CORVALLIS - Oregon State University and four other institutions have received a five-year grant of more than $21 million from the U.S. Department of Education to establish national research and information dissemination centers relating to career and technical education.

Other partners in the consortium are The Ohio State University, University of Minnesota, The University of Illinois, and The Pennsylvania State University.

All of the partners in the consortium are considered leaders in career and technical education - that branch of education that deals with helping individuals making the transition from school to successful work, family and community life. Formerly called "vocational education," the name has been considered too limited to describe the complexity of modern educational needs, says Wayne Haverson, director of the OSU School of Education.

"We're really talking about learning throughout the lifespan," Haverson said. "Certainly, the 'vocational education' idea is one component of that, but so is adult education, community college leadership and training, industry training programs, and the CAM (Certificate of Advanced Mastery) program in Oregon schools."

Operated by the five universities, the consortium will establish a National Research Center for Career and Technical Education to conduct a series of research projects, and a National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education to deliver the results of the research to people who need it.

"The problem with a lot of research in education," Haverson said, "is that it doesn't go anywhere. It sits on a shelf and educators have to reinvent the wheel over and over and over again. The dissemination center is a way to take the research results and make them applicable to the real world."

George Copa, a professor of education at OSU, has been the primary force behind Oregon State's involvement in the consortium. OSU will be responsible for gathering and disseminating data among the western states, he said, and will establish a site in Education Hall on campus as part of the program. Copa will serve as the director of the two national centers at the OSU site.

In the first year of the consortium, OSU will conduct two major research projects and one major information dissemination project.

Copa will be the principal investigator for a study that will look at the changing needs of career and technical education in the 21st century.

"We're going through a shift now, where there are new high-priority academic standards being put in place for secondary education, and new accountability expectations and goals for community and technical colleges," Copa said. "At the same time, there are major changes being called for in work force development, with a demand for new skills, broader skills, and meeting the needs of industry.

"What we envision is stringing together a series of stepping stones that start with education, then continue into job placement and, ultimately, individual satisfaction," Copa said. "And satisfaction can be tied to advancement, geographic location, a college degree, a new challenge in life, or something completely different."

As part of his study, funded at $250,000 through the consortium, Copa will study dozens of educational models, and work with teachers, administrators and policy makers at all levels, to produce a series of reports that will help organizations create effective programs suitable for their needs.

Another OSU study will look at career development intervention strategies in grades 7-12 throughout the country to determine their effectiveness. OSU education faculty Cass Dykeman, Michael Ingram and Dale Pehrssons will examine strategies such as job shadowing, internships, early work experiences, career inventories, and Internet research to see how students ages 13-18 begin their exposure to the working world. Career-related learning and interventions are critical to Oregon's school reform, Haverson said, including the CAM.

"Some folks are critical of programs like CAM, saying it's social engineering - making kids think way too early about career choices," Haverson said. "One of the purposes of this study will be to safeguard against that happening."

OSU professor Warren Suzuki will work through the National Center for Dissemination in Career and Technical Education, along with Richard Joerger of the University of Minnesota, to create ways of sharing the results of specific research with other educators. They will invite practitioners in the field of career and technical education to help translate the findings, either by organizing conferences, creating special publications, or some other methods.

The University of Minnesota will take the lead on the secondary school research projects; OSU will take the lead on post-secondary research.

"What this grant does is really focus what the OSU School of Education is all about - and that is preparing folks to make the school-to-work transition easier," Haverson said. "Education reform has been going on in Oregon for about 10 years and there has been so much hue and cry by teachers, administrators and families about implementation, that there hasn't been enough time for learning. "This will help to get us there."

OSU already runs one of the largest community college leadership training programs in the United States. The Western Center for Community College Development grooms educators for leadership positions as community college presidents, vice presidents, deans and other roles. The most recent group of students has come to OSU from Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia.

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George Copa, 541-737-8201