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Louisiana Fellow Carlin Jacobs

In my first year of teaching high school students, I did not realize the impact that I would have on students’ abilities to adapt to 21st Century demands.

Thinking back to 2009, I was a young educator building digital media programs in a small New Orleans school. To veteran administrators, programs such as graphic design, video production, and audio engineering seemed to be a more advanced version of the Microsoft Office suite. Hiring industry professionals and training them to be teachers was not the norm.In fact, the norm was more like moving an art teacher into a graphic design instructor role, as it was assumed those positions were the same. Being that industry professionals were not being recruited, I was tasked with teaching four different preps to approximately 180 students. My students instantly enjoyed the new course offerings, but not all students understood what would be taught throughout the course.

You see, to my high schoolers, graphic design looked more like MTV advertisements and album covers.

I’ll never forget one student, Alice, who constantly complained about my strict guidelines and frequent rants in reference to overall professionalism and professional creativity. She complained, but always completed her assignments with fidelity. Her friends loved to chime in and saying things like, “You always want us to use these basic fonts and boring images.” Despite this,  Alice was sure to submit her assignments according to the guidelines. As the school year progressed, I remember Alice saying, “You know, this class isn’t all that bad,” and I finally got her to crack a smile.

During the summer of 2017, I was sitting at work and received a Facebook notification that alerted me that I had been tagged in a recent post. I clicked on the notification and saw that Alice wrote a post that said the following:

“Shoutout to Mr. Carlin Jacobs! I always complained about how I couldn't design anything and never wanted to do his assignments. But, it's paying off now. I can design flyers, posters, business cards, invitations, videos, etc. the way I want them. And the best part is, it saves me money!”

Attached to this post was a picture of an advertisement for a company she started. As I smiled, I clicked on the comments below the post, where people were asking her to design materials for various other projects. But what made me smile the most was the fact that she used those “basic fonts!” Though it was a graphic design class, the embedded career readiness skills are what made Alice successful. All those rants about professionalism, professional creativity, managing client relationships, problem solving, etc. are what helped shift her mindset.

I do not think I have all of the answers on how to  ensure that every student in our nation is successful. However, I believe that instilling professionalism skills and exposing students to as many career opportunities as possible before high school graduation will help students make more informed post-secondary choices. And this, I hope, will lead to more student success.

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