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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Cara Christensen, left, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, Gov. Gary Herbert, governor's Education Advisor Tami Pyfer, Nate McDonald, and Mitchell Elliott discuss Christensen's and Elliott's graphic design and web design work for various companies at PCCAPS in Park City on Thursday, May 15, 2014. PCCAPS is pairing high school students with businesses to prepare students for professional environments and careers by inspiring them to find their passion through industry-driven projects.

PARK CITY — A program in the Park City School District is receiving high praise for its innovative approach to career preparedness.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert toured the district's Center for Advanced Professional Studies. The program partners with businesses to prepare high school students for professional environments and careers "by inspiring them to find their passion through industry driven projects," explained program director Jennifer Jackenthal.

Herbert said strengthening education through science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, will ensure tomorrow’s workforce is ready for the career opportunities of the next generation.

"(The students) clearly are learning about what the real world is like," he said. "It's not just a textbook. It's not just a theory. They are learning the real-world applications of what they are (studying) in class."

Through the center, students work on projects submitted by local businesses to develop strategies and solutions that address key challenges those business partners face, said Moe Hickey, president of the Park City Board of Education.

"This experience is going to give the students a leg up when they go on to college and then into the real world," Herbert said.

In order for the state's workforce to keep pace in the future, Utah’s economy will have to be stronger than ever, he added.

Collaboration between education, business and civic leaders will be key to establishing similarly innovative programs statewide and bolstering the Utah's long-term economic future, the governor said.

"This (program) is win-win all the way around," he said, "and if we can replicate this in the other 40 school districts around the state, we would in fact raise the bar significantly when it comes to creating new business entrepreneurs, people who can think outside the box, using some creativity and be better prepared to compete in the real-world marketplace."

From a business partnership point of view, the program provides a link into fertile minds and new-age thinking of today's tech-savvy high schoolers, which can give new perspective to age-old problems, said Vincent Beerman, product manager for Taulia Inc., a cloud-based provider of invoice, payment and discounting management solutions. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company has an office in Park City.

Beerman said finding talented people is an important key to success for technology startups like his firm. Partnering with programs like the Park City School District's Center for Advanced Professional Studies allows his company to "seed the ground" so local students can have strong career options in Utah.

Jamie Martin, a senior at Park City High School and a participant in the program, said the mentors and instructors have shown students exactly what it is like to be in a real-world business environment.

"It's been an amazing experience because I've been surrounded by so many people that are so smart," Martin said. "They interact with you, and they treat you with respect. I feel valuable here."

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