Students’ Career Experiences Enliven Workforce Development and Education
Many Workforce Development and Education alumni have one thing in common: their background before attending graduate school was not in the workforce development field.
Charles Saunders, ’87, ’06 MA, and ’11 PhD, had an unconventional start as a student. Originally a project manager within audit services at American Electric Power, Saunders had more than 25 years of work experience in his field before choosing to explore his passion for teaching. “When I wanted to learn more about how to be a better trainer and instructor, I turned to Ohio State,” he said. “I knew that their program was top-rate.”
Saunders is now an accounting lead faculty in the College of Business, Accounting, Economics, and Finance at Franklin University in Columbus, doing what he loves every day. “I enjoy everything that has any relationship to teaching,” he said. “Including course and program development, instructional design, and even marketing our programs: I love it all.”
Saunders isn’t the only student who found his calling in workforce development education after getting his start in a different profession. Others have started out as lead nurses, administrative assistants, and executive chefs at world renowned restaurants. They now work as adult learning instructors, human resources professionals, and culinary arts professors.
“I love the ‘But for Ohio State’ motto,” said Saunders. “In my case, ‘But for the people of Ohio State,’ who knows where I might be now?”
Inspiring life-long learning
Chris Zirkle, associate professor of Workforce Development and Education, is fascinated by Charles Saunders’ unique background and other students and alumni like him. His dedication to being an encouraging advisor made Zirkle one of the people in particular that Saunders thanks.
“This department really shows how someone can come in to do a certain thing, then do something completely different and still become an incredible success,” Zirkle said.
The Pickerington, Ohio, native particularly enjoys working with students as their advisor. Saunders found Zirkle to be the positive and supportive mentor during his graduate studies. “One thing that Dr. Zirkle and I agree on 100 percent is that teachers exist for their students, and we should be supportive and encouraging in helping them achieve their goals.” Saunders said. “Dr. Zirkle certainly was, for me.”
Zirkle works tirelessly to extend the workforce development field. As the principal investigator of the Ohio Career and Technical Education Teacher Recruitment and Retention Grant, Zirkle will facilitate the maintenance and growth of teacher education programs in career and technical education in the Department of Educational Studies.
The project, funded by the Ohio Department of Education, will foster the growth of programs at Ohio State that will allow more men and women like Saunders to find their destined career path. Similar programs have also been developed at Kent State and Wright State universities, and the universities of Toledo and Rio Grande.
Paying it forward
Zirkle thanks N.L. “Mac” McCaslin, his own advisor at Ohio State, for showing him the importance of giving encouragement to students. He pays his advisor’s support forward by serving as the chapter advisor of Eta chapter of Omicron Tau Theta, a national honorary professional society for graduate students, professional educators, and leaders in career and technical education. He was initiated into Eta chapter himself in 1992.
“Being the Ohio State chapter’s advisor has allowed me to work collaboratively on research with the chapter members and present our work at state and national conferences,” he said.
The chapter has benefited immensely from Zirkle’s leadership. Eta has inducted approximately 480 students and educational professionals. “That’s more than any other chapter,” Zirkle said. In additional to its induction numbers, Eta hosts panel discussions that introduce the career and technical education profession to students across all licensure programs at Ohio State.
“OTT definitely impacted my life as a student and now as a professional,” he said. “It has a great network of people from all over the country to connect with and to work alongside to show our nation how important vocational and career technical education is.” Zirkle’s commitment to OTT and to workforce development education as a whole has earned him the Outstanding Professional Service award from the national honorary.
“What I’d like to focus the most on is paying it forward and helping the next generation of graduate students in our programs,” Zirkle said. “Those who had their sights set on workforce development from day one and those, like Charles Saunders, who found their fit later in life.”