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Career Classroom: Accomplishments of county vo-tech grads validate CTE experience (ROI-NJ)

March 8, 2024

Billy Torres, a 2015 graduate of the computer science program at Bergen County Technical Schools, poses in front of a mural.

Billy Torres, a 2015 graduate of the computer science program at Bergen County Technical Schools, attended MIT after high school and then worked at a series of tech-driven companies like Google and Airbnb before joining Citadel as a front-end engineer.

To mark Career and Technical Education Month this February, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools released a fact sheet highlighting the value of career and technical education across the state’s 21 county vocational-technical school districts. The data reflects the range of opportunities for students to focus their learning experiences and take meaningful steps to jump-start their college and career journeys.

But, the numbers alone do not capture the full impact of CTE. That is better accomplished through graduates’ own words and their stories of success.

Throughout February, the NJCCVTS shines a spotlight on many successful graduates via its @CareerTechNJ social media channels and website,

Early focus leads to future success

Billy Torres, a 2015 graduate of Bergen County Technical Schools, is among the alumni featured this month. At BCTS, he studied computer science, which is currently among the Top 10 career programs pursued by New Jersey county vocational-technical school students.

Today, Torres applies his education as a front-end engineer at Citadel, where he develops research tools at the intersection of math, technology and finance. His résumé also includes roles at leading tech-driven companies like Google, Airbnb and TikTok and a postsecondary education from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Torres said his start at BCTS prepared him for a top-ranked school like MIT.

“The early exposure to my major, as well as all the physics and calculus classes, facilitated my transition into the rigorous curriculum at MIT,” said Torres. “Those classes also equipped me with analytical skills that are foundational to the engineering work I do today.”

Access to industry tools accelerates career trajectory

Warren County Vocational alumna Katie Keenan prepares to say action in a movie she is filming

Katie Keenan, right, a 2020 graduate of Warren County Technical School, studied television – radio and digital media, and is now a photojournalist and video editor for WFMZ-TV 69 News.

Katie Keenan, a 2020 graduate of Warren County Technical School, studied television – radio and digital media in high school. Programs in communications, visual arts and digital media are also among the Top 10 most sought-after career programs by county vocational-technical students. They continue to attract students who are eager to learn and express their creativity while using the latest industry tools and technology.

Keenan is an example of someone who took full advantage of the resources at WCTS. She created two short films called “Bittersweet” and “Self” that were official selections in the Lyte in the Dark Film Festival, screened at the Princeton Garden Theater, and aired on the Fish Bowl on New Jersey Comcast channels.

She also earned second place in the New Jersey SkillsUSA competition for Radio/Audio Production. Such skills-based competitions are encouraged across New Jersey county vocational-technical schools to help students further build their expertise, confidence and portfolios to stand out when applying for college or a job. In fact, more than 4,000 of the schools’ students participate annually.

After graduation, Keenan felt more than prepared to continue her education at East Stroudsburg University. Her short film, “I Want to Cut My Hair,” won the ESU’s 2023 Media Fair in the video category. The contest was judged by television writer Evan Romansky, creator of Netflix’s “Ratched.”

Perhaps even more impressive, Keenan graduated summa cum laude a semester early, earning a Bachelor of Science in digital media technologies with a concentration in television and video production.

“While I’ve always been aware that my education at Warren County Technical School was excellent, it became much clearer to me once I began college,” said Keenan. “I realized that the curriculum and education at WCTS was much more impressive in terms of bestowing equipment knowledge, project quality and work ethic. I was exceeding my class assignments the moment I began college, since I had been given such an intensive and thorough education at WCTS.”

Keenan recently accepted a position as a photojournalist and video editor for WFMZ-TV 69 News. She is eager to share her skills and passion for media with a broader audience.

Work-based learning engages and ignites passions

Payton Klein, an alumna of Ocean County Vocational Technical School, also looks to apply her skills and passion to benefit others. The 2023 graduate of OCVTS’ post-secondary culinary arts program was recently accepted into the Disney Culinary Program.

She now enters a six-month internship, where she will gain on-the-job experience working in the hospitality epicenter of the world at Walt Disney Co. parks and resorts. Klein is more than prepared for this type of learning environment. Much of her OCVTS culinary education took place in a fully operational bar and restaurant, Cuisine on the Green at the Atlantis Golf Course in Little Egg Harbor.

The establishment doubles as OCVTS’ culinary arts training center. Here, students learn everything from restaurant operations to food service and different types of food preparation.

“Attending Cuisine on the Green at Atlantis gave me all the knowledge needed to become a professional kitchen chef,” said Klein. “I learned all about the different knife skills, kitchen etiquette and was able to utilize them in my first chef job. I also was given amazing opportunities to be creative on my own, which was always my favorite part of the program.”

Klein, who attended OCVTS’ Grunin Performing Arts Academy before moving into the post-secondary culinary arts program, solidified her career goals based on her Cuisine on the Green experience.

Similar work-based learning experiences are integrated into career programs offered across the state to help ignite passions, help students forge workplace connections and enhance the relevancy of students’ learning.

More than 12,000 county vocational-technical school students participate in work-based learning opportunities. Many of those experiences are made possible by the nearly 4,000 industry advisers and nearly 2,000 employer partners who help connect students to meaningful work experiences.

Each opportunity provided by New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools help students connect their learning to future goals and leads to graduates like Torres, Keenan and Klein. They enter their chosen industries not only prepared to contribute, but intent on leaving a mark of excellence.

Conversation Starter
Visit throughout February to read more about successful NJ county vocational-technical school graduates. Also, join @CareerTechNJ on Facebook, X and LinkedIn to read about a new successful alum almost daily throughout February.

Visit to access the recently released NJCCVTS Fact Sheet.

This article originally appeared Feb. 21, 2024 in ROI-NJ.

Alumni Success Stories

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