FULTON COUNTY — The phrase “brain drain” refers to the migration of “highly trained or intelligent people” from one locale to another. It can reference people leaving one country for another, or one state for another, but it can also be used on a more local level.
For the past 11 years, the Fulton County Purdue Extension office has been making an effort to show local high school juniors many of the opportunities available to them close to home, with the hope they will remain in the county after their high school graduation or return to the area after receiving their higher education.
Fulton County Youth Leadership Academy began with its first class of high school juniors in 2008. It started as an offshoot of a similar adult leadership academy, a popular movement in many communities in northern Indiana and beyond. This year’s soon-to-be-graduating class of FCYLA students is the 11th to go through the program, which coincides with the application process to be a part of the 12th iteration of the group.
“FCYLA is a way to show youth in the community what jobs are available in our area,” said Fulton County Purdue Extension Educator Amber Barks, who administrates the program. “We want them to come back to Fulton County to work, and the only way to do that is to show them that there are lots of different opportunities in businesses and factories.”
Barks said the group of 20 meets once monthly for a day of programs, team building exercises, food and fun. Their meeting location varies each month and each time focuses on different aspects of leadership and the community. The meetings are usually led by Fulton County Purdue Extension Director Mark Kepler and Jennie Smith, a member of the Rochester School Corporation’s board of trustees, with Barks acting as the group’s facilitator.
“I have three goals with the group,” stated Kepler. “One, to teach leadership skills. Two, to get the kids to know each other on a personal basis. And, three, to introduce them to opportunities in the community. I want to show them that they don’t have to pack up and leave the Fulton County community. That this is not a bad place to live and to raise a family. I want to show them what we have in this community.”
“Participation in FCYLA also leads to a lot of internships for the students after they graduate from the program,” added Barks. “Some of our students have found opportunities in local banks, the hospital and other businesses.”
Kepler added the class also serves as a resumé builder for the students. It provides them with opportunities and experiences to which they might not normally have access. At the end of the experience, an FCYLA graduation ceremony is held, during which students have an opportunity to share what they learned in the academy. Additionally, they are presented with a graduation certificate and blanket to commemorate their experience.
Each year’s group of 20 students is chosen from a blind application process. Tippecanoe Valley Schools Superintendent Blaine Conley and Gloria Carvey of Ivy Tech Rochester, Barks, Kepler and Smith make up the FCYLA board which selects participants from the group of applicants, ordinarily numbering between 30 to 40. Students must be residents of Fulton County and come from some combination of Tippecanoe Valley, Rochester and Caston high schools. Current sophomores are invited to apply to be part of the 2019-20 class, and can find applications and more information in their school’s guidance office, or at the Fulton County Purdue Extension office.
Applications are due by Wednesday, May 1.