Expanding Career Opportunities for High School Students, One Step at a Time

By Stace Puerta and Drews Mitchell

Experiences help to pave the pathway to success. This is particularly true for students when they consider the world of opportunities before them upon graduating from high school. Influenced by Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent, et al., 1999), the approach taken by the Loveland City School District in Ohio is focused on developmental themes that are woven into the K-12 experience. The themes of growing self-efficacy, interest exploration, goal setting and skill development are foundational to each career education activity that is offered. An experiential learning program that is built upon these themes will breathe life into the information that is gleaned over many years and will offer a real-world opportunity that allows students to take a more confident step in the school-to-work transition.

Internships (also known as “externships”, extended career shadows, pre-apprenticeships, co-ops, etc.) bring energy and meaning to the planning process for high school students, especially around skill development. (Brown & Lent, 1996) While the impact of these opportunities can have a significantly positive impact on student outcomes, the development of such a program takes planning, time, and commitment. Listening to those who are impacted by the career education program is critical.

The perspectives of four primary groups of stakeholders (students, parents/guardians, businesses and the school district) involved in career planning are important. Gaining their perspectives is particularly helpful when weighing the challenges that will be faced. The unique voices of each group can open doors to understanding desired outcomes as well as the obstacles that need to be overcome. Building an internship program with their input can be accomplished, but will require patience and the understanding that these programs are developed slowly, one step at a time.   

Getting Started

The first of these steps is to engage with the four primary stakeholders for reflection. Seeking to understand the needs of each group will help foster trust and allow for more effective processes for the students. The ways that this engagement takes place can vary depending on the needs of the stakeholders. A business advisory council, parent input group, or faculty cohort can be effective in growing an understanding of the stakeholder’s desires. The use of well-timed surveys can also have an impact on decision making. Gathering relevant data is central to the design process. 

Issues for consideration by the stakeholders may include the following:

  • Defining priorities
  • Determining success measures
  • Weighing students career interests
  • Developing systems to align curriculum with career pathways
  • Gauging workforce needs
  • Addressing students’ skills deficiencies
  • Considering relevance to classroom instruction
  • Learning best practices for supporting parents/guardians

Engaging with the Students

Creating meaningful activities for students is the next step. These are designed in a manner that is sensitive to the prior input from the stakeholders. Three tiers of activities can be considered: 

  • Tier 1: Large group - whole district, whole building, whole grade level information
  • Tier 2: Small group - classroom, advisory time, career cluster specific information
  • Tier 3: One-on-one - personalized usage of curated resources for planning, career interventions for at-risk students, career mentoring 

These activities are developed based upon the input from each of the stakeholders. They are also a catalyst for student engagement. The large group tier focuses on general information, awareness and idea development. The small group tier takes ideas that were developed in large group activities and gives the students the opportunity to begin personalizing the information. One-on-one counseling then cultivates meaningful planning for the student. Short term experiential learning activities, such as a job shadow or career-oriented seminar can then culminate in the pursuit of an internship.

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Going Deeper through Experiential Learning

Internship providers play a key role in creating resources and environmental supports that lead to growth and skill development (Bandura, 2019). As noted earlier, the types of internships that are developed for students will be based upon the needs of the students, parents, and organizational partners. The information provided by business advisory council members will not only support the development of these opportunities, but they may also provide some of the first internship experiences for a high school. In addition to an advisory council, here are some potential groups to consider when seeking to start student experiences:

  • Local chambers of commerce
  • City/county government
  • Hospitals with volunteer opportunities
  • School-based information technology providers
  • Local entrepreneurs
  • Local/county workforce development agencies

It is important to continue to have multiple stakeholders involved in the final decision-making process. Steps towards security, liability coverage, proper high school credit (if offered) and coordination of data reporting for the state must be taken into consideration as well. Students also can create their own internship experiences, using the processes that are developed directly by the school. 

Developing a Program of Impact

The final steps are often the most rewarding. This includes taking the time to honor those organizations that offer students an internship, which in turn helps to create energy for future engagement. Also, honoring the students who participate fosters a sense of purpose. Celebrating the success of both groups also creates awareness of the impact of experiential learning throughout the community. The efforts then yield positive results which help to build future opportunities. 

Developing a program of impact starts with considering current program strengths. Three questions can be asked by administrators, counselors and teachers in order to move forward with internship development:

  • What is one thing that we can do to listen more effectively to the stakeholders?
  • What is one step that we can take to communicate information more effectively?
  • What is one activity that could be added to increase the effectiveness of leading students to career experiences?

The answers to these questions serve as the starting point for the steps ahead. The effort it takes is worth it as the stakeholders all celebrate the impact that internships have for students' career plans. Keeping the themes of growing self-efficacy, interest exploration, goal setting and skill development at the forefront of the planning will give a strong foundation to build off of. These themes, combined with the meaningful engagement of the stakeholders can lead to success with transition from school to work. It is all accomplished one step at a time.



Bandura, A. (2019). Applying theory for human betterment. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14, 12-15.                                                                                     

Brown, S. D. & Lent, R. W. (1996). A social cognitive framework for career choice counseling. The Career Development Quarterly, 44, 354-356.

Lent, R. W., Hackett, G., & Brown, S. D. (1999). A social cognitive view of school to work transition. The Career Development Quarterly, 47, 297-311.


Stace OrsoDr. Stace Puerta received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Arizona State University. She earned her Master of Education Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Cincinnati. She earned her Doctorate of Education degree from the University of Cincinnati as well, in Urban Educational Leadership. Her interests are in urban education and advocating for the underserved and marginalized population of students. Stace was a high school science teacher for five years before becoming an administrator. She joined Loveland City School District in 2022 as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning and is responsible for curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the development of student programs throughout the district. Stace recently presented at the 2023 NCDA Global conference about experiential learning and will present again 2024. Email: puertast@lovelandschools.org Website: https://www.lovelandschools.org/Page/116 


Drews MitchellDrews Mitchell earned a Master of Arts in School Counseling from Xavier University and has been serving as a counselor since 2007. He joined the Loveland City School District in 2012 and serves as the district’s College and Career Readiness Counselor. His responsibilities include the development and implementation of career related awareness, exploration and planning systems, group practice as well as counseling for both students and clients as well as their families. Mitchell, a National Career Development Association Certified Career Counselor, enjoys the process of supporting others in finding success using Career Construction Counseling as well as Social Cognitive Career Theory. Drews recently presented at the 2023 NCDA Global conference about experiential learning and will present again 2024. Email: mitchedr@lovelandschools.org Website: https://www.lovelandschools.org/domain/313 

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