Gadsden ISD Teachers Pave the Way for Teacher Externships in Doña Ana County

Stephen Gabaldon, Sara Duran-Campbell, and Dolores Millan piloted the first teacher externships in Dona Ana County.

As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin

Partnership continues to drive innovative ways to better connect education to employment for students in Doña Ana County, including the much-discussed closing of the “soft skills” or “employability skills” gap for young people. 

Thanks to the relationships represented on The Bridge of Southern New Mexico’s board of directors and between members of the mission-aligned Workforce Talent Collaborative and funded by a grant from El Paso Electric, three Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers in the Gadsden Independent School District became the first in our county and among a few in the state, to get their own hands-on, work-based learning experience this summer through a teacher externship.

Teacher externships, like internships, provide on-site, real-world experiences that connect the classroom instruction to future career of students. However, externships are paid learning opportunities for teachers – supporting them in delivering instruction to students that most closely mirrors the skills, knowledge, and abilities that students will need for future workforce success.

Gadsden CTE teachers Stephen Gabaldon (digital audio-visual production), Sara Duran-Campbell (digital media), and Dolores Millan (engineering and aerospace) invested one week of their summer vacation on-site with industry employers and partners aligned to the programs they teach.

Film Liaison Jon Foley and Operations Coordinator and Workforce Talent Collaborative member Chris Sheppard hosted Gabaldon and Duran-Campbell at Film Las Cruces, while Joe Bullington, Commercialization Manager for Jacobs Technology and Bridge Board Member, hosted Millan at the White Sands Test Facility.

Already, the externships have produced significant results. For example, one of the challenges to the film industry in general is the great diversity of jobs within it, as well as the heavy reliance upon networking and union membership for on-going employment. Working together, Foley, Shepherd, Gabaldon, and Duran-Campbell produced a curriculum about how to actually get a job in the film industry – a critical workforce and economic driver for the state. The curriculum will be available through the Film Las Cruces website and to educators across the county and region.

“It really is all about relationships in film – having worked on a project before and having other people who want to work with you again,” said Shepherd. “The film industry is really comprised of a group of entrepreneurs who move from production to production and take with them those who they’ve worked with on prior productions.”

Duran-Campbell said, “We really learned a lot about the behind the scenes of the industry. What I didn’t understand is that the film industry needs people from everywhere – from building and construction to make-up and costumes to grips and the people who do the filming. In fact, we found out about DACC’s Film Tech Training Program that takes place on Saturdays that helps students learn the basics of becoming a grip. It helps them get 15 of the 30 days of hands-on experience they’ll need to become part of the union which can help them get jobs in the future.”

During her time at the White Sands Test Facility, Millan got to see many of the areas that comprise the assets of NASA’s presence there: propulsion testing, materials and components test labs for hypervelocity impact, oxygen materials and components and non-destructive evaluation, as well as the business and facilities and operations departments.

“I saw many things that I can turn into lessons for students like the importance of work groups, communication skills, math and real-world engineering principles,” she said. “It helps me motivate students. For example, the software we use for Project Lead the Way is the same software they use, so I know what I am teaching in the classroom will prepare our students for those jobs. I am inviting some of the engineers I met to come and talk with students, and I want to take students on a field trip to NASA and the White Sands Missile Range museum.”

Building these kinds of relationships between educators and employers was exactly the vision set forward by the Workforce Talent Collaborative, that is currently implementing key action items called for in its ground-breaking workforce talent plan. The very small teacher externship pilot this summer will pave the way for the larger effort next summer that can open new opportunities for CTE teachers in all three of the county’s school districts and Doña Ana Community College.

“We are so grateful for the teachers and the industry partners who made this pilot such a success,” said Dr. Michael Morehead, board chair of The Bridge. “It surpassed our initial expectations and holds great promise for expansion of this effort countywide next summer.”