Shadowing program connects juniors to careers
About 30 Kerr-Vance Academy juniors stepped out of their classrooms this past week to walk a mile or two in their shoes. Their class project was to shadow professionals at work in the careers they want to pursue themselves, just to see what it would really be like.
It is the third installment of the Junior Shadow Project at the school. A new company of juniors started their journey by each locating a professional willing to let them tag along during their work schedule for three days.
Most of the students found opportunities close to home. The destinations also included as far away as New York City and Kentucky. The projects were all arranged under the guidance of school officials and parents.
The project is coordinated by Sue O’Leary, an English teacher for freshmen and juniors. This year, her daughter Kathryn was in the program.
“My daughter is shadowing at Fast Company Magazine in New York City,” O’Leary said. “The students are given three days off from school. The feedback from students so far is that they’d like it to be longer. They’d like to have a full week, but the school keeps it to three days.”
O’Leary said the project has three main goals: observerance of workdays in a field of interest, exposure to classroom concepts in application; contacts between the school and community.
O’Leary said the students’ observations impact college options and courses of study. It helps decision-making heading into the senior year.
“This allows them to focus on a field that they are interested in,” she said. “It gives them a little glimpse to see whether they’d like to pursue that field.”
For James Averette and Cristin Abbott, observing three work days at Kilian Engineering on Young Street in Henderson, it offered a sense of nuance, to realize there are many fields within engineering itself to consider.
“This experience has made me more aware of what I want to do,” Abbott said. “You can see what can be done in different areas of engineering, like mechanical, electrical, industrial and civil categories.”
Daryl Cunningham, project manager at Kilian, on Thursday showed Abbott and Averette the specific concentrations of the company.
“Here, we are dealing with plumbing, with mechanical and electrical engineering,” Cunningham said.
Averette categorized his experience of tagging along, which included a site visit in Oxford on Wednesday, as “very fantastic.”
“This allows me to see what is actually done,” he said. “I have always thought of being an engineer.”
Averette is looking at engineering programs at N.C. State, High Point and Vanderbilt universities. Abbott also mentioned N.C. State, adding Wake Tech and Appalachian State University.
Michael Kilian, owner of the company, said he sees the project as a microcosm of an internship.
“We have participated in student intern programs for several years,” Kilian said. “They get a little picture of what engineers do. I hope they will continue to look around at what other engineers do, because our work is a small part of the whole field.”
Abbott’s mother, Tina Abbott, said her daughter came home from day one of her shadowing project excited and talkative about all she was able to learn.
“This has given her an opportunity to make decisions on what field of engineering she may be more interested in,” she said. “She went on site, sat in on meetings. She enjoyed it, was inspired, and she wants to learn more and more about it. It has been a great experience for her.”
The shadowing portion of the project involves students observing 16 to 21 hours total in the work place over the three workdays.
Among the many choices, students were at a Nashville record producing company, a congressional office in Washington, D.C., dentist and veterinarian offices, and with The Dispatch reporting and advertising staff. A past experience, in March, has even included observation of open-heart surgery.
O’Leary said building relationships with adults beyond the typical classroom, teacher and athletic mentoring available at school is an important part of providing students more opportunities for making a positive transition into young adulthood.
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