President & CEO, American Student Assistance (ASA)
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 students?
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/