Guest opinion: Igniting students’ potential with career exploration |

Guest opinion: Igniting students’ potential with career exploration

Heather Hicks

As an animal lover with a penchant for entrepreneurship, I began a dog walking and grooming business as a kid and wore a sweatshirt with a picture of my dog on it. His name was Curly and he was a towering Great Pyrenees. Aside from my active imagination, I never had a structure for exploring veterinary medicine, pet grooming or business, and as time went by I focused on my studies and getting into a good college.

Most kids have some idea of what they want to be when they grow up. However, they don’t always have the opportunity to explore those career paths in a real and meaningful way. At YouthEntity, we engage and empower youth for future success through real-world learning opportunities.

We started a program called My Career. My Life. that helps students ignite their unique potential by matching their interests with the world of careers and facilitating connections between students and local professionals. Students take an interest-based test through the College in Colorado to determine their career codes. The six personality-based codes are conventional, realistic, investigative, enterprising, artistic and social.

After logging on and taking the test, I found out that my top codes are artistic, enterprising and social. When I’m in the classroom talking with middle-school students about their career codes, my need to work with people and make a difference in their lives is fulfilled. My enterprising and artistic sides enjoy inspiring people and telling stories about our organization in order to persuade them to get involved through volunteer recruitment and sponsor acquisition. It’s fun to explain to kids that finding a career that matches your personality and strengths can lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling future.

At Glenwood Springs Middle School, we met with every eighth-grade student and explained the career codes. We also unveiled our exciting line-up of internships. Students then met with each internship coach at a career expo and selected their top three internship choices. Ten students were enrolled in each session — internships range from culinary arts to veterinary medicine to cosmetology — and are now meeting after school on Wednesday’s in order to participate, explore and grow as they become ready for work and life.

As I walked around the room while students were writing in their My Career. My Life. portfolios, I noticed one girl had made a photo collage of different hairstyles from magazine cut-outs on her school binder. I asked her if she was interested in cosmetology, and she said, “Yes! I want to be a hair stylist or makeup artist when I grow up.” I replied, “I’ve got just the internship for you. Jill Hamrick, our cosmetologist, will be teaching students how to cut hair beginning with a long cut and then working up to a short cut using a real mannequin head.” The student’s eyes lit up and a huge smile came across her face.

Sometimes students do their best work in the classroom, and sometimes they come to life while playing a sport, competing in an extracurricular event or at an after-school job. By engaging students in real-world learning experiences with community professionals, they gain valuable insight about their likes and dislikes. They also acquire valuable knowledge about themselves while building career and life skills.

I never became a professional pet groomer or created a dog walking business. I did learn through that experience, however, while having fun pursuing my interests in my childhood neighborhood. And my dog Curly always looked great and was exercised.

How to Volunteer with YouthEntity’s My Career. My Life. Program

Volunteer opportunities exist at Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs middle schools as well as Two Rivers Community School. Volunteer coaches are paid a stipend and work with groups of 10 students for seven to eight weeks. They meet with their students on school grounds for 1.5 hours per week, during early release Wednesdays. With the support of YouthEntity, coaches structure their sessions around hands-on learning and work towards a final project that varies depending on the career.

For more information, contact or 970-963-4055.

Heather Hicks is associate director of YouthEntity.

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