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Mentor Spotlight: Velocity Prep Helping High School Students Excel

Knowing what to do after high school can be stressful, with college applications and career fairs, the decision for any student can be difficult. The Velocity programs at Skillpoint Alliance were created in 2001 in direct response to industry and education leaders’ desire to see high school students gain relevant, hands-on work experience and exposure to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers in Central Texas.

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Velocity Prep engages 20 high school students in 160 hours of paid professional work over a four-week summer program. Skillpoint works with host schools in lower-income and high-needs communities to recruit math and science students to form consulting companies to address actual projects for a STEM industry client. Skillpoint’s industry or community partner serves as the Velocity client, “employing” the students as a consulting company to provide over 3,000 hours of work on an issue of importance to the client.

Velocity Capstone occurs during the spring semester, and 20-30 students receive academic credit for their work. Skillpoint Alliance is getting ready to host 6 Velocity Capstone programs this spring, engaging students with Robotics, Digital Media, and Green Tech fields.

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Katie Fields, a senior at The University of Texas at Austin studying Computational Biology, has served as Velocity Prep mentor for Austin area high school students. Learn what Katie has been able to pass down to her students:

What are your responsibilities as a mentor?

I am there to guide the students in the right direction when they come across a road block. We really like them to solve problems on their own so when they come to me with a question, I’ll answer with another question so they can figure out the answer on their own. I’ll also help keep them on task if they seem like they’re getting distracted in any way

What are some of the skills that students learn?

The students leave the program with a better understanding of what a real job is like. They are given a problem and it is up to them to come up with the solution to that problem which includes a prototype and a business plan. Every aspect of the project is thought of and created by the students. In addition, they have their peers to answer to, rather than an adult, when it comes to completing their part of the project. I think this provides more a job environment rather than a school environment.

What’s the biggest different you see in the first week and the last week?

I think the biggest difference from the beginning to the end of the program is the students’ time management skills. By the end of the program they need a working prototype and business plan and I think in the beginning, it’s hard to grasp just how much time and energy needs to be put into the project. As time goes on and they realize all the work that needs to be done, they adjust and at the end they know how to use time efficiently when working on a big project.

What are the biggest benefits of Velocity Prep students?

The students leave with the ability to handle the fast paced environment of college and the  workforce. When they encounter a problem, they have to go through the steps to solve that problem on their own instead of relying on an authority figure to give them the answers.