Tell us about ASA and what makes it unique.
American Student Assistance (ASA) is a national
nonprofit that is committed to helping students make
informed choices to achieve their education and
career goals. We want to help all students—starting
in middle school—discover their interests and skills,
explore education and careers, experiment through
hands-on opportunities, and execute a plan for life
after high school.
We are unique in our approach. In addition to
reaching students in classrooms and communitybased
organizations and through partnerships,
we connect with young people directly—on their
phones and through social media. By making tools
and resources available where students are already
spending their time, we’re enabling them to direct
their own journeys on their own terms.
Why do you feel it’s important to start
career exploration in the middle grades?
The case for starting career exploration and self-discovery
earlier than high school is well-documented,
although not widely practiced. In addition to improved
school engagement and motivation, some of the
benefits of starting the career exploration process in
the middle grades include:
Younger students are more curious and openminded
about the possibilities ahead of them. The
optimism of youth can yield earnest conversations
about a student’s true passions before cost or time
considerations become an issue.
Middle school students want to start career
exploration early! Research shows that middle school students are driven by relevance in their
learning. They become increasingly motivated
in their studies when they can understand how
their lessons relate to the real world. Connecting
their learning to real life feeds their hunger for
opportunities to start exploring options and
planning for the future.
High school is stressful and involves weighty
decisions. As students rapidly approach life in the
“real world” and shoulder more responsibility, they
have little room to think about their own interests
and identity in planning for their futures. Starting
career exploration in middle school gives them time
to form their own opinions about what should come
next before additional pressures set in.
What role does ASA play in the career
exploration arena for middle school
One way we’re impacting students is by providing
grants to fund career and interest exploration
curriculum in middle schools. We love to see students
uncover passions that may lead to career pathways,
or even when they find subjects they have no interest
in! We see either outcome as a win because they’re
learning about themselves with plenty of time to adjust before committing to a field of study or a specific career path.
In addition to grant funding, we have a strong
network of partners, including associations like
AMLE, community-based organizations, businesses, and nonprofits, to scale solutions and broaden our student reach and impact.
We also conduct research to gain first-hand insights into Gen Z and to assess what parents, teachers, and school counselors think about career exploration. We also advocate at the state and federal
level to promote policies that empower young people
to explore their options and get hands-on experience
that can translate into practical and affordable plans
for life after high school. Finally, we take a digital
approach to help young people start thinking about
their futures, including our newest mobile experience,
ASA Futurescape, which enables young people to
explore thousands of education and career paths.
Can ASA’s programs be beneficial in a
virtual learning environment?
Yes! We know that digital is now and the future, so
ASA is investing in ways to bring career exploration
to students wherever they are. As I mentioned,
ASA Futurescape is our mobile platform for middle
and high school students, enabling them to explore
thousands of education and career paths on their smart phones. In the first four months since we launched Futurescape, we’ve surpassed one million users across the country—representing every state and nearly every major city. We encourage educators
and administrators to share this platform with students to help them take control of their exploration process and discover their options.
Additionally, we support piloting programs using
the Nepris career exploration virtual platform, which
helps students connect with and learn about careers
from industry professionals. When students make
connections—in person or virtually—they build
important social capital and learn critical information
about career paths and the type of education they need to fulfill their dreams.
How can ASA be a resource to
principals, administrators, and teachers?
We want to support educators and administrators
by serving as a convener to share best practices and
lessons learned about implementing career exploration
programs at the middle school level. Our current and
past grant recipients are now serving as an informal
advisory council, and the information they provide to
us and to each other is extremely valuable and timely.
How would ASA interact with and
benefit AMLE members?
ASA and AMLE’s members share similar values when
it comes to ensuring students have meaningful learning
experiences in middle school. AMLE and its members
value integrity, collaboration, and future-thinking, which
align with ASA’s approach to creating career exploration
opportunities for students. Through our grant-making
efforts, we’re supporting in-school experiences like
our collaboration with World of Work and the Cajon
Valley Union School District in California. Our team
is also working with nearly a dozen schools across
Massachusetts in their efforts to promote in-person and virtual learning opportunties through field trips, new career exploration curriculum, and experiential learning programs like Project Lead the Way.
Our hope is that more educators and schools will
be inspired by these efforts and engage with us in
thinking about how to create new programs and
models that can blend classroom learning with handson
career exploration. We encourage AMLE members
to share their ideas and good thinking with us.
For more information about ASA and ASA Futurescape,
a mobile experience that helps students explore
thousands of education and career paths,
visit https://www.asa.org/about-us asafuturescape.org/