Tech Career Capstone initiative provides students with increased work-based learning opportunities

Tabitha Harris is most comfortable working arms-deep in an engine, surrounded by valves, wires, pumps, wrenches and grease – and she’s planning to spend her career there.

“I’m a problem-solving person,” she explains. “When I fix someone’s car, there’s pride that I figured that out. You just look at this and say, ‘I can do this.’ And it’s different every time I get under the hood.”

The Milford resident and recent Sussex Technical High School graduate has spent the last year working as part of the new Tech Career Capstone initiative, which gives students the opportunity to work part-time in their career field while gaining high school credits.

Recent Sussex Tech graduate Tabitha Harris of Milford got hands-on experience toward her career goal of working as a large-engine diesel technician while working at a Dover auto shop during her senior year.

Harris spent her senior year rotating between high school courses and work – two weeks working full-time in a Dover auto shop, two weeks in the classroom. Automotive technology is her passion – she completed all her ASE professional certifications earlier in the year – and the on-the-job experience has given her a unique perspective on the world of work.

She has worked at both Carey’s Towing in Laurel and at Capitol Tire & Auto Service in Dover. At the former, she got a taste of working on big rigs; at the latter, she’s learned about alignments and timing belts, among other items.

“It’s made my senior year fly by, for sure,” she said. “But it’s important to take this work seriously. It’s a fantastic option and a great opportunity for people.”

Harris is planning to study this fall at the University of Northwestern Ohio, where she’ll focus on diesel engines as she earns her associate’s degree. Her career goal is to own her own truck and be dispatched as a mobile technician to work on large-engine diesel vehicles, such as construction equipment. That type of call, she explains, charges a minimum of $300 per hour.

Diesel engines are more challenging, Harris said, because they require the right climate and elevation, among other elements. Gas engines are more simplistic, only needing a spark and compression. “To me, everything has to be perfect,” she said.

Her experience in the Tech Career Capstone program, also known as work-based learning, is part of Sussex Tech’s renewed emphasis on career and technical education, said Superintendent Stephen Guthrie.

“Our students graduate prepared for either career or college – whatever their future holds, we want to support them,” Guthrie said. “Offering expanded work-based learning programs is the centerpiece of that effort.”

The district has been piloting different options, including Harris’ experience of working for two weeks and then returning to the classroom for two weeks. Students are expected to maintain their academic standing during that time.

“Our students have had great success with multiple options, and we’re looking forward to expanding this program to more students over the coming years,” said Principal John Demby. “We want to make sure that all our seniors can experience first-hand these valuable links between classroom and careers.”



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