An impressive academic record and talent helped KayLynn Samples get accepted to Brenau University. Excellent soft skills are helping her make the most of her freshman year.
Samples honed those soft skills by participating in the GeorgiaBEST program during her senior year at Chestatee High School in Gainesville.
“I was lucky that my high school offered work-based learning experiences, as well as the GeorgiaBEST program; I took advantage of both,” Samples said. “GeorgiaBEST is a great program that teaches personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects for the future. It helped prepare me to face tomorrow with a confident and committed attitude that will propel me to excellence.”
Launched in January 2012 by the Georgia Department of Labor, GeorgiaBEST grew out of discussions with state employers about the skills they wanted to see and weren’t always finding among young job applicants.
“We learned that 69 percent of all first-time workers lose their jobs for lack of soft skills, so we developed a 10-week soft skills certificate curriculum to teach what we call 'employability skills,’ ” said Cindy Morley, GeorgiaBEST director.
The program is flexible, allowing each high school to decide how best to imbed the curriculum into existing classes. The program has grown from 20 to 200 high schools across the state.
Students learn how dressing to professional standards, showing up on time, taking responsibility, developing good communication skills, being organized and practicing good time-management skills can help them succeed on the job.
Samples, who is interested in a career in mass communications and broadcasting, gained some work experience with the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. For most of her senior year, she spent the first three school periods working as a receptionist and helping with the bureau’s website.
“I was lucky to get to experience work while in high school. The people and communication skills I learned through GeorgiaBEST were especially valuable,” she said. “Most young people stumble over their words when they have to talk to adults. As a receptionist, I had to talk to everybody. The program taught us how to dress for success and what is considered professional and what isn’t. It showed important differences between the workplace and everyday life.”
When Samples received her soft skills certificate on senior awards night, she learned that some Chestatee High School teachers had chosen her as the school’s GeorgiaBEST Student of the Year.
“I decided to try for the next level of competition by filling out the statewide application, writing an essay about what I’d learned in the program and submitting my résumé and letters of recommendation,” she said.
In September, the Georgia Department of Labor named Samples GeorgiaBEST Student of the Year and she received a $1,000 college scholarship from the Georgia State Employer Committee. She was one of more than 5,000 students who received soft skills certification in 2013.
“GeorgiaBEST is a very stringent program designed to ensure that our future work force is prepared for the challenges ahead of them as they transition from high school to the work world,” said Mark Butler, Georgia Department of Labor commissioner. “KayLynn is a perfect example of the success of GeorgiaBEST. I appreciate her commitment to the program as a high school senior.”
Samples also put her communication skills to use when selecting a college.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to a woman’s college, but I’m a competitive cheerleader and the coach at Brenau showed an interest in me,” she said. “In talking with her, I learned that I’d have hands-on leadership opportunities at Brenau as a freshman. In larger universities, I might have to wait until I was a junior to participate in activities fully.”
Samples also appreciates the advantages of smaller classes.
“My largest class has 20 people in it, and one class has only six students. I get to form real relationships with my teachers, and I love that,” she said.
Samples is already taking classes in her major and is participating in a public relations practicum in which she helps plan campus events. She’s looking forward to future practicums that could put her to work at a local radio station and the Gainesville Times newspaper.
“I love college and I’m definitely using all the skills I learned in high school,” she said. “I’m glad to hear that more high schools are starting a GeorgiaBEST program. It really helped me.”