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Shaler Area Middle School students learn about career possibilities

| Monday, April 3, 2017, 3:18 p.m.
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Shaler Area Superintendent Sean Aiken, left; The Education Foundation development director Andrew Weckman; Building Bridges for Business vice president of business and workforce development Scott Albert; and Shaler Area assistant superintendent Bryan O'Black.

Shaler Area eighth graders recently gave presentations describing their imaginary careers as the Stanley Cup's handlers, Las Vegas marquee light bulb changers and alligator trappers.

Scott Albert, Building Bridges for Business' vice president of education and workforce development, taught the lesson to expose the students to career options they might not have considered.

With The Education Foundation's financial support, Albert led two Shaler Area business education classes once weekly for five weeks as part of his nonprofit's “U can B” college and career readiness initiative.

“It aligns perfectly with our curriculum,” said Merritt McDaniel, who normally teaches during the class Albert led. “We build on careers and this prepares the students for high school. They are required to take a course called freshman forum, which continues career exploration and preparing them for college and the workforce.”

McDaniel said Albert taught her students about career clusters or wide-ranging occupation and industry groupings, entering the workforce directly after high school and entrepreneurship.

“I was able to look at all the job opportunities based on my interests,” said Gabe Ruano, 14, of taking a job survey. “Sports marketer and lawyer came up, and I never knew I was interested in them. It was eye-opening to see how many careers you can truly have based on your interests.”

The U can B lessons have focused on specific law and information technology jobs.

“I sort of had an idea of what I wanted to do, but this helped me figure out what kind of law I would like to go into and what colleges would be best,” said Lydia Nebillo, 14.

“We've had conversations about things like how creative writers are working in the IT field now creating story lines and story boards,” Albert said, noting that video game design goes beyond graphics and sound effects.

Furthermore, a guest speaker informed students about how IT careers support the criminal justice field.

“A lot of it's just getting them to think about, you know, different options,” he said.

Albert has found that it's beneficial working with eighth graders because “they don't have a lot of preconceived notions about what college or work is going to look like, yet.”

They also are still choosing high school electives that could translate into their long-term plans, he said.

During the workshops, the students created STEM Premier accounts, which Albert describes as a “LinkedIn for kids,” creating opportunities for students to network with corporate and college representatives as well as secure scholarships. The Shaler Area School District had him return to assist all eighth graders in creating the accounts while they registered for their high school courses.

Frank Orga, The Education Foundation president, said the school district has scheduled a second cycle of U can B programming following positive feedback from McDaniel and parents.

“The whole spirit of this program is called U can B. The idea is you can be anything that you want to be,” Albert said. “Just getting these kids to think about what they really like to do and how that translates to work, I think is probably one of the most valuable things they get out of it.”

Founded in 1999, The Education Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in scholarships, in addition to providing research and direct services.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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