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Through the ups and downs of the past year and a half, it has, at times, been difficult to see the positive things happening in our community. One of the many positive occurrences in our community is the wonderful collaboration between local businesses and Ukiah Unified School District to create and develop mentorships for Ukiah High School students.

This effort came to fruition through a new class at Ukiah High called “Next Steps: CTE Internships.” In this class, students who have completed a Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway and are trained in obtaining and retaining jobs are matched up with a local business or mentor. The businesses operate in a field connected to the student’s pathway. Mentors either currently work or previously worked in a career related to the pathway which the student completed.

Because of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the beginning, not all of the Next Steps students could find a placement in a Ukiah business, but thanks to Zoom and email, hope was not lost. Many of our students were resourceful and set up online mentorships, which allowed them to reach beyond the geographical confines of Mendocino County.

We did have some fortunate students who were able to get out into the community. In fact, three students have transitioned into local jobs at their host businesses. After completing the Welding CTE Pathway, Omar Valadez and Ozcar Valadez sharpened their welding skills by spending time at Factory Pipe. After a short time, they were so proficient that Factory Pipe owner Ross Liberty offered them jobs. They now prepare materials that are welded and assembled by welding robots that will later integrate into Polaris exhaust systems. Mr. Liberty adds, “Of course Omar and Ozcar’s parents work here and have instilled their great work ethic in their children. Happy to have them on the team.”

Jane Higdon, who completed the Welding CTE Pathway, and is now studying machining, started an internship at Hegan Glass Works with owner Scott Hegan. After a short time, she was also offered a job due to her work ethic and machining skills. Now Jane is integrating her machining and TIG welding skills with a new skill that she has learned on the job, stretching glass! Jane’s long-term career goal is to be in the field of welding. In particular, she has shown a strong interest in underwater welding. Mr. Hegan states, “Jane is a focused, talented, and determined young woman who any company would be lucky to have on staff.”

We hope that in the upcoming academic year, we will be able to have our entire Next Steps class in the community so that more of our students may sharpen their skills. If you are interested in assisting students with their skills in welding, machining, auto, construction, child care, photography, computer science, health occupations, or agriculture, please contact me at 707-472-5875 or

Eric Crawford is the Ukiah Unified Career Technical Education coordinator.

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