Innovative Career Immersion Courses for Area High School Students

New Vantage program at Minnetonka High School immerses students in real-world business projects.
From left: Tanner Pdzimek, Kate Hoeting, Anna Weber, Hannah Roth and Debra Antone, student participants in the first year of Minnetonka High School's Vantage program, learn what challenges real-world businesses face.

This fall at Minnetonka High School (MHS), approximately 40 juniors and seniors will abandon the traditional classroom for three hours a day to participate in the school district’s innovative Vantage program. Vantage is a profession-based immersion program where students learn through hands-on business projects in a corporate environment. The idea for Vantage came through a district innovation process that gives all staff an opportunity to offer ideas through a crowd-sourced electronic suggestion box. Assistant superintendent for instruction Eric Schneider led the process. “We have an event every year called the Big Idea Hunt,” Schneider says. “Many recent ideas centered around ways to expose students to the kinds of careers they are interested in to make learning more interesting and engaging.”Following the Big Idea Hunt, a team of educators began to research possibilities and discovered the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) at a school district in Kansas. CAPS is a nationally recognized high school program created in partnership with 74 domestic and international business partners, hundreds of business mentors, six leading universities and many education experts. CAPS students solve real-world problems using industry-standard tools and are mentored by real employers.“The developers of the Kansas program did a fantastic job and were willing to share information about their program model,” Schneider says. A group of local teachers visited the Kansas school district and then got to work developing similar course offerings for Vantage participants at MHS.The first Vantage class offered this fall is Business in a Global Economy. Concepts from International Baccalaureate business, advanced placement economics and senior English are integrated into this one course. “The content delivery model is different,” says business and marketing teacher Erik Sill. “Students will learn while in a business environment and work on projects ranging from social media policies to business strategies.”The initial Vantage course offering is expected to be challenging and include rigorous components best suited for high-performing students, but the goal is to eventually offer a full menu of course offerings that can serve a wide range of learners. Courses anticipated for the second year are expected to align with industries such as engineering, teaching, sports medicine and website development. “Having 40 students already registered for the initial Vantage class shows that kids see the potential of this program,” Sill says.The Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce also sees the potential in Vantage. Sill gave a presentation to the chamber about the Vantage concept and invited chamber members to partner with the program. “We hope to develop projects students can work on that are guided by chamber members,” Sill says.“Vantage provides a great opportunity to students with an entrepreneurial streak,” says executive director Laura Hotvet. “Some students may prefer working with small, independent businesses and many local business owners are interested in tapping into the energy and enthusiasm of those ambitious students. We look forward to partnering with the school district to facilitate innovation.”From small business to big business, Vantage program developers have encountered overwhelming support from the business community. Among the program partners are Deloitte Consulting, Procter and Gamble, Cargill, Ecolab and the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity. “Vantage adds value to its business partners,” Schneider says. “Kids add value through project participation and learn awesome things about utilizing skills they acquire in the real workplace.”