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Beyond technical skills: learning to be a leader.

Students who attend the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) in Mesa, Arizona, come there to learn specific occupational skills and earn industry certifications leading to jobs and to college. But as they master each skill and meet each benchmark, something else happens: They become confident leaders who are passionate about their career, industry and life choices.

"We have so many visitors at EVIT from all over, and they are always blown away by our kids when they look them in the eye, shake their hand, and tell them the story of EVIT and what their training means for them," said Superintendent Sally Downey. "Our students are just on fire with their learning."

EVIT is Arizona's oldest joint technical education district, providing career and technical education (CTE) to approximately 5,000 high school students and adults at three central campuses. High school students take their academic subjects at their school and then come to EVIT for a half-day of advanced career training, including many opportunities to develop leadership skills.

EVIT students manage labs and clinics, compete in statewide CTE events and serve as officers in career and technical student organizations (CTSOs). They also advocate for CTE by volunteering as tour guides or program ambassadors for thousands of guests who visit the 65-acre main campus and the 10-acre East Campus each year. The tour guides speak about EVIT and CTE in general as they escort guests to each program. Once the guests enter the program they are visiting, a student ambassador steps forward to explain the training and what the class is working on that day.

"Their enthusiasm and love for what they're doing comes through every time," Construction instructor Billy DeWitt said.

That passion continues for many alumni, including a group who came back to EVIT this year to work part-time as members of the school's Street Team. The team, along with Radio/Audio Production instructor Steve Grosz, recruitment director Terri Pearson and EVIT counselors, presents assemblies at the high schools that feed into EVIT to educate the students about the CTE programs they can take at EVIT s central campuses. With each assembly, the alumni have shown an increasing desire to advocate for CTE. "We've seen them go from thinking it's cool to visit the schools and give away EVIT stuff, to them asking if they can go to more events to talk about how EVIT changed their life," Pearson said.

"They're seeing how what they learned at EVIT relates to them now in their career or college, and they want others to have that opportunity".

Leaders and Advocates

Advocacy is a hallmark of many EVIT programs. In Early Childhood Education, for instance, instructor Lisa Bradford inspires her students to empathize with and advocate for Head Start preschool children who live in poverty. "Spending time with the children of Head Start impacts the students' understanding of the effects of poverty and how a program like Head Start, with professionally trained teachers, high-quality learning materials and high-quality educational services and standards, produces dramatic results in enriching the overall development of a child," Bradford said.

"Head Start teachers are advocates for children, so they are modeling how to develop that concern and the language of advocating for children on a daily basis, especially for second-year students who are focusing on a more intensive internship preparation experience."

Bradford also involves her students in community service projects that further increase their understanding of families in need. "How do you teach future teachers to be kind, caring, generous and sacrificial-attributes that good teachers exhibit every day to every child? Involve them in service to others," she said. "They learn that even a small gift of time or resources makes a difference in that moment, makes the world a little better, a little kinder."

Because all her students participate in community service projects, natural leaders begin to emerge and take the lead in running the activities. Those who perform well as leaders are invited to participate in a statewide conference and competition, where they plan, implement and present the program's annual service project for children in poverty, Wish Upon a Star.

"This not only develops the leadership skills they need in the teaching profession, but it enhances their self-esteem as they develop new skills in public speaking and presentation, all with the knowledge that they are representing our class and EVIT," Bradford said.

Like Early Childhood Education, EVIT's Health-care programs also develop leadership skills through projects, competitive events and participation in a CTSO. Through HOSA Future Health Professionals, EVIT students are encouraged to try out different leadership roles, such as becoming a state officer, meeting future employers and organizing service projects. In recent years, EVIT's HOSA chapter has raised more than $100,000 for charity groups like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the JDRF diabetes organization.

The leadership skills HOSA participants develop are critical attributes for any student going into a medical profession, said EVIT HOSA advisor Sharon Black, who teaches the Human Anatomy & Physiology for Medical Careers program. "Not only do they have to be able to think on their feet and be prepared for any type of situation that affects a patient's life, but they must also be able to stand up when something wrong happens," Black said. "This is tough for any young person in a new career situation, but if they don't say something or act, people can get hurt or die."

