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HEAT Academy helps students explore careers in cybersecurity, clean energy and EVs

The Bloomington Area Career Center helped launch the HEAT Academy in 2019.
Eric Stock
The Bloomington Area Career Center helped launch the HEAT Academy in 2019.

The Bloomington Area Career Center's HEAT Academy is looking for new training opportunities for high school juniors and seniors in McLean County. The academy focuses on Health, Engineering, Agribusiness and Technology.

Bryce Hansen is assistant principal of the BACC and will soon take over as director. The career center runs the HEAT Academy with B-N STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and its CEO Rebecca Henderson.

Bryce Hansen
Bryce Hansen

The academy, which began in 2019 but was stalled during the pandemic, offers 13-week training programs high school students from 17 area schools can take each spring. There's no testing or homework, but it helps them explore potential career paths.

The academy currently offers programs in cybersecurity and solar, wind and electric vehicles. That started in the spring and had more than 30 students, according to Hansen.

Hansen said when looking into creating new programs, BACC focuses on finding a balance between needs of the community and the interest of students.

“The HEAT Academy was really derived out of conversations between local education but also local industry of, ‘how can we help talented local kids stay local?’” said Hansen. “How can we fill employment needs and connect that with what kids are interested in and passionate about?”

Hansen hopes that the program can help students with taking the next step forward and thinking about their life and career beyond high school.

“It would be a big win if a kid learns more about a career and kind of gets a sense of if that career is a good fit for them,” Hansen said. “Another goal we always have for kids is we talk about putting something in their pocket. Whether it’s dual-credit, an industry certification, things like that.”

Rebecca Henderson
Rebecca Henderson

“We love to see kids learn skills, either the hard skills, the technical skills, or sometimes the soft skills of how to put your phone down, how to make eye contact, how to shake a hand, some of those communication skills are really important,” Hansen continued.

A unique aspect of the HEAT Academy classes are the instructors. Hansen said there is a trained teacher to facilitate the class and take attendance, but a lot of the instruction and curriculum is taught by business and industry professionals.

Hansen said he hopes the BACC and HEAT Academy can help alleviate the stereotype that successful students have to get a four-year degree from universities.

“66% of the students at the BACC do go on to college, but we want to make sure they’re aware of all of the options they have,” Hansen said. “We like to connect them with local businesses because they can tell them, ‘You can do this, you can go here, you can start working and we can pay for your education’ and make the kids aware that it’s not a cookie-cutter, one size fits all for every kid. Kids can choose their own path.”

The academy also offers nursing courses through the career center curriculum.

Hansen said program offers for next spring are still under development as the academy hopes to stay up to date with each industry.

To apply for the HEAT program, students can visit the Bloomington Area Career Center’s website.

Megan Spoerlein was a reporting intern at WGLT.