Creating an annual event can be challenging, but Virginia Tech's Career and Technical Education Experience Day is picking up steam.

Fourty-three prospective students attended the 2023 event held in March, up from 12 the year prior. 

The event is a day-long program that encourages students to explore the field of career and technical education.

Natalie Ferand, the program leader and an assistant professor of Virginia Tech's Career and Technical Education program, organzied the event. She said she was inspired by her own high school experience, and wishes she had access to a similar program when she was a student. 

"I did not enjoy high school and felt pushed to the side because I was in the bottom rankings," Ferand said. "Only the top 20 or 30 students were invited on college visits. That was discouraging.  From these experiences, I am passionate about sharing opportunities for college access. While I firmly believe that a traditional four-year university is not for everyone, nor is it necessary for everyone, I want all students to know that college is possible for them if that is what they desire.”

Dr. Natalie Ferand talking with students

Dr. Natalie Ferand talking with students
Career and Technical Education program leader and assistant professor Natalie Ferand talks with visiting high school students. Photo by Alexandra Krens.

The day included opportunities to explore Virginia Tech via an on-campus scavenger hunt, lunch at D2, and opportunities to talk to career and technical education students and faculty directly.

Heather Jones and Karen Charney of Virginia Department of Education also joined the event. Both work within the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education. Jones is a family and consumer sciences career cluster specialist, while Charney is a marketing cluster specialist. 

“I grew up in Blacksburg, so every time I come back it's different, but I love being able to communicate to the teachers that we work with on a regular basis, and the experiences that are available through the education here at Virginia Tech,” Charney said.

Although benefits of the program are evident to teachers and students, factors such as transportation and funding can make it difficult for some individuals to attend. 

Some of the schools that attended are local, like Pulaski High School. Others had to take quite a journey, like the students from Essex County who traveled over 200 miles.

“My students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and talked about it with the other students who expressed interest,” said Essex career and technical education teacher Maronica Brown. "Would love to have other students come next year."

With the support of Virginia Tech's College Access Collaborative and the Virginia Teach Ag Campaign, event organizers were able to wave the $20 fee from the year prior, and hope to do so again in the future. 

Next year Ferand hopes to book a larger space that encourages more interaction and collaboration, and to alleviate some parking challenges participants encountered.

The official 2024 event date has not yet been chosen, but registration will open in January 2024 with plans to host the event in early April.

Written by Alexandra Krens