Wiechmann leaves math for new career program

Cedar Falls High School students are in for an experience of a lifetime and the chance to make connections with local professionals while gaining college credit through the newly-introduced CAPS program, or Center for Advanced Professional Studies. The program will begin to be offered second semester and will grant students five college credits and the chance to be immersed in areas of business in the community.

The program is based around giving high school students the opportunity to build professional skills and learn in a real work environment by partnering with a business within the community.

Math teacher Ethan Weichmann left his traditional classroom position of 14 years to head the program and get it up and running. “When you get a client, you’re going to actually be working for a business,” he said. “They have something that needs to be done, of value and your job is to create that value, to provide a good product, and you get great experience from doing that.”

CAPS is unlike any traditional class. Students will meet at the host site, Viking Pump, and will work on projects for clients and businesses in a certain field of interest that they are partnered with. “We’re going to be talking about what your interests are and try to match you up with those respective employers,” Wiechmann said.

Wiechmann will also not possess the same role as an ordinary teacher within the CAPS program. “I’m not going to be the traditional teacher,” he said. Weichmann said he prefers that the students call him by his first name to create an equal and professional environment among the students, who are referred to as “associates.”

“I don’t have all the answers and we are going to be working together,” he said.

Wiechmann also stressed that CAPS will be an exploration and learning experience for not only his associates, but himself as well. “If you get on a project and you say, ‘Ethan, I don’t know how to do this,’ I’m gonna be honest. There’s going to be a lot of this I don’t know. Let’s figure out which companies are available in the Cedar Valley that might be able to answer this question, and then we’re going to find a mentor there because that’s how professionals work,” Weichmann said. “You guys are taking the lead, you guys are going to the ones having the great experiences, and a lot of times you’re going to be showing me how to do things.”

College credit is not the only thing that will be gained by students who enroll in CAPS. CAPS also offers a chance to kickstart the beginning of a career path and lifelong professional identity. “You are going to be working on your brand with clients. That’s your cover letter, your resume, your job shadowing, your networking, any type of project that you do you will put in a portfolio,” Weichmann said. “So you have something to share with prospective employers, or colleges if they need something unique, that’s going to be something you have that a lot of students will not have. That’s an advantage.”

CAPS students will spend two hours a day away from the school building at the host site and sites of individual projects, and they are required to provide their own transportation as well as dress appropriately for the settings they are working in.

“The idea is to dress the part. When you walk out those doors, you are a professional. You have to think professionally,” Weichmann said.

Other necessary skills for CAPS students include the belief in collaboration between education, business and the community and a commitment to adding value when partnering with local businesses, as well as being open to new possibilities. “You’ve got to believe in collaboration because you’re going to be working and communicating with different entities throughout the Cedar Valley,” Weichmann said. “If nothing else, you’re going to be finding things like, ‘am I interested in this career?”

Even though CAPS will only be in it’s preliminary stages when it is up and running at the start of the second semester on Jan. 16, it is a unique program that gives students the opportunity to be problem based in a real-world professional environment, network and make connections with local businesses, as well as create their own brands that can be carried into the future. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, productivity, accountability, career exploration, ethics and customer service are just a few of the things that students enrolled in CAPS will be exposed to, and Weichmann said these are all valuable skills that will outlast time spent in the high school classroom.

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