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ODU Career Management Center Helps Design Virtual Career Center for Opportunity Inc.

Area high school students interested in career guidance, suggestions on how to afford college or help finding a job can now gather in one location to speak with experts from a range of different agencies.

Here's the best part: to visit this "location," the only thing they need is a computer and an Internet hookup.

Opportunity Inc.'s Virtual Youth Career Center of Hampton Roads is a three-dimensional, avatar-based virtual location, designed with help from Old Dominion University's Career Management Center. The CMC had already created its own national award-winning virtual career center last year, using the online computer program Second Life.

Two ODU graduates help run Opportunity Inc.'s Virtual Youth Career Center.

"We serve young people in eight different communities in Hampton Roads," said Andrea Harrell, director of youth initiatives at Opportunity Inc. and an ODU alumna. "So it totally makes sense to have a virtual career center like this one."

To visit the location, users first create their own three-dimensional character (or avatar); the character then appears in the circular virtual space, complete with virtual hardwood floors and a virtual blue sky and green hillside visible outside. On walls around the Virtual Youth Career Center are boards containing links to other sites that provide information - such as Cash Course, a site that provides planning assistance for students looking for ways to pay for college, and Human Metrics, a site that offers Myers-Briggs-style personality tests where students can select careers that match their interests.

To gather the information they need, at the pace they need it, virtual visitors simply use their computer keyboard to maneuver the avatar to the board they're interested in, and click with their mouse. Some of the sites provide video links, which virtual visitors can watch by clicking on virtual benches and "sitting" in front of the screen.

"If someone clicks on a site, they're the only ones that are using the information," Harrell said. "That way there's no limit on the number of people who can use the site at the same time."

Beyond helping design the site, ODU's Career Management Center continues to be involved in the Virtual Youth Career Center. One of the boards that virtual visitors can access directs them to the CMC, specifically the page on the site that matches careers to majors at Old Dominion University.

Tom Wunderlich, assistant dean of the Career Management Center, said the work is helping the CMC build on its cyber career center concept.

"The goal is to be able to take students to places that they could normally not get to and interact with people and resources that they could not normally reach," Wunderlich said. "The Virtual Youth Career Center, being piloted with Opportunity Inc., is an example of this effort, providing the capability for individual high school students to experience immersive access to career information at the time of their choosing and from a point of computer access of their choosing."

Wunderlich said many of the students who access the Virtual Youth Career Center will become ODU students in the future, so allowing them virtual access to CMC information gives them a leg up in career planning before they even enroll in school.

Four ODU student peer mentors also hold virtual "walk-in" hours at the Youth Career Center, using avatars to help young people explore career fields and prepare for the job search. The system allows for communication via two-way audio and chat. AmeriCorps volunteers from the Youth Career Center also conduct virtual "walk-in" hours.

"It's helping maintain ODU's relationship with the Youth Career Center, something we very much want to do," said Nakia Madry, CMC's Cyber Career Center supervisor.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Development Board and Opportunity Inc. are responsible for developing policy and overseeing local workforce development initiatives in partnership with local elected officials. There are 16 local workforce development boards in Virginia.

This article was posted on: April 4, 2011

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