March 2020 would have been the fifth year of Camp CaPow—College Access-Planning Our Way. Held at the University of Missouri’s Family Impact Center in Columbia, Camp CaPow is a weeklong opportunity for middle school students to explore career and postsecondary education options through workshops, tours of Missouri college campuses, meetings with professionals from a range of fields, and mentorship from a team of dedicated college-age interns.
But last March was also when the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home. Despite an abundance of determination and resilience, there wasn’t time to convert the program to an effective, high-quality virtual experience, said Rebecca Mott, director of Camp CaPow and assistant extension professor at MU.
Mott didn’t just hope things would be back to normal in 2021, though she is crossing her fingers that Camp CaPow will return in 2022. As society adapted to the pandemic, Mott saw that, despite their limitations, the technologies that made remote learning and working from home possible opened opportunities to create and share engaging, high-quality experiences and content.
She brainstormed with students in MU’s agricultural education program and middle school students to create a new, all-virtual experience that still met the objectives of Camp CaPow.
The result, which launched the first week of April, is Show Me the Future, a free virtual career and college exploration program designed with middle school students in mind. The program, which incorporates some of the existing CaPow curriculum as well as new content, will be available year-round to anyone who is interested. Students can join in at any time and explore at their own pace.
“Researchers have identified middle school as a point when learners most benefit from the opportunity to explore careers, become more self-aware, and plan for the future,” Mott said. The Association Career and Technical Education, she added, recommends that career planning programs incorporate online tools and facilitate interactions with business and community leaders.
Program content, which is hosted in a Bitmoji virtual classroom, includes online tours of Missouri community colleges and universities, Missouri Connections career resources, reflection materials that can be downloaded and printed, and an ongoing series of podcasts featuring conversations with people representing a variety of occupations and career paths.
Kate Preston, a Mizzou graduate student in agricultural leadership, communication, and education, produces the podcasts, which are hosted by Preston and Sadie Tummons, an eighth-grader and active 4-H member in Columbia. Their guests, interviewed via Zoom, represent a variety of fields and have included a business owner, a scientist, a musician, and a teacher.
Sadie spoke with her friends to find out what kinds of questions and topics fellow middle school students were curious about. Guests describe a typical day on the job, what led them to their particular career, and any struggles they had to overcome along the way. Guests also talk about their “sparks,” the passions and strengths that motivate them. Show Me the Future, like Camp CaPow, encourages youths to find their sparks and refer back to these sparks as they think about the kind of future they imagine for themselves and how to make that future happen.
Other members of the Show Me the Future team include Heath Brandt, a Mizzou freshman in agricultural education and leadership. Students will hear Brandt’s voice in the program’s virtual classroom, guiding them through available materials and activities. Alli Abadir, a senior in ag education at MU, created the Bitmoji virtual classroom using Google Slides. Abadir also drew on her familiarity with Camp CaPow to help revise and adapt materials.