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“What are you going to do with your life?”

More than 45 Leechburg Area High School 10th-graders pondered that question Wednesday during the 12th annual Career Exploration Breakfast.

Professionals on hand included those from the arts, media, the biomedical field, Douglas Education Center, Eichenlaub Landscaping and Penn State University. They made presentations to students during rotating 20-minute group sessions.

“The purpose of this event is to further expose our students to high-skill and high-demand industry careers that are right in their backyard,” said Kelly Sadler, program coordinator and high school guidance counselor.

The event, funded through a grant from the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, lasted several hours and included breakfast.

Students received matching themed career T-shirts with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Skylyn Raypush, 16, said a career in the medical profession is on her radar.

“My goal is to be a pediatrician,” Raypush said. “My mom is a nurse and I know a bit about the medical field, but this event is good because we can explore career options.”

Award-winning art director and illustrator John Kleber made his first visit to the Leechburg campus as a presenter after relocating from San Francisco to Pittsburgh for semi-retirement.

A professional artist for more than 40 years, Kleber’s film credits include an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short-Subject for “Redux Riding Hood.” He worked for industry giants Disney and Warner Bros.

Kleber encouraged the students to incorporate creativity into their lives, even if they don’t choose a career in the arts.

“You can be a creative person in any occupation that you choose,” Kleber said.

Kleber said the students seemed to be listening.

“The question I wasn’t getting today was, ‘How much will I make?’ And that’s a good thing. That means they’re getting it.”

Student Madison Hanan took heart in Kleber’s message.

“It felt very surreal to talk to someone from Disney with so much experience and wisdom of the real world,” she said.

Advanced art student Emma Ritchie echoed her classmate’s sentiment.

“It was pretty crazy to actually meet someone who has actually done amazing things like that and hear what it’s actually like for artists in the work industry trying to get somewhere,” Ritchie said.

Students recorded their observations and reflections in their individualized Career Readiness Portfolio, which has been a requirement at Leechburg Area High School since last year.

While feedback from students was positive, many expressed a desire to have a longer event.

“I would like to see this event go all day,” 10th-grader Matthew Johns said. “We need even more time to spend with the presenters, and there is a lot to learn.”

Sadler said the school’s plans include expanding the career breakfast to a full-day program and including grades nine through 12.

“We used to schedule more presenters, but they had less time to present,” Sadler said. “We scaled the number back from 16 to six.”

Madison Walker, 16, thought the presentation delivered by Tribune-Review reporter Emily Balser was informative.

“She gets to go all over the city, and that sounds interesting,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of pressure to deciding what you want to do. It can be overwhelming, and having speakers come in helps.”

Students heard from presenters about two career paths offered at local universities, including an associate’s degree in biomedical engineering technology offered at Penn State New Kensington and a special effects makeup and filmmaking program offered at Douglas Education Center in Monessen.

Student Arwen Rak said the event has her thinking about her college plans in a new light.

“I may possibly minor in art. I have different possibilities,” Rak said.

Superintendent Tiffany Nix encourages district students to begin their career exploration journey early.

“It is difficult to identify what you want to do with the rest of your life by reading about it on a computer screen,” Nix said. “This career breakfast allows students to hear from people who have chosen their careers and are living it daily. They can ask questions and decide if it may be something they may be interested in pursuing. It also allows for communication practice and networking opportunities.”

Nick Moore, 16, said the event encouraged a conversation on careers.

“I am more technical,” he said. “I like to build stuff and be hands-on, but it’s good to learn about different careers.”

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