All over Hutchinson, students make connections and learn skills from local mentors and businesses that will help them when they head to college or start their careers. But local educators and business leaders want to forge a stronger bond.

“Typically this is not a purposeful thing from the school,” said Patrick Walsh, Hutchinson High School Principal. “It has been a teacher who has shown interest in you (a student), a technician who has shown interest, someone in the community … (and) there are students who have pursued it.”

One is Sam Aten, who last year interned with Car Shop in Hutchinson. He learned of the opportunity when his father picked up his truck from the shop.

“I learned how to do a lot, how to do oil changes a lot faster, how to work on brakes and tires,” he said.

Now he is studying diesel technology at University of Northwestern Ohio, and says his experience at Car Shop helped him foster the skills he would need.

“I was planning to do this from the start,” he said.

Ruby Redekopp, now a freshman studying journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, spent three summers as a Leader intern via a program with the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

“It helped me choose my major,” Redekopp said. “I learned a lot about the community, and how to work in an adult world. I was given more adult responsibilities than I would have had at a regular job.”

“We want to … think about this all the time: How do we connect students to the real world?” Walsh said. “We want to have a designated interaction. We want to get 100 students (connected). We want to get everyone.”

Educators hope that connection can be made through TigerPath, Hutchinson High School’s career exploration program where students can take classes and explore the skills and experiences of careers such as engineering, health care, business and public service. At http://www.isd423.org/hs/tpa/, businesses can click a yellow button to fill out an online form and sign up to provide an internship, mentorship, apprenticeship or work experience opportunity.

“It takes five minutes,” said Mary Hodson, Chamber of Commerce president.

She is helping connect people to the business component of TigerPath, but sign-ups are needed from those in other career fields as well.

“We want to know the experience you can provide … those students need to hear from us,” Hodson said. “Teachers want to hear from us.”

Walsh said that when enough people from the community sign up, there will be a list staff can take to students, and help match them with a learning experience tailored to their ambitions and curiosity.

“And now that student has a connection to the community,” he said.

“It means someone has helped (a student) figure out what they want to do. We are building tomorrow’s workforce for Hutchinson,” Hodson said. “I want it to be a win-win.”

She said those who sign up will still be able to vet interested students before an arrangement is finalized.

“We want students to be able to have true life experience,” Hodson said.

Local businesses are trying other ways to connect with students as well. Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding Inc. began paid job shadowing for students a few years ago.

Tiffany Waller, who took the occupational mentorship class as a senior last year, job shadowed Carly Koeberl, marketing manager at Stamp-n-Storage.

“She was awesome,” Waller said. “I would shadow Carly every day for an hour … watch what she did. I got to see more of a marketing view, which is helpful for me, because my major is public relations and communications for nonprofits … marketing is a related field.”

She is attending University of Northwestern in St. Paul.

The Hutchinson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Hutchinson Economic Development Authority, Ridgewater College and School District 423 worked with 3M to earn a $600,000 3M Gives grant, which was matched by local businesses to raise over $1.2 million for a new career and technical education area at Hutchinson High School.

“We’re upgrading it from 1961 to the 21st century,” said Mary Hodson, Chamber of Commerce president.