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Virtual Field Trips Emerge as a Key Workforce Development Tool

Mark Niederhauer
By Mark Niederhauer EO2 Concepts

My company, EO2 Concepts, was looking for an easy way to introduce high school students to what we do, while showing them some of the exciting career options that exist in the San Antonio area.

Margarita Segura, meanwhile, was looking for a way to connect her chemistry lessons to real-world examples, so her students at East Central High School in San Antonio would understand how those principles apply outside the classroom.

We found the perfect solution to both of our needs in Nepris, a platform that connects students with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals through online video conferences.

EO2 Concepts makes an innovative medical device that provides a continuous flow of oxygen for wound care. Patients strap the device to the injured part of their body, and the oxygen flow accelerates the healing process. Our company is growing rapidly, and we need to prepare our future workforce.

This begins by making students aware of the jobs available at companies such as ours, and how they can lead to rewarding and successful careers. In the past, we have tried arranging bus tours to bring students into the workplace, but that can be very challenging and cost-prohibitive. We were finding our reach was very limited.

Nepris organizes virtual chats between professionals and classrooms so students can learn about career possibilities in engineering, manufacturing, or countless other professions.

Margarita had toured our manufacturing facility in person during a summer externship in which she also learned about Nepris. It seemed like a natural fit to have her students take a virtual tour of our facility using the online platform, so they could see a real-life application of oxygen therapy that would bring relevance to what they were learning.

The virtual tour, which took place in her classroom earlier this year, was a win-win scenario: Margarita’s students got a first-hand look at how the concepts they were learning mattered, while we got to showcase our work and open students’ eyes to new career possibilities. Best of all, no one had to travel to pull this off.

We found the virtual tour to be a great experience. We gave a short overview of who we are and what we do, and then we walked students through the plant. What was surprising to us was how engaged the students were. They were pointing out things in the background and asking us questions about them. They weren’t shy at all. Maybe it’s because they are so used to this type of technology. It’s part of their world; it’s how they interact nowadays.

The students saw it as a valuable experience as well. “I thought this virtual field trip was great, because it showed us practical applications to chemistry,” one student said in a video about the event. “To see that something was based here in San Antonio, [where] I could make a large impact in the medical field, was amazing.”

That’s exactly the kind of reaction we were hoping for. EO2 is actively involved in workforce development efforts in the San Antonio area. We belong to the San Antonio Manufacturer’s Association, which has created a workforce development initiative called the Alliance for Technology Education and Applied Math & Science (ATEAMS). The organization focuses on various ways to get youth involved in STEM education and expose them to career opportunities that exist.

ATEAMS operates what it calls teacher externships, in which high school teachers are invited into local workplaces during a one-week period each summer. The teachers get to interact with industry personnel at work sites to see how we employ STEM concepts in our jobs. It’s a great way for teachers to be able to answer the question their students always ask, which is: “When will I ever use this?”

As we were trying to figure out how to scale these experiences to more classrooms and continue them throughout the school year, we began looking for a solution that would give employers remote access to students and teachers through online video conferences—and we discovered Nepris. What they did matched our goals perfectly.

With triple-digit growth in sales, we’ll need new employees across all aspects of our business, including the manufacturing process. But attracting students to careers in manufacturing will require changing their perceptions of what these jobs involve, and helping them understand how manufacturing has evolved over the years.

Many people don’t really realize the kinds of jobs we offer. These aren’t the standard jobs that people think of when they think about manufacturing, like the old Ford conveyor belt plants. They are all highly skilled jobs, working with technology in an air-conditioned environment.

With Nepris, we can reach many more students in an easier fashion. The platform helps STEM employers expand their workforce development programs by allowing professionals to connect with students without leaving the office. Our company can schedule informational sessions and invite teachers from all over the country to participate, removing geographical barriers and broadening our reach significantly.

One of the things I really like about Nepris is its convenience. Nepris guides and monitors the online sessions. There is minimal setup for both parties. And it’s very easy to set aside an hour from your day to do something like that. If we did a bus tour, we would be looking at a half a day or more, and a lot of hassle in getting clearances—and we have some spots where we’re not allowed to take students for safety reasons. But we can take them there quite easily on a virtual tour.

Nepris is a very powerful platform for facilitating industry engagement and workforce development. It enables us to do a lot of things we otherwise couldn’t do. And it’s not only companies like ours that benefit from these interactions; the students benefit as well.

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