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Career Connections: Opportunities in Career Exploration

This spring break, Owen Schoeniger ’15, Margaret Barlow ’16, Sarah Weirich ’16 and several others made use of the Career Center’s Career Connections program and traveled out to the Cleveland area to job shadow experts in their areas of expertise.

The Center hosts the Career Connections Program in partnership with Alumni Relations during spring break every year as a resource for career exploration.  This year, 23 students signed up for the program, which utilizes connections with Hiram alumni to set up job shadowing opportunities for students.

Career Center Director Kathryn Craig said the program is useful both for students who already have a general idea for their career and those who are still undecided about their future.

“If a student has made a tentative decision and wants to see exactly what one person in that career field does during a day, this is a great opportunity to find out if his or her vision of the career is accurate,” Craig said.  “On the other hand, a student who does not know exactly what interests him or her would benefit from learning more about a general career interest as well as about related careers that might be available in the same worksite.”

Among the 23 students that signed up to shadow was educational studies Owen Schoeniger, who voyaged to the Village Preparatory Schools in Woodland Hills, Ohio, to shadow Village Prep Principal Chad Webb.

Here, Schoeniger got the chance to watch the morning routines of the staff and students, to observe a classroom and then to sit in on an administrative discussion and evaluation of one of the Village Prep teachers.

Though teaching at a charter school isn’t exactly what Schoeniger wants to do, he said the experience was still valuable.

“I’m not interested in becoming a teacher; I’m interested in founding schools internationally,” Schoeniger said.  “But I got to talk to Chad about how they got the whole Breakthrough Schools program started.”

Schoeniger also explained how Webb put him into contact with the grant writer and the president and founder of Breakthrough Schools.

“I have yet to contact the founder, but I’m sending him an email today with some of the most critical and deepest questions I have about education in general and the process of establishing a funding pool and all the other necessary infrastructures to make something like establishing a school happen,” he said.

Overall, Schoeniger said that the experience was great for gathering knowledge about and connections for his field of interest and to confirm through experience his commitment to this field.

“When you’re a student and you say, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ you’re fantasizing, projecting all these different places you could be in the future,” he explained.  “But while you’re shadowing, you’re sitting there.  And it’s this visceral experience of seeing yourself in that role.  I had declared my major two months ago, and it was a nice way to finalize that this is what I’m going to do with my life.”

Margaret Barlow, who hasn’t yet decided on her major, used the job shadowing program not as an opportunity to confirm but to investigate potential interests.

“I was going to go to Florida, and I decided that this would be a better opportunity for me because I could explore my career choices,” Barlow said.

She shadowed Kelly Pecl-Dreamer, an art therapist at the Beck Center for the Arts in Cleveland, where they visited a retirement home and a community center of adults with developmental disabilities and helped the people draw.

Barlow said that she would encourage other students to job shadow to get a real feel of the career of their choice.

“It’s definitely good to see the environment you’re going to be in and the people you’re going to be around because in school, you don’t really know that,” she said.

Through the opportunity, she was able to get more of a feel for what she wanted to do, and she learned the importance of patience in the field of art therapy.

Music major Sarah Weirich did similar work at the Beck Center for the Arts.  She worked with two music therapists, Brittany Lesch and Jacklyn Neforos.

Weirich was interested in this job opportunity because she loves both science and music, and she believes music therapy is a career which encompasses both.

“I worked with a few different populations,” Weirich said.  “The first one was a children’s group at the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame called Toddler Rock, which was a lot of fun.  It’s like a head start program, and they were learning literacy through music therapy.  And then there was a group of adults with developmental disabilities.  I spent a lot of time with them at the community center.  Finally, there was a group of elderly persons at an assisted living facility.  That was actually my favorite group of all.  But I got to see pretty much everything.  The whole spectrum.”

Along with making professional connections, Weirich said the opportunity helped her in other ways.

“I think I learned a lot about myself in terms of personal development because the populations of people I thought I’d be most comfortable working with actually ended up being the opposite,” she said.  “Also, I think it’s important to put yourself out there and get accustomed to a professional environment.”

All three shadowers praised the Career Center’s ability with matching them up with shadowing opportunities.  But according to Schoeniger, it’s up to the student to make something meaningful of the experience.

“The job shadowing experience is a great opportunity if the student makes it a great opportunity in terms of being very specific about what he’s looking for, having questions ready during the experience and asking other questions when they arise,” he said.  “A student has to be completely open to the experience.”

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