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Board members, business partners, and military representatives on Career Signing stage in J Hall (new building at MHS).
Board members, business partners, and military representatives on Career Signing stage in J Hall.

United Electric and other local companies join Marietta High School to celebrate the Inaugural Career Signing Day

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

In late May, as Marietta High School (MHS) administrators and staff were preparing to end the school year and commemorate its graduating seniors, the school also carved out a special day for a group of students who were about to enter the workforce, beginning their career journeys without a liberal arts college education, a.k.a., the “traditional route.”

On this day, 10 graduating students were honored as part of the Inaugural Career Signing Day. One student committed to becoming an automotive apprentice with Jim Ellis Volvo; one student signed a commitment to apprentice with the assisted living community of Arbor Terrace at Burnt Hickory; one student signed with the Navy; three students joined the Army National Guard and another joined the Marines; and finally, three students joined apprenticeship programs with United Electric and the Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association (AECA).

“We want to promote them just as much as we promote our kids that are going away to college,” said Julie O’Meara, CTAE director and CEO of the MHS College and Career Academy, of the need to hold a celebration for these 10 students. “We had our in-person event, and it was just a very sweet ceremony,” she continued. “We invited their families, and we had the employers here, and it was just really neat. We talked about each one of the students and what their goals were. So, I think the kids really felt special. And what was exciting about it is we had parents and grandparents tell us, ‘thank you so much for recognizing these kids and promoting careers as a viable option, that not everybody has to go to a four-year college to be successful.’”

United Electric’s Keith Fraser with students and Liz Campbell, AECA.
United Electric’s Keith Fraser with students and Liz Campbell, AECA.

The program, known as the Marietta High School College and Career Academy began last year, following the construction of a $12.3-million, 55,000-square-foot building, along with extensive modifications to many existing career pathway areas across the MHS campus. Initial career pathway offerings include construction (which includes carpentry, electrical, plumbing, masonry and welding), cybersecurity, and healthcare (including biotechnology, a certified nursing assistant pathway, emergency medical responder, and sports medicine). Also included are pre-engineering, pre-architecture, early childhood education, culinary arts, marketing, public safety/law enforcement, film and video, graphic design, nutrition and food science, accounting, game design, and a plethora of performing and visual arts careers. An additional career pathway, Air Force JROTC, is the school’s largest student organization and is a premier way to develop leadership skills.

“We have a lot to celebrate at the Marietta High School College and Career Academy,” said O’Meara. “We have a beautiful new building and renovated labs in the main building, $700,000 worth of equipment for the new labs, and dedicated teachers to help students be career ready.”

According to MHS, in its 20 career pathways, 499 students completed pathways this year, which means taking all three courses within a pathway. Many students earned credentials that will give them a leg up in the workforce:

  •  22 students earned the GeorgiaBEST DOL YAP Employability Certificate
  •  4 students earned the Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA)
  •  1 student earned the Adobe Certified Associate
  •  11 students earned the Early Childhood Education and Care credential
  •  49 students earned the Fire Safety Certificate
  •  25 students earned the ServSafe Food Handler credential
  •  5 students earned the ACF Culinary Arts Cook credential
  •  6 students earned the NOCTI Architectural Drafting credential
  •  4 students earned the OSHA 10 credential
  •  3 students earned the CEFGA Certified Tape Measure credential
  •  62 students earned the Ladder Safety Training credential
  •  1 student earned the Exercise Science/Sports Medicine credential
  •  54 students earned Adult and Child CPR and AED certifications
  •  8 students earned Basic Life Support CPR certification
Two students and one mom (accepting on behalf her son who was working) with Army National Guard rep.
Two students and one mom (accepting on behalf her son who was working) with Army National Guard rep.

“Approximately 115 students participated in Dual Enrollment, earning both high school and college credit,” O’Meara continued. “Many of our students have participated in Career and Technical Student Organizations, JROTC drill team and color guard, or other leadership activities which have equipped them with the professional skills required to be successful in the workforce. … It’s been a great year despite the pandemic.”

Angela Sparks, career advisor and youth apprenticeship coordinator at MHS, said one aim of the school is to celebrate education in all its forms. “One thing that we do here is we celebrate any type of hard work and dedication that would lead to a career, so that it’s not just about the traditional four-year university experience,” she said.

In addition to this program, MHS encourages students to earn experiential opportunities through its Work-Based Learning Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP). Through YAP, school administrators strive to place students in internships that match their career interest, aptitudes, and coursework. “These experiences are truly the way to build a workforce pipeline within a community while at the same time impact the outcome of a student’s success in their future career,” Sparks said.