Confidence to Make Decisions

Through clinical internships, as well as mock clinics and simulations on campus, EVIT's health-care students hone their leadership skills as they practice real-life situations that are common in the fields they are training in.

In the Medical Assistant program, instructor Belinda Long puts her students in leadership roles so that they understand what will be expected of them when they are eventually sent out to physician practices, dental offices and other health-care facilities to work as interns. For example, students who are appointed as "clinic director" lead a team of other students in putting on mock clinics with volunteer patients. The activity teaches them to use their communication skills and lead a team of colleagues. "I have seen great growth in the managing process this year," Long said. "We have had a few mock clinics that were extremely unorganized, so we took time to discuss what went wrong and what could be done to make a difference."

Three years ago, one of Long's Medical Assistant students used his leadership ability, as well as his practical skills, to save the life of a classmate at his high school. Jesus Yanez was 16 at the time and a junior at EVIT, where he had just learned how to do CPR. As he was walking to his bus at Mesa's Westwood High School, he saw a male student lying face-down on the ground and twitching. He realized the boy was having a seizure and rushed over, put him in a recovery position, started CPR compressions and directed a gathering crowd of students to call 911. "I had to help him, so I did what I knewf Yanez said at the time.

Later at the pediatrics practice where he worked as an intern, Yanez continued to grow as a leader and was put in charge of immunization preparation and documentation. He did such a good job that the practice hired him after he completed his EVIT program and graduated from Westwood. Today, he is managing a new location because of the leadership skills he demonstrated on the job.

"Because of leadership opportunities, I have seen students be more engaged, gain communication skills and let go of shyness," Long said, adding that many of her students have earned college scholarships because of their leadership activities.

Leading by Example

Construction instructor DeWitt, who also supervises EVIT's building trades and automotive programs, maintains that the school's ability to turn out leaders, as well as skilled technicians, starts with hiring the right instructors. "When we hire teachers right out of industry, we ask what they've done in their lives, where they've been successful and when they've failed. We want to know how they've overcome failure," he said. "We have a young group of kids who we need to pass on our knowledge to. We have to lead by example."

In DeWitt, EVIT's Construction students have the perfect example of perseverance and overcoming mistakes and obstacles. It wasn't until nine years ago at age 42 that DeWitt, who dropped out of high school at age 16, decided to get his high school diploma. His son, a high school junior at the time, provided the jump-start DeWitt needed when he told his dad that he was quitting school. DeWitt recalled, "I said, 'That's not being a leader.' He said, 'What about you?"'

Since then, DeWitt not only became a high school graduate, but he is also a certified CTE instructor. In his first year at EVIT he raised more than $1 million in monetary and in-kind donations for his program, and he continues to upgrade his skills and seek additional certifications. He also frequently takes on leadership roles at EVIT, such as planning and building the school float for the Fiesta Bowl Parade and organizing a project in which Construction students and Interior Design students are working with a local homebuilder to design a master-planned community.

Through it all, he aims to bring out the leadership skills in all his students because as important as technical skills are, it is leadership skills that really give students an extra boost when they are looking for a job. "If students can demonstrate they have the ability to lead, they are much more wanted by employers," DeWitt said. "Those are the people companies are looking to hire." He tells his students all the time that everyone has the ability to do whatever they truly want to do--and, most importantly, that "a good leader always wants to learn more."

"You can turn anybody into a leader if they have the desire to be a leader," DeWitt said. "Sometimes you have to give them a kick-start, but once you show them that they can do this, they blossom and take off."

By CeCe Todd

CeCe Todd is the public information officer for the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Arizona. E-mail her at ctodd@evit.com.
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Title Annotation:East Valley Institute of Technology, Mesa, Arizona
Author:Todd, CeCe
Publication:Techniques
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Apr 1, 2017
Words:1718
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