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DeCA Builds Student Career Program

By Bonnie Powell
National Guard Bureau

FORT LEE, Va., March 27, 1997 – The Defense Commissary Agency is embarking on a cooperative program that allows students to earn school credit while they learn the grocery business -- the DeCA way.

Test sites at stores have already been selected for the new Commissary Operations Student Career Experience Program. The agency plans to implement the program this fall, depending on student recruiting.

U.S. pilot sites will be Redstone Arsenal, Ala.; Miramar Naval Air Station, Calif.; Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; Eglin and MacDill Air Force bases, Fla.; Forts Benning, Stewart and Gordon, Ga.; Barksdale Air Force Base, La.; Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.; Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.; Minot Air Force Base, N.D.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Kelly Air Force Base, Texas; Fort Lee, Va.; and McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

The agency plans to recruit outstanding students through local school systems, often with the help of commissary officers and cooperative extension 4-H clubs. A typical schedule includes attending regular morning classes, Monday through Friday. Afternoon schedules would alternate between working in the commissary and attending related classes at school using Cornell University home study courses.

Students will participate in a two-year program at the junior and senior levels, working in all aspects of the grocery industry including customer service, grocery, meat and produce departments.

Participating commissaries will assign students their own employee mentor who will teach and evaluate them while they are working, said Kristen Ogden, chief of the agency's Staffing and Career Management Division. The mentors receive a training guide that covers everything from orientation to progress reports.

Students will be employed initially at a GS-1 level and then as a WG-1 in their second year. Within 120 days of their high school graduation, DeCA has the option of offering them permanent employment. If they want to go to college, the agency may be able to reappoint them as students and fund their college courses, said Ogden, adding the door may be open to full-time summer employment. "This program is very much open-ended at this point -- we are just getting started," she said.

The involvement of cooperative extension 4-H clubs in this nationwide program is unusual, said DeCA personnel staffing specialist Crystal Wade. "The liaison with 4-H is particularly beneficial in getting the program going in the commissaries, and on a wider scale," she said. That means getting retail grocers involved, too. "Local schools may be hesitant to start the program if it only involves one or two students at the commissary," she said.

The Student Career Experience Program is still in the planning stages in Europe, said European Region Personnel Director Jerry Oestreich. "We have a lot of coordination and some tailoring needed for the overseas area, but we're looking forward to a future implementation. The European pilot sites will be determined closer to the implementation date, but there is a potential for sites in Germany, Belgium and Italy."

(Note to editors: Participating commissary officers will be recruiting students this spring for the fall semester)

(Courtesy of Defense Commissary Agency)

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