The Career Pathway Center is in full view at Como Park Senior High School in Saint Paul. The glass windows that connect the center with the cafeteria were designed to provide a view of what’s inside, an inviting space for students to imagine their future with the help of career and college readiness coordinator Aisha Mohamed.
Soft lamp lighting, tables and chairs, a comfy couch and a cozy corner for chilling out set the stage for young people to envision their career pathways, and Aisha gives them her best every day. “I want this to be a place where students feel centered, talk to friends and talk to me,” Aisha explains.
“Students see me as a support person in the building and I want to give them the support they need to make the best decision for their future, whether it’s a four-year college, a trade school or going directly to work when they graduate.”
Como Park is one of 28 high schools in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) where Achieve Twin Cities staff help young people plan for life after high school. Achieve coordinators work in collaboration with school counseling teams to provide student-centered advising and a wide variety of opportunities and connections to help them discover, explore and develop their own personal career and postsecondary pathways. Achieve’s professional team brings extensive experience in working with young people and includes licensed school counselors, social workers, admissions experts, educators and youth workers.
In SPPS schools, Achieve staff also work in partnership with the district’s broader Career Pathways initiative, which is designed to provide opportunities for students to explore a wide variety of career fields. And in three schools, Career Pathway Centers are co-run by Achieve coordinators and district career and college readiness school counselors.
A typical day for Aisha is filled with whatever students need at any given time, mixed with planned activities and seizing opportunities to interact with those who may not have the proclivity to reach out. “I’ll grab my laptop and go sit somewhere. When students ask me, ‘Miss Aisha, do you have a minute?’ I tell them, ‘I always have a minute for you!’”
As a graduate of Como Park, Aisha is excited to be back walking the halls of her alma mater and engaging with students, teachers and administrators. “Building relationships with these colleagues is key to supporting students along their postsecondary pathways,” she says. “I’m grateful for the support of our principal, teachers, counselors, and administrators. Our school counselors work on personal learning plans with students at all grade levels, and then I follow up, mainly with seniors. The same is true with teachers who are willing to welcome a speaker into their classroom. Once they agree, I take it from there. Their workload is heavy, so helping them schedule things is helpful to them.”
Aisha is also pleased to point out that her school administrators believe in giving students full and equitable access to postsecondary education and career opportunities. As a result, they are quick to give her a green light to move forward with opportunities she believes will benefit students.
“Students often say, ‘I know you’re going to try to talk me into going to college!’ But because of the dual focus on career and college readiness that Achieve put in place, and our work to connect students with the best opportunities for their interests and life circumstances, we can help more students find a wider variety of options that doesn’t always mean a four-year degree.”
With a commitment to giving students multiple ways to gather information and network with professionals, the Como Career Pathway Center hosts events throughout the school year. “In October, which is National College Knowledge Month, we hosted a college knowledge night that connected students and parents with our counseling team, college admission counselors, and my colleagues at Achieve Twin Cities.” Aisha says the event covered everything from interesting majors and campus life to what to know when you’re applying, including the impact of the end of affirmative action in college admissions decisions. “Our annual career trade fair also presents another good opportunity for students to explore their pathway.”
Aisha works hard to provide students with everything they need to make a good decision. “I also want students to know it’s okay to change your mind, like I did,” she adds. With undergraduate degrees in health policy and political science, Aisha thought she would work in public health or local governance, but a college internship changed that. “I didn’t really like it!” she says. “Then I did a new internship at Minneapolis Public Schools. Interacting with students and families was fulfilling and made me realize I wanted to work in schools, so I moved into nonprofit youth work. My students can look at my path and see that it changed, and it was a good move for me.”
“The great part about working with students is hearing their excitement about their pathways,” Aisha says with pride in her voice. “Kids come in and say, ‘I got accepted!’ and we celebrate – or ‘I got accepted, but I can’t afford to go,’ and I tell them ‘It’s okay. Let’s pivot to a new path.’”
As Como Park students get clarity on what lies ahead, one thing is always in view — the support of Aisha Mohamed. “The Career Pathway Center isn’t a classroom,” she says. “It’s a space for imagining your future. And I want my students to know they can do anything.”