PEARL ― Seeing career and technical education students walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas is a rewarding moment for Connie Goff, recipient of the President’s Hard Hat Outstanding Counselor of the Year award from the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation.

“Knowing that we played a role in helping students complete an important phase of life is the highlight of my job,” said Goff, whose 30 years of experience in education includes 12 years as a counselor at Jackson County Technology Center in Vancleave. “Our program is a building block for many careers and helps students make more informed decisions about their future.”

With a current enrollment of 300 students, JCTC serves sophomores, juniors and seniors from East Central, St. Martin and Vancleave high schools in the Jackson County School District. Goff’s daily routine includes discussing career options with students, providing support to achieve academic and career goals, and helping them focus on the next steps after graduation.

“Connie is helping ensure that students gain the experience and skills required to be successful in today’s workforce,” said MCEF President Mike Barkett. “To be recognized as counselor of the year is evidence of her effectiveness and hard work to create a culture that fosters growth, learning and excellence.”

Watching CTE evolve through the decades has given Goff insights into how modern programs are better at equipping students for life after high school, whether it includes attending college or transitioning into the workforce.

Partnering with area colleges and industries is key in improving JCTC’s curricula and post-graduation options. It also helps create employee pipelines for industries that rely on a skilled workforce to support their operations. Four years ago, Ingalls Shipbuilding partnered with districts on the coast to launch a Maritime Academy, which allows students to take daily classes while learning shipbuilding crafts at Ingalls.

“Industries tell us that there’s a huge demand coming up because they’re losing part of their workforce to retirement,” Goff said. “Some of our students who’ve attended the Maritime Academy have been hired after graduation with a starting salary up to $40,000 a year. For those who don’t want to attend a university straight out of high school, this is a great option.”

JCTC also partners with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, which provides scholarships for craft students who complete the two-year career and technical program to attend the college’s two-year program after graduation.

MCEF works with school districts throughout the state to raise awareness about the value of career and technical education and the opportunities it creates for Mississippi’s high school graduates. Goff’s experience proves that students are better served when exposed to a variety of career options such as construction, manufacturing and other skilled trades.

“I am humbled and blessed to be recognized by MCEF,” Goff said. “I couldn’t do my job without my team of coworkers and our administration. We’re like a family, and we do what’s right for kids.”

JCTC’s craft programs include welding, construction, and instrumentation and controls, all of which are certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Other programs that award industry certifications are information technology, automotive service technology, and culinary arts. Classes also are available in engineering, marketing, health science, agricultural science, and a Teacher Academy.

MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in more than 100 career and technical programs across the state. The foundation’s mission is to train individuals for the construction and manufacturing industries in Mississippi.

MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades. Learn more about MCEF at