A new kind of Signing Day

By James Curry

Over the years, a number of student-athletes have signed letters of intent to play sports at Northeast Community College. But now the Nebraska institution has used the same concept to focus on why students attend college in the first place, to obtain a degree and eventually get a job.

Twelve high school seniors took part recently in Northeast Community College’s inaugural Career and Technical Education (CTE) Letter of Intent Signing Day in front of family, friends, prospective employers and college employees. It had all the earmarks of an athletic signing, but the students signed their intentions to complete a CTE program at Northeast.

All of the students who took part in the signing day event have participated in the Fridays @ Northeast program, which allows high school seniors to spend the final day of their school week on campus as college students. The classes offered introduce students to a variety of CTE program areas and lead directly into a program of study upon the student’s high school graduation.

John Blaylock, executive vice president at Northeast, commended the 48 students from 14 high schools who participated in the program during its first year.

“They really had to perform above average just to be a part of this program. The students have taken full advantage of this opportunity to learn new skills, to evaluate their next steps in their career and then begin to continue their education into a postsecondary experience or into the workforce,” Blaylock said.

“I gotta tell you, I like this concept of signing day. I like sports, I played sports. I watch them when I have time. But the next great power forward doesn’t excite me anywhere near as much as the youth who are going to power our economy,” said Courtney Dentlinger, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Dentlinger said there are a number of job opportunities across the region. At any given time, there are 40,000 job openings across the state.

“These are companies that want to grow, they want to add people, they want to expand, they want to add new lines. But they need you to do that,” she told the students.

Dentlinger congratulated the students for participating in the Fridays @ Northeast program, which she said has allowed them to get a head start on their postsecondary education.

Northeast President Michael Chipps said the inaugural signing day will be considered a milestone event for the students and the college.

“You should feel extremely special. We are here to celebrate technical education and celebrate the students who are interested in choosing this career path. As a nation, we highly value technical skills sets gained by our students. We plan to do more of these types of celebrations to showcase our academic mission and elevate the exposure of middle skills, which are highly needed and are in short supply across the United States,” Chipps said.

Following remarks, each of the 12 students came to the front of the room to sit at a table in front of a Northeast backdrop, sign their letters of intent with family, faculty, staff and local employers standing behind them, put on a Northeast ball cap and pose for pictures.

Blaylock said the students are deserving of such recognition. In comparing the event to an athletic signing, he said, “Why can’t we have that same level of enthusiasm and excitement for that student who wants to get a career and technical education?”

“Gaining skills to be successful in a career is life changing. It sets one up to be employable and to contribute to society in a very positive way,” Blaylock said. “Because this is so important to the community, region and the state, Northeast wants to make this a ‘big deal.’”

James Curry

James Curry is director of public relations at Northeast Community College in Nebraska.