Douglas County Partners for Student Success and the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub are committed to connecting children, families and educators with resources to build the skills needed to identify problems, visualize and create innovative solutions. Douglas County Partners for Student Success consists of community partners, each offering unique paths to support students’ social and economic stability.

Our newest initiative is Bright Futures Umpqua, bringing together our education, business, health/social services partners and families to ensure all students are engaged in purposeful education that supports them to create relevant plans for their future. The collaborative efforts create an expanded impact to promote the importance of high school graduation and the educational and career choices that follow. Oregon Connections is one example of the resources available to support this work.

For the last four years, the STEAM hub has been using an online platform called Oregon Connections to connect Douglas County classrooms to virtual guest speakers and virtual field trip opportunities. The Oregon Connections platform, powered by a national company called Nepris, brings real-world context to everyday lessons and gives educators instant access to quality career-education opportunities for their students.

Educators who use the platform can sign up for their students to join virtual industry chats, featuring companies and industry professionals from across the nation. Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub has made an effort to bring more local context to these industry chats for Douglas County, featuring virtual field trips and guest speakers from local industries, such as Wildlife Safari, Con-Vey, Umpqua Community College and our local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In March 2020, Wildlife Safari offered a virtual field trip of their elephant and giraffe exhibits to celebrate World Wildlife Day. This virtual session was attended by 49 classrooms across five states, which included many Douglas County students and others from Oregon. Oregon Connections presents a unique opportunity for students and classrooms, especially during a pandemic where in-person field trips are nearly impossible to organize.

Another benefit to the Oregon Connections platform is that nearly 10,000 industry chats are recorded and edited by Nepris and available via an online video library, making it possible for students to watch these recorded industry chats at a later date and time. The videos include virtual field trips to the Umpqua Community College Dental Assisting Program as well as the Natural Resources Program. Additionally, students can access a career explorer tool to research and compare potential careers and watch recommended videos highlighting those careers. This valuable tool helps students explore future careers and interact with role models who can share about the careers they chose and the path they took to get there.

Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub wants to get this resource into the hands of as many local educators as possible. A free platinum Oregon Connections subscription is available to any Douglas County teacher, as well as online training for local educators to learn how to implement Oregon Connections into their instruction. School-wide training for individual school districts, along with district-wide platinum licenses are also available.

Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub Director Gwen Soderberg-Chase has put great efforts toward bringing Oregon Connections to Douglas County. “It is critical that we work collectively to bridge the gap between students and industry role models in our community. Oregon Connections is an invaluable tool for enhancing career-connected learning opportunities and showing Douglas County students options for their future,” says Soderberg-Chase. “We are inviting educators and industry professionals to seek out opportunities in Oregon Connections and utilize this resource to inspire students to think about their future career paths.”

Three local virtual industry chats are scheduled for the month of January and more are on deck the rest of the school year. For more details about upcoming Oregon Connections events and information, visit www.dcpss.org/educators/oregon-connections/

Lacey Ferguson is a program consultant for Douglas County Partners for Student Success and the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub Oregon Connections project director.

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