O’Meara added that the school has a great deal of community support behind it in order to create the Career Academy. “These business partners were so eager to participate. And we have many community partners, whether they be post-secondary, or business and industry, or just people that live in our community that want to support what we’re doing here,” she said. “They’re offering internships. They’re offering mentoring, tutoring, financial support. And, you know, we’re very appreciative that we’ve got those partnerships.”

One of those partners is United Electric (UE). As mentioned above, three students took an interest in electrical contracting careers and signed letters of intent with UE, a firm serving the greater Atlanta market. The company specializes in the construction and maintenance of electrical, lighting, and voice/data systems for many of Metro Atlanta’s leading retail, commercial, office, and communication companies. Since 1986, UE has been involved in new and renovation construction projects and preventative maintenance for customers ranging from office suites to television & radio studios to regional malls and retail stores. “One key to success in the electrical construction industry is recruiting young and continual training,” said Keith Fraser, vice president of United Electric. “This is what United Electric does in our partnership with AECA. One can begin a career without knowledge of the industry and in five years be a certified Journeyman Wireman.”

Through its partnership with AECA, they offer a five-year Electrical Apprenticeship Program (four days of work per week at UE and one day of education at AECA per week). This five-year program gives students the opportunity to earn a high salary without taking on a great deal of college loan debt. While in the program, they earn a salary that covers job training and education costs, and provides a respectable living, all while advancing their technical skills toward premium wages in the future. Apprenticeship program graduates are a cut above the rest and highly sought after in the industry.

“The goal I’d like to accomplish while at United Electric is to get through their five-year apprenticeship program while figuring out other ways to further develop my knowledge,” said Avery, one of the MHS Career Academy grads. Students Ryan and Juan echo these thoughts. “My goal is to complete the apprenticeship flawlessly and create connections that will assist me to succeed in the future,” said Ryan. “I wish to become one of the best electricians in America,” quipped Juan.

Ryan and Avery were students in the MHS Youth Apprenticeship Program this year. Avery’s internship was with UE, while Ryan interned in the field with a different company. All three students certainly are being prepared for great career success.

“I think every year we’ll have more and more students declare, ‘this is what I’m doing and they’ll feel good about that decision,” O’Meara said.

The new Career Academy facility
As Cobb In Focus first reported in 2019, the new, three-story facility serves around 1,000 students, with a maximum occupancy of 1,096 people. It houses six, state-of-the-art labs; 11 classrooms; and additional supporting spaces for the labs and classrooms.

Breaux and Associates Architects designed the facility, and R.K. Redding was involved in the design process as construction manager. “As construction manager for Marietta City Schools, we work closely with the architect and the owner during the design and development stages of the project to check budgets for materials and methods, and perform feasibility surveys for different construction activities,” says Geoffrey Smith, vice president of construction and senior project manager, R.K. Redding Construction Inc.

Smith said the new building was designed with elements to complement and enhance the existing facade of Marietta High School. The building is a traditional, steel structure with masonry and cast stone cladding. It offers an abundance of natural light generated by aluminum storefront windows and door systems. It also has an exterior insulation and finish system — synthetic, cementitious stone look — to complement the facade at the roof level.

The colors also match the existing building. The storefront is “Marietta gold.” The space for the College and Career Academy was designed to be cutting-edge in technology, while complementing the existing facility. Concrete masonry units (CMUs) were used in the areas of refuge and egress, stairwells, and elevator tower. More than 260,000 bricks were used to contact the face of the exterior of the building, Smith says.

Unique interior construction features of Marietta College and Career Academy include two key elements. Smith said the construction is more typical of retail storefronts and healthcare facilities. “The building’s interior is almost completely made up of drywall and storefront partitions, making this construction atypical of most school designs that are block walls and hollow metal doorways,” he said. “This design was utilized to make the space flexible in the future for changing and retrofitting existing labs for new technology and methods.

The other key feature of the facility is an interior space with a grand atrium area, which is more consistent of higher education facilities than K-12. “One of the biggest design issues that had to be overcome with code compliance using this atrium was the use of a smoke evacuation system that is a unique design in itself,” Smith said. “The area had to be ventilated, in case of fire and smoke infiltration.”

This ventilation requires the use of extremely large duct systems that have to be centralized in the open atrium. Rather than attempting to hide the ventilation in the walls, as a typical architectural design might, the ventilation was “hidden” in plain sight, using rails and tabletops in the atrium’s commons area. “Basically, since the ventilation would only be used in the case of a fire and smoke, the ventilation is now being used as part of the collaboration areas,” Smith says. “The large vents are now doubling as table space for project collaboration.”