Students Transform Expectations and Explore Local Careers With New 4-H/Chamber Program

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This fall, Orange County 4-H partnered with the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce to launch Students Transforming Expectations & Exploring Real Opportunities (STEER). This unique program seeks to expose high school sophomores and juniors to local career opportunities while developing soft skills that young professionals need to be successful in a diverse set of local industries.

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STEER Program Launch Reception on September 18. Pictured from left to right: Chamber Board Member Rick Chambless, Participant Synai Jones, Chamber CEO Kim Tesoro, and Orange County Commissioner Renee Price.

Kim Tesoro, the Chief Executive Officer of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce, sees this initiative as an important tool to address the workforce needs of local businesses.“  STEER is a very important component of the Chamber’s Workforce Development Initiative. While there are many important aspects of workforce development that need attention, our chamber identified pipeline development, particularly through promotion of alternative career pathways, as our primary focus”, says Tesoro.

Meeting one full day per month, students focus on a distinct industry each time they meet. In October, students visited local businesses in the hospitality & tourism industry including Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the

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Participant learning about personal finance at the BB&T workshop on November 20.

Orange County Visitors Bureau, and Vimala’s Curryblossom Café. In November, the emphasis of the day was on Government and Manufacturing industries. Students learned about leadership with Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens, toured Town of Hillsborough facilities, visited Summit Design and Engineering Services, and met with College of Agriculture & Life Sciences alum and Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee.

Key sponsors of the program include BB&T, Duke Energy, and New Hope Camp & Conference Center, among others. “Local businesses have been very supportive of this new initiative and have provided not only funding but also their expertise in helping us plan sessions and select applicants”, says Orange County 4-H Extension Agent Jonathon Smith. BB&T has been a part of the planning process from the very beginning and hosted students for a personal finance workshop in November.

Through this program, participants have been exploring their personal strengths. “We have been spending a significant amount of time using Image of program participantstools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and Habitudes:  Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes to help students realize their individual strengths. We want them to leave this program with not only an idea of the diversity of local career opportunities available to them but also understand what careers best align with their individual talents and passions,” says Smith.  Other topics covered during the soft skill development time include parliamentary procedure, leadership habits and attitudes, resume building, social media and email etiquette, and professional attire.

The Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce sees partnership with 4-H as a strategic opportunity. “Through this partnership with 4-H, we have been able to share resources and develop a program that offers a unique opportunity to provide both leadership training, as well as exposure to many career opportunities that lead to successful futures without the traditional four-year university track, and that exist here in Orange County,” says Tesoro.

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STEER participants visiting Vimala’s Currblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill on October 23.

This first cohort will meet monthly through May 2020. Between now and then, students will visit businesses in the following industries:  Health Care, Construction, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and Agriculture. Currently serving seven students in its first year, the STEER Program has the goal to expand the program in 2020 to serve more students from both county school systems as well as from private schools and home schools. Tesoro is optimistic about the overall impact of this program. “We look forward to seeing how the students develop their interests and leadership skills, and ultimately, begin sharing in our goal of ‘changing the conversation’ around successful futures.”

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Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee shared his perspective on local workforce opportunities with participants at Summit Design & Engineering Services Hillsborough on November 20.

To support programs such as STEER and other Orange County 4-H initiatives, the public is invited to donate to the Orange County 4-H Program Restricted Fund. Visit for more information.

All funds raised through 4-H sponsorships are collected and managed by the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation, Inc. a 501(c)3 organization Tax ID 56-6049304. You will receive an official receipt for your gift.