Guest Blogger, Crystal Burch, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Last week, I got to be in the same room as the co-founders and Executive Directors of Career Compass of Louisiana – Kacy Edwards and Julie Scott. Julie and Kacy are my bosses, and we’re three members of a four-woman leadership team, rounded out by Stacie Gardana, Director of Administration. This shouldn’t be such a big deal, right? But it was. Not only do we live and work about two and a half hours apart and mostly communicate by text (at all hours, day and night), or by phone (while we’re all driving to meetings or baseball practice or carpool), or even by Snapchat– but these two women changed my life.

You can read the exhaustive corporate version of how Kacy and Julie started Career Compass ten years ago. What I want to do in this post is share a vision of the future of Career Compass. Don’t get me wrong – our history has spawned a proven college access model, a talented team of caring, coaching professionals, and a strong organizational culture. We wouldn’t have lasted this long without those years of learning and growth.

Our life’s work is summed up by one question we always ask our students in one way or another: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So, we turned inward as an organization and directed the same question at ourselves.  And as we do with our students, we created a step-by-step plan to get there. Here’s a snippet of our conversation from last week.

Crystal Burch (CB): This isn’t a question, but tell everyone about Career Compass’ new vision. This is the first time we’ve revealed it outside of our own employees and advisors, so I’ll let you do the honors.

Kacy Edwards (KE) & Julie Scott (JS): Every student. Every community. Transforming lives through the power of education.

And we love it!

CB: I love it, too. And not just because I helped come up with it, ha. What’s your favorite aspect of the new vision?

KE & JS: Do we have to choose? We love it all. Our new vision encompasses what we’ve always dreamed of doing, but we didn’t necessarily articulate it in writing.

A major part of our model is that we don’t exclude anyone from college & career coaching. We always preach that we don’t just want to selectively coach the student who appears to have it all together – the one who’s always known they want to be an engineer, for example, and they know where they want to apply to college, they have a high GPA and ACT score, great extracurriculars, etc. We want to work with every student, no matter their background, academics, or stage of post-secondary planning. They all need us at different levels and for different reasons.

And, the new vision is also a nod to another of our of core beliefs – that there is a pathway to college and career for EVERY student. That’s how we can be so confident that we can be successful with every student. We know the post-secondary options in our state like no one else, we know the most stable industries and also the up-and-coming ones in each region, and we know how to get students there. Combined with our knack for problem solving pretty much anything, we can match our students to the post-secondary option that best suits their abilities and aspirations. Our new vision succinctly conveys all those things.

CB: And what about the “every community” part? Tell us your thoughts on that.

KE & JS: Well, ten years ago we started out in just one school district in one parish – East Baton Rouge. We coached fewer than 100 12th grade students back then! Today, we have a presence in 38 parishes and this year alone, we’ll work with approximately 13,000 seniors and 30,000 6th – 11th graders. Our sincerest wish is that every student in Louisiana has a caring, knowledgeable, Career Compass coach who sits across from them and helps them understand their options and achieve their goals. There are 64 parishes in Louisiana and we want to have a presence in every parish! 

CB: When I travel around the state and visit with businesses, post-secondary institutions, state agencies, and others, everyone I talk to sees the value of investing in Career Compass. It’s really about investing in their future workforce. What’s been your experience?

KE & JS: We see the exact same thing. People almost immediately recognize that a high school with Career Compass coaches will see improvements in their post-secondary application rates and enrollment rates. When they think about it just a little more deeply, they then see the benefit of navigating students to a program that they can successfully complete, so that they don’t waste time or money on pursuing a degree that they won’t finish. The light bulb moment comes when they realize that we’re driving students to post-secondary doorsteps, and our students are more likely to stay in and complete their programs. Communities are beginning to understand that we can help them not only improve the quality of the workforce, but we’re also making sure that students become productive members of society, have the means to support their families, and live a happy life right here in Louisiana. Our partners know the impact our coaches have. Now it’s time to spread the word to those who haven’t heard. 

CB: What is the timeframe for accomplishing the new vision?

KE & JS: We refuse to shy away from a challenge. When we quit our teaching jobs to start Career Compass, that was one of the biggest leaps of faith we’ve ever taken. It was scary at the time, but we just knew that we could make a difference in kids’ lives, and make Louisiana a better place to live and work. We’ve retained that stubborn and entrepreneurial mindset and we still take on big, scary challenges because we believe it’s the right thing to do. All that being said, with you steering this ship with us, we think it can be accomplished by 2022.

CB: Well, I’d better get to work then! Let’s talk about what’s next in the vision and strategic planning process.

KE & JS: Our employees and advisors are excited about the vision and what it means for the future of the state. They know that they're not just conveyors of the vision, but they’re owners of it, and that’s really important to us. Now, we need to get other sectors of the community on board. We also need to gather more input and support as we move forward. And of course, we need to set goals and develop action steps – just like we tell our college-bound students.

In closing, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Kacy and Julie changed my life, and I mean it. Their dream has become my dream. I get to wake up every morning and know that the work I do will change the lives of thousands of students in Louisiana. How did I get so lucky? Julie and Kacy saw potential in me that I didn't see myself at the time, and they've inspired and influenced me to leverage those skills to change the world, or at least my little part of it, anyway.  And guess what– that’s exactly what Career Compass coaches do every day when they ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Every student. Every community. It’s a big vision and we cannot achieve it without partners who believe in what we do – partners who are passionate about empowering every student. Just like their dream has become mine, it can be your dream too. If you’re interested in becoming a community or business partner, please contact me at cburch[a]careercompassla.org or 318-730-6950.

About Crystal: Crystal Burch is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Career Compass of Louisiana, and is based in Pineville, LA. When she’s not applying her makeup in the car as she crisscrosses the state to evangelize about Career Compass, she is wife to Luke, and mom to Tylen, Braylen, and Jordyn. She’s worked with Career Compass since 2012, starting as a college & career coach and regional coordinator in Central Louisiana. She has a master’s degree in school counseling and is a proud alum of Northwestern State University.  In 2016, she was honored by The Town Talk and the Young Professional’s Group as one of Central Louisiana’s “Top 20 Under 40.”