Justin Bearden has aspirations of humanitarian work abroad, using his engineering experience to build facilities for under-served populations.
“Whether it just be housing or whether it be a hospital, schools, churches. Whatever it may be I just wanna be able to use my engineering knowledge to be able to help with that and make sure it’s a good, lasting structure,” says Bearden.
This may not be the type of future goal you typically hear from an 18-year-old college freshmen from Willard. But Bearden’s outlook on life, and his professional interests and capabilities, were shaped in high school. That’s thanks in part to the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies, or GO CAPS, program.
“I think before GO CAPS I just kinda wanted to give back to the world and I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I think through GO CAPS, through my experience, I realized what I can do.”
This realization is not an uncommon one for GO CAPS graduates. The yearlong course for high school juniors and seniors allows both in-classroom learning and on-the-job shadowing. In Bearden’s case, it also led to a summer internship.
Bearden says that first semester his class visited over 25 area manufacturing sites. The next semester students spent time job shadowing at Springfield City Utilities. Bearden was then given the freedom to seek out his own businesses, among them was Springfield-based Miller Engineering.
“At first they started teaching me AutoCAD – very crucial to the engineering field. I had no experience with that programming before.”
Later, Bearden was able to assist with structural inspections. He was then tasked with redlining, or reviewing inspection documents.
“And eventually it got to the point where I was a draftsman myself. And so we would have our projects come in and I would be a designated draftsman, and so I actually got to have my name on a few full sets of printed drawings. And so that was a really great experience for me.”
“The program [GO CAPS] that he [Bearden] was a part of gave him a lot of skills to where he could come right in to our office and become a functioning employee almost immediately,” says Travis Miller, president of Miller Engineering.
He started the company from his bedroom 12 years ago. Now with nine full-time employees, Miller Engineering is licensed in 15 states handling structural and forensic engineering and building envelope consulting.
“We feel that it’s so critical not to take an intern, shadow, or student and throw them into the corner and say ‘listen and see if you learn anything.’ We really put ‘em through the paces.”
And Bearden handled those paces well in earning a paid summer internship.
“I believe it’s just because I took the initiative to contact him and then continued to take time out of my day and go to his company, and he [Miller] kind of saw that in me and saw some potential,” said Bearden.
I’ve accompanied Miller to the corner of Campbell and Sunset in Springfield, the site of a new Pets Smart that his company is building. These sites, he says, are vital educational spaces for today’s youth.
“Kind of what we’ve noticed, especially in the last five, six, seven years is that the youth that come to us haven’t had the same experiences that normal people have had. They haven’t built a tree house, for example. They haven’t been out and hammered nails, they haven’t been out and seen how concrete is placed or how these materials are used. And so a lot of times the effort we put into to bringing these youth out into the field is the only field experience they’ve had up to this point."
The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce manages the GO CAPS program. It stated in the run up to the program’s launch that members had increasingly reported a significant disconnect between the skills and talent available in their rapidly changing workforce needs.
That’s a true concern for employers like Travis Miller. Back at his office, he tells me the program offers another resource from which to choose valuable employees and for potential workers to increase their chances of landing a job.
“We sometimes as business owners don’t know to look to find the youth that are interested in that type of stuff. And likewise, they may not know who to call on our end, and so this is a really good intermediary that brings us together.”
And it’s steered Bearden down a bright path.
“Coming into college already having an internship looks really good on a resume, as well as the experience in AutoCAD. Another piece that I think is really crucial is knowing how to work in a company…it really teaches you those soft skills and those professionalism skills. And a lot of that’s what I learned in GO CAPS as well is the professionalism piece.”
He credits his mentors in the classroom, on the job, and self-motivation, noting “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Engineers will tell you that you can’t underestimate the importance of a structure’s foundation. It’s that type of value Justin Bearden has placed on GO CAPS, which has help strengthen his educational foundation. Those skills will be a tremendous gift for the under-served populations that Bearden wants to assist in the future.