WESTMORELAND — For teen-agers, deciding which career to pursue after high school can be intimidating.
But for Westmoreland Central School students, the College and Career Enrichment Program helps juniors and seniors explore their potential futures, with hands-on experience in their career of choice.
Through the year-long program, students have the opportunity to job shadow professionals with a day out on the job. Besides first-hand experience in the real world, students learn several other skills to help them become better professionals — and adults — such as networking, effective communication, time management and teamwork among their peers.
“Students are so used to the comfort of being in school and this program allows them to step outside of their comfort zone,” said Michele Weissenberger, business teacher and advisor of the College and Career Enrichment Program.
High school English Language Arts teacher Lindsay Owens said the program offers her students opportunities to explore their futures that she wishes she had growing up.
“I wish I had this program when I was in high school,” Owens said excitedly. “It’s invaluable to actually be out in the field to see what truly happens. You can read and research a chosen career all you want, but there is nothing like actually doing and experiencing the job to show you what your future could look like.”
To participate in the program, a student must complete a portfolio packet which includes permission slips from parents and teachers, a resume, application letter, references, introduction letter, and a meeting that discusses professional appearance and attitude. The student must also have good academic standing and attendance, and is required to submit a research paper addressing their career choice and rationale.
Weissenberger further explained that the program gives young people a new perspective on their studies through hands-on learning and a one-day or more mentoring experience. Students are paired with a mentor who they will “shadow” throughout the day to experience how the skills they learn in the classroom can be applied to the workplace.
“I shadow at St. Elizabeth Hospital” in Utica, “and it allows me to have first-hand experience to see what I could be missing out on,” Senior Lori Sheldon said, adding that the experience allows her to fully explore her options.
According to Data Point, a report by the U.S. Department of Education that examines the extent to which associate’s and bachelor’s degree students change majors within their first three years of enrollment, about 30 percent changed their major at least once. The College and Career Enrichment Program is meant to help students enter college with a more firm idea of what career path they wish to consider and what program of study it will take to get them there.
While participating in the College and Career Enrichment Program, students may also discover that a career they once wished to pursue, is no longer of interest after giving it a try, or it may simply not be the right fit. They learn not only what they want to do with their lives, but also what they may not want to do.
“I’ve learned that it’s OK to not know what you want to do,” said senior Jordan Carroll. “That’s what this program is for.”
Gabby Ramirez, also a senior, said if a student finds they don’t particularly like a specific job, they can easily transition into another career of choice.
“The College and Career Enrichment Program is an amazing program for students to be in because it helps you decide if this is the career you want to pursue and if you think it isn’t, you can change where you go each week,” she said. “Having teachers like Mrs. Weissenberger and Mrs. Owens to help us get ready for college next year is amazing, and if it weren’t for them, I don’t think half of us would even know the first step toward what we want to do.”
Senior Grace Waterman said she appreciates the program also allows the chance to explore what career opportunities can evolve from a particular degree of study.
“I believe the Career Enrichment Program really opens students’ eyes in terms of specific areas in their field,” said Waterman, who is pursuing a future career in music. “Many of the things I’ve been planning in terms of shadowing opportunities are very niche careers that I otherwise would not have known existed. The program is a great way to see the ins and outs of a career overall.”
Although the program is more geared for high school seniors, juniors may also participate. Some said they appreciate an early look into what they could be considering for their futures.
“I didn’t think I’d like the program,” junior Trevor Owens said. “But now I feel there is more out there, and I’m looking forward to next year.”