CAPS holds Innovation Celebration

In the CAPS program, the Innovation Celebration showcases students’ hard work completed throughout the semester. CAPS stands for the Center for Advanced Professional Studies run through the Cedar Falls High School. It’s a program where students can get out of the classroom and into a professional setting to explore different career options through the different classes offered through CAPS. The CAPS programs include Med, Education, Business, Solutions, CNA and Industries. 

Director of the CAPS program Ethan Weichmann said, “It’s an opportunity for our associates to showcase the work they’ve been doing throughout the year and a way to celebrate the innovative education approach that CAPS has to offer. We invite all the community members, parents, the associates and their projects. Another cool aspect of it is that all the Cedar Valley CAPS programs come together to do that, so it’s really a regional approach to seeing all the cool things going on there. We’ve expanded it a little bit to sixth grade because of the authentic learning projects they’re doing there through their innovation team, Mr. Switzer and Aldrich sixth grade team. We had four of those there showcasing their work and their problem solving skills. It’s a really big celebration for the community and schools.”

He said, the goal “is to highlight the CAPS program and how it engages with the community but also the different durable skills we are developing within the program, so it makes it visible. One thing that we don’t do well in education is celebrating visibly. We have a lot of award ceremonies, but we don’t have one within the high school, so we try to get out in the community. We do this through the Bien Venue, and again we invite a lot of our business partners, and it’s also a way for people who are not sure what CAPS is to get a really good feel of what we do and why we do it.”

On the night of recognizing the students’ takeaways, Weichmann said, “It was steady and full the whole night. In fact we got done at 7 o’clock, and it was from 5:30-7. At the end, people were still in there, so we had to get on the mic and tell them we had to go because we rented the Bien Venue out. There was a really good buzz and excitement along with people really enjoying themselves. Again turnout-wise we had some very influential people from the community there, not only there but spent some time and went around to talk to some people. Coming out of it there was still a lot of excitement, people following up on what CAPS is and how they may be able to bring it to their community. Just some really neat stories on the impact it has made. The students and the companies that were involved and how proud they were of their student.”

Weichmann said organizing the event is a multi-facet task. “The biggest obstacle was getting everybody there. Bien Venue has worked really well with us, and, of course, this is our second time there. Getting all the associates there, figuring out which projects and highlights. Also how to make sure our table sets up to be attractive and welcoming. Making sure it’s laid out in a way we break up, it’s not CF on one wall. We had Denver, Jesup, Don Bosco, Wapsie Valley and the sixth grade team, so we mixed and matched that. The final one was getting everything set up and being there on time was the biggest challenge with that.”

Weichmann said every year he’s seen changes and growth in CAPS. “We are continuously growing in size and our program. This year we served I think around 150, and next year we have 240 that are signed up for CAPS. Now we can’t serve them all because we don’t have the capacity, so we will serve approximately 200 next year, so there’s a chance for more projects. Cedar Valley is growing in the number of associates that are in their programs, and then the sixth grade team, there is talk about expanding to potentially another elementary. As far as the layout of it, we were pretty happy with that, so I don’t foresee any other changes except for it being bigger.”

One of the associates who showcased her project was senior Sophia Sell. She said pulling it all together was challenging. “There were a few coordinating problems for our MercyOne project. We solved the problem by communication and making sure to be as specific in the email so that we all end up figuring out what the plan was.”

She said, “The celebration is important because it shows what associates have been working on and what CAPS did to help us get to where we are now. It brought people together from both semesters and showed off our hard work to everyone in the community.”

Another associate involved in the Innovation Celebration was senior Gavin Steege. He said his biggest challenge was “figuring out what we were going to put on our table, how we were going to set it up and how we were going to introduce our project to people. We talked it out with our group members and just collaborated.”

He said, “People don’t really know what goes on in CAPS so we were able to show them projects we worked on and what goes into making our projects we were involved in. Being able to introduce things we worked on in CAPS, to spike interest for other generations and hope that they sign up for the program.”


Gavin and Sophia both were involved together with their project, “MercyOne Teen Volunteer Project.”

Mae Lillibridge, the Instructor for the CAPS CNA and Medical Program said, “One challenge with the Innovation Celebration is that we are asking Associates who took CAPS in the fall and spring, to be presenters at this event. This is an annual event that only happens in the spring, then sometimes it can be challenging to get a hold of associates who took CAPS in the fall because we do want to showcase experience from the whole year. That can be the main challenge for everyone.”

Using her problem solving skills Lillibridge solved it by, “talking with one project group that I thought would be a great one to showcase and they weren’t available so I kept going on to the next one until I could find somebody who was willing and available to present. I just recognized that it was going to require extra communication with those I don’t see everyday. The associates that are currently in my class while I was planning this event, it was easy to see them everyday and talk to them about their planning for the event. But for those I had in the fall, I had to send additional messages and emails to make sure we were on the same page and prepared.”

Lillibridge said, “This was my second Innovation Celebration, and I would say that the event was larger. We had to open up more space during the event center so that we could add exhibits to our event. I think that was a positive. But as far as other comparisons, it was a great turnout. Both times I’ve been at the Innovation Celebration there has been a buzz from businesses. The school system, parents and other associates that aren’t presenting are just coming to check it out. It’s something we pride ourselves on is that our Associates come through the program and learn a lot of those skills to engage and interact with other professionals and adults. It’s the way they carry themselves, the way they dress, their preparation for the event, and how they engage. I think that, that speaks louder than the professionalism aspects than the project itself. Also to note I think people are often impressed with the amount of work Associates do and you really trust associates to do a project. It’s really empowering for them, they take it and run with it and it’s amazing to see what they come up with.”

Both Weichmann and Lillibridge said that the hope for the years to come is to serve more students each year into the CAPS program by growing throughout the community and school districts. The Innovation Celebration is held every year in April to showcase the hard work Associates put into their projects assigned to them during the semester.

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