Careerlink, Penn State team up to help students earn diplomas

“Hey, I passed my test!”

Those words of hard-won accomplishment are sweet to the ears of Joseph Wells, who is the student support coordinator at Penn State University’s Career Pathways Program.

Wells is based locally on the second floor of the Careerlink offices, 329 Pine St., where students work with teachers to learn math and language arts skills necessary to pass the exam for the General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or the HiSet. Either test will earn successful learners a Commonwealth Secondary School Diploma, which makes a huge difference in opportunities for better paying jobs and increased self-esteem.

The GED exam is taken completely online and the HiSet is a paper and pencil test, Wells said. Sometimes older learners will prefer the HiSet if they are not comfortable with the necessary online skills, he added.

“Learners are grouped into small classes of five or six students for three to six hours per week,” Wells said, so they receive “maximum investment from our top-notch teachers.”

Career Pathways got started in 2011 to offer instruction at no cost to the students and provides case management support as well as career planning services.

“Workforce development in the state is a big part of my job,” Wells explained. “When students come in, they do job interest profiles and job research, and I follow up with them on their career plans. ‘What are their next steps? What obstacles exist? How can we help?’ “

“It’s all-encompassing” Wells noted, not just “Hey, I hope you pass your test and hope that works out for you.”

Students find the Career Pathways program in a number of ways, Wells said.

“We get a lot of referrals from Careerlink and Facebook is a big one,” he said about getting the word to potential students. “And a lot of it is word of mouth through families.”

Connections also come through interaction with local agencies like STEP, Inc., and Children and Youth Services.

Career Pathways can also help students wanting to go to college who need help with entrance exams, noted Wells. They even have offered support to businesses with employees who need instruction in certain areas like math and measuring skills.

Martha Hunter, a direct service instructor, has been with Career Pathways from the beginning.

“It sounds corny,” she said, “but I have a passion for the kind of people who have been down and who have had a lot of failures in life.”

“I love to see them come in, get plugged in and be successful,” she added.

“Sometimes success does not mean they’re getting a diploma,” she pointed out. “For me to say this person was able to walk in here and start classes was a huge success for that person, but unfortunately that’s not measurable in a grant-funded program,” the instructor said.

Muhammad Blagman-Moore, on the other hand, owns a student success story that Hunter points to with pride.

Blagman-Moore was held back in 10th grade in a Philadelphia school district and moved to Williamsport in September 2018. He enrolled in Career Pathways and “immediately began pushing himself toward completion,” Hunter related, which he achieved just one month later.

“He was able to hurdle potential obstacles and came consistently despite being employed. Because he was only 17 years old, he needed a waiver from the GED testing service to be able to take the test, and he took that on himself,” Hunter said. She explained that he also attended all his testing appointments in Lock Haven and made sure he had a way to get there.

Since receiving his diploma, Blagman-Moore obtained employment at Wegmans and also passed the postal civil service test. Most recently he has been hired at Aramark.

“Muhammad has a drive to succeed that is refreshing and exciting to watch,” Hunter said. “He is fortunate to have good role models in his parents, who are supportive of his success and it will be fun to see where his ambition leads him in the future.”

Online testimonials from other successful diploma recipients cite many reasons to be happy with the program and their subsequent achievements.

“I learned to be patient with myself”, Sandy said, “and that knowledge is power.”

“After 35 years, I needed a good job and it was time,” Anna said. “It’s never too late,” she emphasized. She plans to go to college to get a degree in business administration and work in either accounting or human resources.

Miriam has ambitions to earn her certified nursing assistant certificate. “I learned to never quit,” she said of the Career Pathways program.

A related program called Family Pathways also offers adult education classes for the GED and HiSet with the addition of a parent group on Fridays that provides parent/child events and activities.

Hunter praised a learner named Patricia who completed her diploma work before having a child and now sets the learning example for her daughter. “She’s a great mom,” Hunter said.

Wells added, “You see the students who have gotten to that place in their life where they say, ‘I gotta do this’ and still in the face of obstacles they get in here and say, ‘Hey, I passed my test!’ It’s a good feeling, he concluded.