Partnerships that Pave the Way

Imagine entering college knowing just the career path you’d like to follow. With the support of local and national partners and numerous academic enrichment opportunities, Holy Family Catholic Schools is on a mission to prepare our students for a future we cannot imagine, to “future-proof” the next generation of workforce leaders.

Starting to consider your options midway through freshman year of college – though entirely common – has never been an ideal plan to set a solid course on a successful career. In a fiercely competitive world, Holy Family schools are taking steps to help students personally navigate their possibilities, starting now.

As early as sixth grade, some Holy Family students are already beginning to investigate their higher education and career options. Through mentoring relationships in the EDGE program, students are empowered to ask questions and begin exploring the college and career paths they strive for.

As they matriculate to Wahlert Catholic, many doors start to open for students on a mission to plan for their future, and community partnerships begin to pave the way for experiential learning.

In the last two years, Wahlert has formalized an academic track that culminates by leveraging those partnerships to the benefit of students and businesses alike. This optional track sets students off on the right foot – and maybe even a few steps ahead.

The world has come to know millennials as a generation fueled by curiosity and armed with the expectation of information at their fingertips. But there are still some things that can’t be learned on YouTube.

“Seeing the orchestration of a total hip replacement surgery – with the pre-room set-up, the post-room take-down, moving the patient into surgery-recovery, coordinating with the lab – the operating room is like a symphony,” said Wahlert Catholic senior Collin Link, sharing his job-shadow experience at UnityPoint Health Finley Hospital, where he was enrolled as a volunteer intern last fall.

“Seeing that process from start to finish – it’s so different, being in there versus reading about it in a textbook or online or on a YouTube video.”

Traditionally, a college internship has served as the first opportunity for a student to try his hand at a soon-to-be career, and no doubt, this remains a crucial step in the exploration process.  At Wahlert Catholic, faculty and administrators are asking themselves, “why not start that process sooner, and how can we benefit our community partners in return?”

Freshmen begin the career-focused track in a course called “Soar into Wahlert.” Secondary Instructional Coach Lisa Krapfl describes the course as an opportunity for students to explore how they might be successful in high school, navigating the numerous club, leadership, faith-building, curricular and co-curricular opportunities that await Wahlert students as they pad early resumes for college applications, broaden their social circle and identify life-long passions.

As sophomores, students are pushed to confront their boundaries of comfort in “Real World Communications.” And juniors begin to more thoroughly investigate their next chapter of life in a course appropriately named “Am I Ready?”

Here, they’ll get to the heart of real-world questions students have on their minds, such as, “What is insurance and who needs it?”, “How will I select a college, and how do I apply?”, or “How do I even know what my strengths are?” Through individual guidance, instructors learn and help to address student-specific needs so they might leave feeling better prepared for what lies ahead.

As seniors, students are now ready for practical application of lessons they’ve learned in school. Link chose to spend the first semester of his senior year exploring a career in medicine through a partnership with UnityPoint Health Finley Hospital. Twenty-four students have taken part in similar experiences this year.

Certain days of his week were spent providing support in the emergency department, and on other days he would greet hospital visitors and escort patients to and among various hospital departments. In the ER, Link helped with just about anything non-medical the nurses or doctors needed, such as stocking, organizing, running labs, and delivering files. As a greeter, he would answer phones, clean wheelchairs and maintain a welcoming entrance.

Link enjoyed making his hourly rounds, assisting patients in various ways. “I would look at our board, see how many beds we had and visit each bed, state my role and ask them if I could help in any non-medical fashion – a pillow, warm blanket, drink of water (with nurse permission) – anything to give that full-comfort care.”

The second phase of Link’s experience was an opportunity to shadow doctors in a selected specialty. Link spent two full days shadowing orthopedic surgeons and a physician’s assistant in the ER.

Simply being in the environment can be rewarding, explained Krapfl. “These are voluntary, exploration internships; they’re not paid. The difference is, we allow students time in their schedule to go, experience and earn credit.”

As a pilot partnership, the opportunity at UnityPoint has flourished, but not all experiences are medical and not every business partnership winds up as a full-blown internship. “It’s student-driven,” explained Krapfl. “In my research, I’ve learned, what really makes our program special is that it’s truly personalized. Students must speak up about the areas they are interested in. And if we don’t have a spot for them, we’ll go find one. It’s an organic program.”

Starting this summer, a new partnership with Mercy Medical Center will present opportunities for two more student interns. According to the Wahlert Catholic guidance office, summer positions provide a good option for students to open their schedules by satisfying credits when school is not in session.

Similar partnerships have led to internship opportunities and real-world class projects with organizations such as Aquinas Communications, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, Loras College and Lange Sign, to name a few.

Link came away from his experience feeling practiced in several highly-applicable skills for the working world. Organization and time-management played an essential role for him in coordinating between Wahlert and UnityPoint. In relation to his coursework, Link was pleasantly surprised to also find real-life applications for lessons he had been learning in courses such as AP Biology.

Overall, he thought his communication skills took the lead. “Learning how to interact with those who were superior to me, who worked alongside me and those who were patients was essential – and that ability to connect with each one of them enabled me to gain so much more from the experience.”

Krapfl echoed the idea that the key benefits of an internship don’t end with hands-on practice. Much of the feedback she hears is on the personal side. “The professionals have been more than wonderful about sharing how they’ve made their journey and challenges they faced along the way. That’s probably been the number one thing our students have commented on. They’re impressed that these doctors and leaders are willing to engage with them on a personal level.”

She also described some less obvious successes of the program. “My favorite quote from a student presentation was, ‘I’ve learned this is not the place for me.’ And it wasn’t for a lack of interest in healthcare. He loves numbers and realized he wants to pursue medical research. So, it’s also about learning what they’re not!  If you find that out now, that’s a success.”

So, you ask, how can we “future proof” our students? Perhaps a small piece of the puzzle is a better understanding of the opportunities that lie ahead of each and every one of them. Empowered to explore the world around them, we believe our students will be better prepared to fulfill their potential in both work and life.

“As an instructional coach, I feel the way to engage students in their learning today is through real-world experiences. We really want them to have authentic engagement here at Wahlert,” Krapfl says.


Lisa Krapfl, Holy Family Catholic Schools Secondary Education Coach
lkrapfl@holyfamilydbq.org.


Katie Lenart, Wahlert Catholic High School Guidance Counselor
klenart@holyfamilydbq.org.

Businesses interested in pursuing partnerships with Holy Family for an internship, job shadow, or classroom project should contact Lisa Krapfl or Katie Lenart.

Contact Us

Holy Family Catholic Schools
2005 Kane St., Dubuque IA 52001
(563) 582-5456
holy_family@holyfamilydbq.org