BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST BURLINGTON – Holy Trinity eight graders were part of a Lee County career exploration day at SCC on Wednesday morning.
As part of a three-day Career Exploration sponsored by Greater Burlington Partnership and Lee County Economic Development Group, more than 1,000 students in fifth and eighth grades attended the three-day fair, running Monday through Wednesday.
On Wednesday, eighth graders from Lee County moved around to six different 20-minute sessions starting at 9 a.m., hearing about career tracks and a variety of fields including manufacturing, health, marketing, graphic design, social services, communications, and business.
Linn Lilly, director of surgical services at Fort Madison Community Hospital, hosted one of the sessions and said the conversations with the students is important because people too often look at compensation and don’t know enough about the field of work.
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“I believe that they are starting to think – at least they should be starting to think – on what they want to do in life,” Lilly said. “That’s why I love these career fairs. A classic example is that none of these people in my classes could tell you want a surgical technologist did. They heard technologist and they think computers. It’s a very important part of an operating room, yet no one knows it and I think that’s why people don’t go into those programs.”
A surgical technologist is the person assisting in a surgery that hands the surgeon’s the medical equipment needed in the procedure.
She said the health care field does carry a good compensation, but the students need to hear about the professions and what it takes to be successful instead of just running for the money.
“No one’s going to go hungry in any health care program, but I think part of this is compensation. II think if we get out there and mentor and talk up the positives and not the negatives that’s key for these people to see all these things out here,” she said.
Dana Millard, of Lee County Economic Development Group, said this is the third year for the program and it plays well into the state’s STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) efforts as it allows students to see careers that require a college path, while at the same time see vocational options.
“We have a variety of career paths they explore. Some of these require a 4-year degree and some of them don’t, and that’s what we want them to be aware of,” Millard said.
Only 5th grade and 8th grade students participate because that’s when most are transitioning into new school environments, Millard said. She also pointed to research done by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, that shows in sixth grade, girls tend to lose interest in math and science due to peer pressure and social issues.
“So we took a step back and started them in fifth grade before they get to middle school where they are still more inquisitive. This way we don’t have the drop-off when they get to middle school,” she said. “Also fifth graders start exploring different careers in different areas and get more interested in the hands-on stuff.”
Students also heard about engineering and other tracks that require a college degree and heard about positions that are open to young adults out of high school in the production areas.
One of the sessions was put on by American Ordnance at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.
None of the students, when polled at the end of the session, said they were interested in those lines of work, however Jenna DiPrima of Holy Trinity Catholic who attended, said she enjoyed the presentation.
“The shooting and watching people blow things up, I don’t know why, but I think I’d just like doing that,” DiPrima said.
She said holding the ‘bombs’ or shells made at IAAP was a neat experience.
“At first I thought they were real, but then I thought there was no way they were real if they were letting us hold it.”
She said she was interested in veterinarian and then was considering the Navy.
“All those seem like they take up a lot of time. I’m still an eighth grader, so I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
James Scheetz was another student who attended the sessions and said he hasn’t made up his mind what he wants to do, but knows he wants to work.
“I just wanna get a job. I did like the DNR presentation. You have to know a lot of stuff, more than, like, the regular person,” Scheetz said.
Timmerman said he’s planning on being a veterinarian and didn’t really experience anything that changed his mind, but said he did enjoy hearing about other jobs.
“I liked seeing all the cool other jobs that are out there,” Timmerman said.