More than 50 professionals from a wide variety of fields and industries volunteered their time to speak about their careers to Ridgefield High School students during the school’s Career Day, the capstone event for Career Month.
The high school counseling department and the Ridgefield Public Schools Foundation brainstormed Career Day as part of the school’s Career Month activities. “The foundation has supported us in trying to reach all of our students with activities to develop college and career readiness,” said Monica DeShazer, school counselor. “Career Day was the central activity for our Career Month.” After coming up with the idea, Amy McKenna, Program Coordinator for the school’s High School and Beyond program, organized the day itself. “Execution was a team effort school-wide,” said McKenna.
Career Day began with students taking career surveys during their homeroom classes to determine which professionals’ presentations they would like to hear. A total of 56 professionals volunteered providing experience in a wide variety of fields including enology (wine making), hospitality, architecture, iron working, the logging industry, restaurants, writing, floral arrangements, finance, human resources, information technology, and areas of public service including firefighting, law enforcement, and even elected office.
Professionals were teamed up in different rooms to present their careers and to speak about how they found their career choices as well as to answer student questions. After brief introductions from each professional, the students asked questions including how to get started on particular career paths or how to own their own businesses. Many of the professionals suggested students “job-shadow” people who work in fields of interest to the students. “Do you like the outdoors? Maybe a logging career is for you, but you won’t know if you don’t take a closer look at it,” said Craig Chilton, an expert in the logging industry. “It’s also important to have self-confidence; don’t think you’re not smart enough – figure out what you want to do and go for it.”
Some professionals discussed the importance of being open to options students might not have considered in the beginning. “Your life is going to change a lot and you need to know how to roll with the punches to find your way,” said Ron Onslow, Mayor of Ridgefield and restauranteur who initially wanted to work in forestry. Mindy Patee, an event planner who works in the hospitality industry, agreed with Onslow, “Every experience you have throughout your life can help you shape your future,” she said. “High school and college will teach you a lot, but you need to get out there and experience different aspects of life, too.”
Other professionals talked about figuring out how working at something you love can make work more enjoyable. “Doing what you love as your work will make you look forward to your day,” said Gary Gouger, a winemaker. “I started my career as a pharmacist and I discovered that if you love what you do, you’ll love each day’s work.”
Paul Valencia, sports writer for The Columbian newspaper, spoke about how he loved watching sports and figured out a way to become a journalist without a college degree, “I got my start by becoming a journalist when I joined the military,” he said. Many students asked about the importance of higher education and Valencia spoke of how getting further education should be a priority for every student. “Nowadays, you really do need a four-year degree if you want to become a journalist.”
Some fields were so unique that students simply wanted to know more about the field itself. “The hardest part of my job is creating funeral arrangements,” said Renelle Logue, a professional florist. “I remind myself that I’m helping a family get through a rough time by creating something beautiful to honor their loved one.”
Other professionals spoke of the importance of being self-aware and accepting criticism from anyone, including themselves. “I’m my own biggest critic,” said Sue Fox, a photographer. “You’ve got to develop a thick skin and realize that you are the only person who can decide how great your own work is.”
Other events for Career Month included teachers sharing their job and career experiences with each of their classes throughout the month as well as opportunities for students to win prizes for career trivia questions. The month concluded with field trips to the Port of Portland and Nutter Construction. “We wanted students to have the opportunity to see a variety of careers throughout the month,” said DeShazer. “We want to express our gratitude to our volunteer presenters as well as the Ridgefield Public Schools Foundation for making our Career Month events possible.”
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