SRU graduate helping at-risk youths take career steps
Founded by a Slippery Rock University graduate, Career Walk is a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk high school students explore careers.
Feb. 25, 2021
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Doug Shirley started Career Walk, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk high school students explore careers, but the steps of his own professional journey started at Slippery Rock University.
Shirley, a 1995 SRU graduate with a master's degree in secondary guidance and counseling, led successful school-to-career programs in North Carolina before returning to his native western Pennsylvania where he is launching Career Walk.
"In my classes at SRU, we basically designed comprehensive career guidance program for school systems," Shirley said. "That gave me the confidence when I started my first job to really get involved and break ground on something new. I developed the skills necessary to excel as a school counselor and as an entrepreneur."
Shirley, a Butler resident who grew up in Pittsburgh, got his start as a counselor at Charity Middle School in Rose Hill, North Carolina, where he developed a career counseling program for students struggling academically and behaviorally. The program, Walk in My Shoes, involved assessments and placing at-risk students on contracts for which, upon adhering to terms, the students were rewarded with job shadowing experiences.
"The students made drastic improvements with their grades, and once the county board of education caught wind of it, I presented the results at the state capitol," Shirley said. "We were awarded a six-figure JobReady grant to facilitate the program for all the schools in the county."
More than 500 students benefitted from Shirley's program, which expanded under different funding and a new name, "Walk the Walk," at Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, earning additional statewide recognition. Shirley, who earned his Career Development Facilitator license, moved back home to Pennsylvania in 2010. He currently works as an outpatient therapist at Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople, providing mental health counseling. But he's committed to replicating the success of his earlier career guidance programs in North Carolina for students in western Pennsylvania and beyond.
"In my current position, I have dealt with a lot of kids who have drug addictions and no career plans," Shirley said. "After studying the school systems in Pennsylvania, I noticed the state really doesn't have any type of comprehensive program here. I'd like to fill that void and prevent kids from slipping through the cracks. This type of program or company could help the school systems and definitely help kids who are struggling."
In 2015, Shirley took the first steps toward creating a nonprofit organization called Career Walk. Keeping the Walk the Walk program under its purview, Career Walk provides career awareness and dropout prevention programs to high schools. Shirley's organization has partnered with the Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School, enrolling five students in a pilot program this academic year, focusing specifically on trade jobs, such as carpenters and electricians. His goal is to expand the program to all the school districts affiliated with BCAVTS and with a wider range of disciplines.
"Our goal, obviously, is to receive funding from grants and business sponsorships," Shirley said. "We're volunteer-run right now but we want to hire a full-time staff and implement our programs, starting in western Pennsylvania. We are determined to eventually take this statewide and, after that, make it a national initiative."
Shirley credits SRU faculty, particularly former professor Ann Kemmerer, for developing his skills and helping to provide the confidence necessary to build successful school-to-career programs.
"None of this would have taken place if I had not had a positive and successful experience within SRU's Counseling and Development Department," Shirley said.
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