Laura Brower Named Counselor of the Year

Brower’s CTE focus is helping build Mississippi’s workforce of the future

There’s never been a better time for students to enroll in career and technical education, and CTE Counselor Laura Brower is thankful to be part of the movement as recipient of the Dianna Zendejas Counselor of the Year Award from Build Mississippi which is powered by the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation.

“There’s a nationwide shortage of skilled workers, which makes this a great time for CTE,” said Brower, a CTE counselor at Calhoun County Career & Technical Center. “And attitudes today are more positive about CTE. When I was in school, the expectation was to get a four-year degree. Now students are seeing more worth in trade skills and that they can make an excellent living, and parents are noticing, too.”

Build Mississippi’s statewide award recognizes CTE counselors who are helping students achieve success in academics and career development. It is named in honor of the late Dianna Zendejas, Build Mississippi’s assessment administrator and marketing and public relations director who died of cancer in 2023.

At Calhoun County Career & Technical Center, Brower works with around 200 students in grades 9-12 who attend Bruce, Calhoun City and Vardaman high schools.

“Talk to anyone in any area of industry—they’re looking for skilled workers who also have training in soft skills,” she said. “We try to cover all the bases to prepare students for successful careers after high school. Students can graduate with a nationally certified skill in addition to their diploma, which is amazing.”

With support from Build Mississippi, more than 100 CTE programs in Mississippi, including Calhoun County’s, offer training and credentialing through the National Center for Construction Education & Research.

“[Build Mississippi] has been a very helpful resource for students and counselors,” Brower said. “When I came into the CTE world, I participated in a Build Mississippi counselor workshop and learned all about construction skills and careers. The organization also has recognition and scholarship programs for students to showcase the great work they’re doing in their CTE programs.”

Brower noted that local employers are getting more involved in CTE and helping expand opportunities for work-based learning, job shadowing and part-time jobs. CTE students are learning about careers in lumber production, furniture manufacturing, health care, automotive service and other industries in Calhoun County.

Through a training program with Weyerhaeuser, students can complete a two-year program at Itawamba Community College to prepare for skilled positions with the company. Business and industry leaders also have supported career fairs, participated in mock interviews and hosted workplace tours.

“There’s a greater emphasis on partnering with industries to give students work experience,” Brower said. “It also allows students to network with people in different professions and find out about career opportunities in our area. We’re fortunate to have a community that’s very supportive.”

A native of Bruce, Brower began her counseling career 16 years ago at Bruce High School and branched into CTE career pathway exploration and work-based learning before landing her current position. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University and is a National Certified School Counselor and a National Certified Counselor.

“Laura is invested in helping students prepare for successful lives and careers,” said Brent Bean, president of Build Mississippi. “She understands the connection between CTE and building a skilled workforce to help our communities and industries thrive. We are thankful for her efforts as a CTE counselor and advocate in connecting more Mississippians with rewarding futures.”

Build Mississippi is an initiative powered by Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF). MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) craft training and credentialing in almost 200 career and technical programs across the state while offering workforce training and credentialing in construction and industrial maintenance trades.