Junior Achievement (JA) conducts several Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) Summits each year for 9th graders to expose them to hands-on experiments with professionals employed in those fields. The round-robin of their nine STEM Summit classes for the day last 30 minutes, so they have to get with it pretty darn quick (PDQ) in order to complete the hands-on work.
JA also has career panelists who are typically set up with three professionals who are tasked with telling the 9th grade students about their education, career path and what they can expect for starting salaries as well as potential earnings as their career in our chosen profession progresses. You don’t get the full 10 minutes due to students needing to get in the room, find their seats and settle down. Typically, career panelists get just seven minutes to tell their story, so there is room left over for questions. When JA first asked me to consider being a career panelist, I was invited to meet with JA Stem Summit officials and tell my story — in seven minutes or less! As I would find out later, I was the only blue-collar trade person in the six-person career panelist group. Not knowing what to expect, and feeling a bit intimidated by the process, I attended a STEM Summit to watch the hands-on experiments and to sit in on the career panelists presentations.
After two years of participating in JA STEM Summits as a career panelist, I asked the directors to give me more time if they ever had any cancelations and as luck would have it, my scheduled STEM Summit had one career panelist drop out at the last minute. I was scheduled to be in the two person career panelist room!
Mom always said, “If you think you have it bad, just look around and listen to others and you’ll find things are better than you think.” My career panelist partner was Carilyn Fennel and her life was no cakewalk. Terrible time in school as someone undiagnosed with bi-polar and ADHD. Teachers telling her how stupid she was (hey, that’s my story too, but because of dyslexia and ADHD) and how she overcame those challenges to go on to college. Then off to work, but in the middle of that, a nephew was born with serious health problems. She ended up taking care of him and her daily routine was 6:00 a.m. at the hospital for rounds; off to her first and second jobs; back to hospital until 11:00 p.m.; catch a few hours sleep and repeat, which she did for four years until the parents could take over. With this new time-hole in her schedule, Carilyn went back to school — online course in cyber security, and now has a great job working to keep bad things from happening to corporation networks. Talk about an inspiring story!
By the third class, Carilyn and I were hitting our stride with each of us having almost 15 minutes. It was during that third class when I asked the students if any of them had already decided on a career. The response was astounding! In each of the remaining classes, roughly 15 percent already had their careers picked out. I was dumbfounded, but suddenly we had the give and take I enjoy. Now I wanted to hear the beginnings of their stories, so I cut back on my story for the remainder of the day. We went around the class: writer, teacher, engineer — electrical, mechanical, (I ribbed him about how he was going to impact lives like mine); psychologist; and one young lady who had a very detailed career in law as her goal. But the best one of all was a lad who stated with pride “welder.” Any idea how much welders can make, I asked. Without hesitation he said, “$125,000.00 a year.” I figured this young man must surely know about Mike Rowe and his foundation that gives out millions for trade scholarships. “Nope, who’s that?” So I told him, and the class, how there’s over 3 million jobs unfilled in the trades and that Mike Rowe and others, like This Old House, are educating the public about careers in the skilled trades. He’s now planning to apply for a scholarship.
I’ll freely confess I tried to channel a bit of Mike Rowe during each of my presentations and made time to discuss these five myths “borrowed” from Mike Rowe’s blog:
1. There are no good jobs left in America.
2. The best path to a good job is a 4-year college degree.
3. Skilled trade jobs are dead-end jobs. (Let’s just say I dragged that one off into the woods and eviscerated that myth.)
4: You can’t make six-figures. (Put a stake through its heart by citing our young lad that is planning on being a welder.)
5: There’s no room for women in the skilled trades.
JA always finishes up the STEM Summits with a general assembly where they address the entire 9th grade students. Some serious messages mixed in with a healthy dose of humor and then the grand finale that utilizes liquid nitrogen experiments. The last one involves climbing a ladder with a 5-gallon pail of liquid nitrogen that is poured rapidly into a garbage can filled part way with water, which generates a huge vertical plume of white vapor and a cloud of vapor that gently cascades across the stage floor and onward into the seats.
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