Educators from across the country left the CFES Brilliant Pathways National Conference on Nov. 2 armed with innovative ideas for preparing students to enter a constantly evolving workforce based on input from leaders in business, education and the non-profit sector.

One of the main takeaways from the “Changing Life Trajectories in a Disruptive World” conference at the Sagamore Resort is that they will need help from College and Career Readiness Advisors, who are expected play a major role in helping increase postsecondary success. CFES announced plans to train 500 CCR Advisors over the next year to support school counselors who currently have a counselor-student ratio of 455-to-1.

The first cohort of 20 trained CCR Advisors was awarded Level 1 and Level 2 College & Career Readiness Professional Development Certificates from CFES, following their participation in the pre-conference College and Career Readiness Advisor Workshop. “There’s no question that CCR Advisors are the future drivers of college and career readiness,” said CFES President Rick Dalton. “Everyone has to play a role in helping young people follow their chosen pathway to success.”

The launch of the CFES MAP APP to help students navigate their college and career pathways was also announced at the conference. The new app allows CFES Scholars to choose a character who is presented with a series of questions based on situations they might encounter while preparing for college or the workforce. Players are awarded points along the way as they walk through a virtual high school leading to their future postsecondary pathway.

New CFES schools from Texas, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Florida met prior to the conference for a planning a training workshop. They created plans focused on the CFES core practices of mentoring, Essential Skills and college and career readiness programs.

Joan Higginbotham, an engineer and retired astronaut, kicked off the official conference with a keynote address focusing on the importance of perseverance. After not being selected as an astronaut among 122 finalists, Higginbotham went back for a second Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering. She was chosen to become an astronaut the next year, which set the stage for her becoming the third African-American woman in space.

“The ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off is a skill that you will need throughout your life,” said Higginbotham.

Conference participants attended a series of sessions focused on topics ranging from STEM education, leadership, Essential Skills, financial literacy, building partnerships and others. A fireside chat following dinner featuring Dean Garfield, head of global policy at Netflix, and Dalton drove home the need for educators and students to stay on top of emergent trends, and to continue to hone the Essential Skills that employers seek most.

“There will be industries that we can’t even imagine that will be created in the next few years, and there will be industries that are prolific today that simply won’t exist,” said Garfield, former President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.

A total of 28 schools received CFES School of Distinction awards for the development and execution of exemplary plans based on the three core practices of Essential Skills, Mentoring and Pathways to College and Career.

The final day of the conference featured a panel of experts from education, business and the non-profit sector moderated by Porter Braswell, co-founder of Jopwell, a technology platform that helps Black, Latinix, and Native American students and professionals unlock opportunities for career advancement.

“For many students, their diversity is an asset, so how do we as educators and mentors inspire and connect with youth to let them know that their hardships make them uniquely qualified to crush life,” Braswell asked panelists.

“We try and capitalize on the diverse assets that our students bring to the classroom,” said Karen Watts, executive superintendent of Brooklyn North. “We want them to be able to work fluidly on teams. All of the Essential Skills of CFES come to bear in those situations.”

Greg Muccio, Director of Talent Acquisition at Southwest Airlines, says the first thing he tells new hires is that relationships matter most. “You will not be smart enough, and not be good at relationships and last, survive or do well.”

Ranjit Sidhu, President & CEO of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, emphasized the need for colleges and employers to consider context when contemplating whether to admit or hire a young person.

“When I thought about the title of this conference, it occurred to me that disruption is really about changing life trajectories,” said Sidhu, adding that if you are born into the lowest five percent of the income bracket, there’s a five percent change you will end up in the top five percent. “The disruption itself is if you change the ability to be mobile in our social and economic ladder. Rick’s research showed years ago that the golden ticket to change that mobility equation is post-secondary education. It’s a differentiator.”