Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE showcases some of the many unsung people who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.
Today, please welcome Carol Sun, a work-based learning coordinator at the Manhattan Early College for Advertising (MECA) in Manhattan.
“CTE has changed and is actually very sexy now! There used to be the perception that CTE was focused only on physical labor like automotive, electrical, or plumbing, but now CTE is much more technology-driven. You can graduate high school and be certified for a job right away as, say, a Cisco computer network technician.”
Carol Sun, who has organized and led a wide range of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs for the DOE, is in her sixth year as the work-based learning coordinator at the Manhattan Early College for Advertising (MECA), a school where students in grades 9–14 earn a Regents diploma while taking CTE classes in advertising and college classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).
While spending the early years of her career working in the graphic design and advertising industries, Carol taught art and design on the side as a part-time instructor at the Whitney Museum, Parsons New School, and Cooper Union, her alma mater. Those gigs inspired her to career shift to full-time teaching with the DOE starting in 2002. Eventually she landed at a newly-created small school called the Bronx High School for the Visual Arts, where she developed a robust array of CTE programs.
“CTE has changed and is actually very sexy now! There used to be the perception that CTE was focused only on physical labor like automotive, electrical, or plumbing, but now CTE is much more technology-driven. You can graduate high school and be certified for a job right away.”
– Carol Sun, discussing CTE’s popularity among today’s students
Over her 10 years at Visual Arts, Carol came to see the real-life effects of such programs on students’ lives, and how focusing on career and technical preparation could excite students from under-served communities about school. “The more I became involved with CTE, the more I realized that it not only helped students learn how to be creative and express themselves while mastering technology and skills, but it enables them to find career paths. And that can really lift students from underprivileged backgrounds.”
Although CTE programs across the City focus on dozens of different professional specialties, they all include training in skills valuable in every workplace, such as communication, teamwork, and reliability. Carol says, “In most cases, the students can pick up the technical skills pretty quickly, but we work on the so-called soft skills from day one because they are even more important.”
This semester at MECA, Carol is teaching four courses in branding and marketing to high school juniors. She asks them to identify characteristics about themselves that are distinctive and genuine, then has each student develop their own brand identity to use as a foundation for a marketing campaign connected to their college and career aspirations. Their assignments include developing a website and making public presentations.
“We try to create a culture that’s like a workplace, and it really helps students to grow and gain confidence,” Carol says. “We had one student who came here as a ninth grader who struggled a great deal with being successful at school and his personal life. Initially, he didn’t want to participate in our advertising program and was intensely uncomfortable presenting or attending forums for project feedback. But after receiving his diploma, he chose to stay with MECA to earn his degree at BMCC, where he just graduated with an associate’s degree in multimedia arts. Inspired by three advertising industry internships, now he is about to go to City Tech’s BFA communications program with the goal of pursuing a career in marketing. We see that kind of transformation over and over again here.”
“The more I became involved with CTE, the more I realized that it not only helped students learn how to be creative and express themselves while mastering technology and skills, but it enables them to find career paths. And that can really lift students from underprivileged backgrounds.”
– Carol Sun reflecting on her work in CTE
In addition to working with students and her colleagues on the CTE team, Carol spends much of her time recruiting representatives of local companies to volunteer as mentors at MECA’s many work-based learning events and offer apprenticeship programs to students. The school’s biggest industry partner is the “4As”— American Association of Advertising Agencies—which provides a dedicated representative to connect the school with mentors and volunteers while organizing two major student-focused events.
One of those events is Career Day, when participating juniors have an opportunity to meet one-on-one with executives from dozens of companies. The other is ReACT, an advertising competition in which student teams create campaigns for real-world clients and present their work to representatives of those companies while receiving feedback. In the past, participating companies have included such major national brands such as Spotify, Reebok, LG Mobile, and Six Flags.
“Those presentations can get pretty nerve-racking,” Carol laughs.
Over time, Carol has seen more and more companies eager to participate in the CTE programs at the City’s schools, which is a win-win for both students and employers.
“Industries are becoming aware that they need to create more diverse workforces to thrive,” Carol says. “At the same time, our kids are seeing that CTE can put them on a path to great jobs that pay well, which is highly motivating to them.”
We thank Carol, her colleagues at MECA, and the hundreds of DOE staff members who support the approximately 300 CTE programs who are helping more and more of our students navigate their way to exciting new careers.
Together, We Are DOE.