Fahlgren earns outstanding student award
Caleb Fahlgren, a 2018 graduate of West Nassau High School, became the first Nassau County student to be named the Outstanding Secondary Career Education Student by the Florida Association of Career and Technical Education.
He was chosen based on his entire high school résumé and honored in July at the FACTE ceremony in Orlando. Fahlgren’s trail-blazing approach to high school distinguished him in several ways, and he will be reaping rewards for quite some time.
The Nassau County School District offers several options for high school students. While most students choose one program or a standard college-prep track, Fahlgren took a different approach. He viewed each class as an opportunity to explore careers and obtain credentials. While a standard college-prep high school diploma leaves roughly four to five classes for career preparation, WNHS’ block schedule allows for 12 to 13.
Fahlgren didn’t stop there; he enrolled in an early morning Drafting/AutoCAD course, began the Digital Forensics Technical Certificate at Florida State College at Jacksonville through early admissions and worked on his own to work toward additional industry certifications such as Linux and IT Security +. By the time he graduated, he earned seven industry credentials, multiple college credit hours, six college scholarships and knew exactly what career field would allow him to achieve his financial goals.
While college tuition has increased significantly in recent decades, a four-year college degree is no longer a guarantee to higher wages. Now more than ever, students need to consider the marketability of specific degrees and evaluate education as a financial investment. With a maturity and foresight beyond his years, Fahlgren understood this and explained the process during a recent conversation how the school district’s career education program offerings made difference for him.
“I wanted to go into college knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and the way to do that was to take as many different classes as you can. I wanted to use my four years in college taking exactly what I needed, not exploring,” he explained.
In the span of eighth to 11th grade, Fahlgren took courses in six different career education programs. This gave him exposure to marketing, finance, engineering and computer science, among other things. He settled with a combination of the final two, wireless engineering.
“In eighth grade I wanted to be a computer programmer. I didn’t discover the security side until working in the Java course my junior year of high school. Cyber security is such a growing field. Remember the Target data breach and the huge impact it made on their business? I wanted to be on the cutting edge of that.”
Having a narrowed career goal allowed him to proceed with a very deliberate process of vetting college programs and planning his future. As he explored colleges with strong computer science and engineering programs, he zeroed in on the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida Polytechnic University, the University of North Florida and Auburn University.
Said Fahlgren, “Polytech, UCF and Auburn were my finalists. Polytech was smaller and offered more scholarship opportunities, but there were more employers around UCF and Auburn. Auburn won out because they had a great cybersecurity program and were really focusing on engineering by building a new $40 million facility.” He was also impressed by their support of students working on personal projects and their placement rates.
Choosing an out-of-state school means additional expense, so seeking out scholarships would be key. He approached this with the same focus as his career exploration.
“It was less about AP courses and grades and more about being involved and well-rounded,” Fahlgren noted. “Having participated in activities such as 4-H, Future Business Leaders of America, the University of U.S. and the Jacksonville Bitcoin Club really mattered. Having a part-time job and industry credentials on my résumé helped too. Clubs plus school plus job showed I could handle it all. SAT Scores helped a lot too, of course.”
He ended up with seven scholarships totaling $39,000 for his freshmen year of college. This includes the FACTE award, which garnered him $1,000. The two largest awards Fahlgren received total over $30,000, are specific to Auburn’s programs, and can be renewed yearly.
Fahlgren already began his program at Auburn. He already sees other advantages from choosing career education courses over additional AP or academic courses.
“AutoCAD help me a lot. I used AutoCAD in a bridge design project in my first college class,” Fahlgren said. “It allowed me to build a prototype with the computer so I could be sure everything was exact. Other students that are just starting engineering may have struggled with the project, but I knew that by using AutoCAD I could get everything exact. My CompTIA A+ certification prep helped me know where the computer industry is heading. The Java program was my favorite because I loved the real-world projects and team group projects. I think that one of the best ways to learn is through real world projects. Video Game Design was a close second because you could bring your own knowledge and creativity into those projects.”
Fahlgren offered some advice for younger students.
“Being well-rounded is so important. People get caught up on being valedictorian, but everyone applying for these awards has good grades. You have to make yourself unique by having projects or experiences that not everyone else has. Colleges want a diverse atmosphere, so they want to see how you are different from the rest of the pack and how you are going to contribute to that atmosphere. They want to know you’ll be involved in their extra-curricular activities and may even do research with professors.”