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Career symposium opens doors for high school students

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
McKnight Journal
Nina Barbuto (right), Carnegie Science Center weekend programs manager for the Girls, Math and Science Partnership, speaks with students attending the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Career Symposium on Jan. 30, 2013, at North Hills Senior High School in Ross Township. From left are Madison McGonigal and Abby Humphrey, juniors at North Hills Senior High School, and Martina Toscani, a junior from Avonworth High School. Dona S. Dreeland | McKnight Journal

It was a morning for students to focus on their futures.

In just three and a half hours, doors to many careers were opened as the North Hills School District hosted a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Career Symposium.

High school juniors from the Avonworth, Cornell, Montour, Moon Area, Quaker Valley and West Allegheny school districts joined North Hills juniors and seniors Jan. 30 for presentations from professionals engaged in what many now call STEM careers. Some presenters were North Hills graduates.

The keynote speaker was Joy Ruff, community outreach manager for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which promotes natural-gas production. Students from six other school districts also were connected remotely for her talk and other sessions held in the senior high auditorium.

Students made the rounds elsewhere in the school to hear from those working in engineering, molecular biology, technology systems, atomic power and various trades, among others.

They heard summaries of the day-to-day basics and the excitement of the varied work-a-day worlds. But most importantly, the teens learned what it might take for them to join those professional ranks one day.

This was the first in a series of seminars to be offered to local students this year. The others will be hosted by various school districts and will focus on health care; arts and communication; and business, government and law. These are categories that parallel North Hills' new structure of academies for its high school students.

David Barkovich, North Hills Senior High dean of students and guidance counselor, took the lead in putting the symposium together. In the company of administrators, faculty and staff in the district and members from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, “400 students had a firsthand interaction with professionals in the STEM field, got to network and understand that they need to begin to plan now,” Barkovich said.

“Real life is right around the corner.”

Matthew Esch and Kyle Gricks, 18-year-old North Hills seniors from Ross Township, both plan to study nuclear or mechanical engineering at Penn State University.

“I have a passion for math and science,” Esch said. “It all comes together in engineering.”

Gricks attended the Westinghouse Science Honors Institute last year. It was an opportunity that fueled his interests in energy even more.

“I liked the energy portion,” he said about a presentation dealing with nuclear energy. “It's clean energy, and it is the future.”

Yet even with the talk about what the students might want to be when they get older, college requirements and possibilities of large salaries, many speakers told the teens to start their career quests by deciding what they like to do.

“You must enjoy it, believe in what you're doing and show initiative,' said Cory Stansbury, who spoke about his work with nuclear power plants at Westinghouse Electric Co. and found his audiences to be “attentive and engaged.”

And he cautioned: “Don't force yourself to go to school. There's nothing wrong with the trades.”

Dylan Redzanic, 17, of Leetsdale and a junior at Quaker Valley High School, already has been exploring his career options. While taking building-trade classes sponsored by The Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, he also has earned his emergency-medical-technician certification.

During the symposium, the teen also learned about the application process for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“It was interesting in some fields, but I'm not big with computers,” he said about the symposium.

Treshele Bronaugh, 17, a Quaker Valley junior from Fair Oaks, attended the event “to get a feel for all careers. It was interesting,” she said.

She said plans to become a veterinary technician because she always has enjoyed animals.

“STEM and the ancillary careers are a high-need area in Pennsylvania,” said Barkovich, 37, of Ross Township.

“The business representatives were eager to talk about deficits in employment. They don't have enough qualified individuals.”

This made his task a bit easier as he gathered names and contact information beginning in May. Barkovich, who has been with the North Hills School District for 11 years, started with the business community in Ross Township and West View and searched his own network of professionals, he said.

Pittsburgh's “rich background in the area of science and technology” was his most valuable source, he said.

And just as he had hoped, student surveys suggested that for many, the symposium had opened up new ways of thinking and reinforced thoughts already in mind.

“I'm interested in a STEM career,” said Madison McGonigal, 16, a North Hills junior from Ross Township. “I'm good in science. I'm taking two AP (Advanced Placement) sciences this year.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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