Career Specialists to Connect Kids to Careers
When local superintendents and leaders from our ISD, Muskegon Area Career Tech Center, and businesses in the Muskegon Area got together to draft the perfect recipe for a comprehensive, countywide work-based learning system, it was clear that one key ingredient was missing: trained staff devoted to connecting kids to careers. The system we created, now known as “Muskegon Made,” resulted in the recent hiring of Career Specialists Jennifer Balgooyen, Michelle Kuck, and Stephen Pettifor.
Ms. Balgooyen, Ms. Kuck, and Mr. Pettifor are each working directly with four local school districts to enhance and build on the career development initiatives already in place for grades four through twelve. They are also forming partnerships with local businesses and are urging them to promote themselves to our future workforce through a networking site called mibrightfuture.org. Ultimately, their goal is to place students in work-based learning experiences so they become better prepared for the rigors of employment after high school or college.
Currently, in Muskegon County, 30% of the workforce holds a certificate, associate, or bachelor degree. By 2025, the demand for this type of education after high school is expected to climb to 64%. In the professional trades sector, we also know there will be a need to fill more than 500,000 jobs in Michigan by 2024. Education, business, and community leaders all recognize that we must increase the skills and talents of our community to meet these future demands.
While Muskegon Made was designed to address this talent shortage, it was created with the student as the number one focus. By helping students identify their career-related interests, Muskegon Made connects students to experiences that prepare them for a career they choose in a field they love. Our goal is for all students in Muskegon County to have a plan for what they will do after graduation. Our career specialists are trained experts with experiences and knowledge that make them highly capable of reaching this objective.
Future program goals include the expansion of unpaid internship/externship opportunities, industry talent tours for students to see in-demand occupations, and job shadowing days to help students connect what they learn in the classroom to day-to- day job tasks. By integrating career exploration and employability skills deeper into the curriculum, students will begin thinking about careers earlier. They will be fully informed of the career opportunities available to them in Muskegon County so they can choose to stay here, or eventually return here to work.
The new specialists bring a diverse background of education and well-rounded experience to our local schools and students. Michelle Kuck has worked in Muskegon County in education for 13 years and most recently worked as an Instructional Assistant/Job Coach for the MAISD Transition Program teaching job skills through work-based learning opportunities for students. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education. Michelle is helping schools in Holton, Montague, Reeths-Puffer, and Whitehall.
Jennifer Balgooyen has 16 years of experience in education as a Career and Technical Education teacher, Technology Facilitator, and Gold Standard Project Based Learning Instructor. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Michigan State University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Computer Science from Grand Valley State University. Jennifer is assisting students in North Muskegon, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, and Mona Shores.
Stephen Pettifor moved from St. Kitts and Nevis where he received a Master’s degree in Education, specializing in Exceptional Systems in Revolutionizing Education. Stephen is providing support for Fruitport, Orchard View, Oakridge, and Ravenna.
Our Career Development Coordinator Bethanie Swier oversees this dynamic team and leads the Muskegon Made charge. Together they are working toward a vision of providing all students in Muskegon County with equitable access to career opportunities that lead to successful work- based placements to capstone the overall program.
Finally, we are proud to report that Muskegon Made has the full support of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, Baker College of Muskegon, Muskegon Community College, all neighborhood school districts, West Michigan Works!, Thrive, Talent 2025, The Employers Association, and local business leaders. Watch Us Go!
Dr. John Severson
Muskegon Area ISD Superintendent