University to ensure students are being trained for viable careers, Carr says.
"What we want to avoid is preparing students for an obsolete industry," he says.
"Most of our instructors are straight from industry," Carr adds. "Our nursing instructors are nurses. Our fire science instructors are working firemen."
Alumni of TCD also often return to share their successes and their knowledge.
Daniel Moody, a 2008 culinary alum from Community High School in West Chicago, went on to earn an associate degree in culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago and now is employed as sous chef, second-in-command, at Davanti Enoteca restaurant in Western Springs. Moody said he wasn't sure he wanted to go into culinary arts when he started at TCD, but participating in a cooking competition at the state level helped clinch his decision.
"I realized how much fun it was," he says.
Moody returns to TCD to help at the Culinary Foundation Dinner, mentor students, serve as a judge during practicals and help prepare students for competition.
"One of the highlights of going to Technology Center of DuPage was that they had all those alumni coming back," he says.
Nick Buenger, an automotive technology alum from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, was in the automotive program's Advanced Study Group that prepared him to compete in the Ford AAA Auto Skills Competition and state SkillsUSA competition. He went on to earn a degree in automotive technology at Southern Illinois University and, now based in Michigan, has risen steadily in Ford Motor Company to oversee five service equipment managers across the United States.
"The program (at TCD) definitely gave me a lot of motivation to continue my education," he says. "Continuing educations has helped me excel in my career thus far."
Continuing education is key to success in a rapidly evolving economy, says Ed Susmilch, TCD's former principal who retired two years ago and now serves as assistant principal on a part-time basis. When the center first opened it doors, it was preparing non-college bound students for vocations where they might spend 30 years with one employer, but not anymore, he says.
"There is no such thing as a vocation anymore. The marketplace changes too rapidly," he said.
One program TCD wants to build on to meet the needs of the changing marketplace is manufacturing technology, says Robert Rammer, assistant superintendent of Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 and a member of TCD's governing board. Part of the challenge is helping parents and students understand that manufacturing jobs don't have to mean dirty factory work.
"Students in manufacturing can make a great living," he says. "A machinist today is a lot different from a machinist 30 years ago."
Rammer says 177 students from District 200 attend TCD.
"It's an absolutely wonderful opportunity for students to gain experience," he says.
Carr say each school district sets its own criteria for students who attend TCD. All students must meet their district's graduation requirements, so they need to plan ahead to get in all their required courses and still have time to enroll in TCD programs, he says.
TCD students pay a $100 participation fee but no tuition, and some school districts may add a surcharge for students who attend. Transportation is provided by the participating high schools. All classes are at the Addison campus, except some fire science and cosmetology classes are held in Naperville for students in Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204. All cosmetology classes will be in Addison next year when College of DuPage moves its own cosmetology program to the Addison site.
Many students can earn free, transferrable college credit from College of DuPage or other institutions for some programs. A TCD guidance counselor also helps them to find internships in industry. All TCD students are required to take the National Career Readiness Certification exam and many earn industry-specific scholarships, school officials say.
Thorne says TCD may revive a seventh-grade career day and plans to offer a culinary camp geared to middle schoolers this summer as part of an effort to make its programs better known. The center also is open for tours, he says.
"To have this kind of space dedicated to CT (career technical education) is a blessing," says Thorne, who spent his education career in Indiana before joining TCD this past summer. "The students of DuPage are fortunate."
Carr says his own son wants to attend TCD next year.
"We're not a perfect fit for every student, but I think we could be a better fit for more," he says.
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