Berrien Career Pathway Day at LMC Excites with Hands-On Learning

Hands-on learning can create incredible interest and a lasting impression as well. With the chance to wield a welding-iron, maneuver a drone, practice CPR on a resuscitator mannequin, or strap on a virtual reality headset and pet an imaginary dog, more than 2,100 freshman students from 17 regional school districts across Southwest Michigan made the rounds to 30 booths manned by businesses, organizations, municipalities and more during the 2019 Berrien County Career Pathway Day at Lake Michigan College.

The goal of the day today was to provide those students with an interactive, hands-on activity approach that would allow them to explore career pathway options within the region, and help guide them on the beginning of their eventual employment journey starting with Career and Technical Education in high school, followed by post-secondary opportunities, eventually leading to local industry careers.

Rick Blake from Edgewater Automation was one of those vendors. He says, “We believe in Southwest Michigan and the things that we can offer the world from here. In our community, it’s all about the chances for our youth to stay home and help build the community up even more.” Blake says, “Edgewater Automation has been here for almost 20 years and we see the future in the young people coming up and becoming a part of our company and many of the others that are represented here at the Career Fair.”

Blake’s team was showcasing a hands-on robotic device that was actually designed by a high school intern working at Edgewater. That’s not unusual for the high tech company. Blake says, “We’ve got students that come right out of high school, go through the college’s apprenticeship program and they are being paid by us while they learn their trade and get their education right here at LMC. Those students at 20, 21, 22 years of age have a very good paying job, and with no student debt burden from many other college opportunities, and it’s something they can be proud of, making things right here to be shipped all over the world.”

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Nathaniel Zienty from Buchanan High School has just removed his Virtual Reality goggles when I caught up with him and asked about the experience. He says, “It was great, I’ve never done anything like that before, and now I want to get one.” Despite that interest, Zienty’s options are a bit more reserved as he says, “I’m looking at going into either Law or Economics, and would likely work for a private law firm or go into economics and see where that takes me.”

Some students got their hand at being a drone pilot today, but there was a much larger than life real commercial airline pilot in the building with a truly remarkable opportunity for the students checking things out. Gary Blied from Bridgman is an American Airlines Pilot. I asked him about his offering today and was surprised when he told me, “American Airlines has a brand new program that we’re introducing today in this area, it’s called the Aviation Cadet Academy. We’re taking those who are out of high school, in good health, and with the necessary qualifications, to our Academy and set you up with flight school. After you get your ratings, we’re going to set you up with a job where you can gain experience as a flight instructor. Once you get your commercial ticket, after your required 1,500 hours, we will hire you at one of our small affiliates like American Eagle or Envoy, and you’ll gain further experience and after a few years of that, we’re going to bring you on mainline with the big boys at American Airlines and fly you until you’re 65 years old.” Gary has been flying for 35 years, with American for 28 and with the Air Force prior to that. The airline industry has a huge demand for future pilots.

Erin Venno, Sector Relations Coordinator for Michigan Works! Berrien, Cass, Van Buren was one of the key organizers of the day today. She says, “We wanted to give students a chance to explore careers, but we know that when you’re 14 years old your career seems like it’s a long ways off, but if you can bring it back to what you do in high school will help you get to where you want to be, that’s invaluable.” Venno adds, “We want to help Career and Technical Education students to see what programs are available, what post-secondary options you have available whether it’s college, certificates or whatever else it may be, and we want you to get next to the employers in this area. In Southwest Michigan there are about 8,000 job openings and there are lots of opportunities in our backyard, and we want to show the students those opportunities.”

Venno’s colleague at the Kinexus Group, Al Pscholka was also enjoying the action today. He says, “We’re going to have about 2,000 kids come through and look at a lot of great opportunities and great careers, and how to further advance their education.” He explains the concept, noting, “This was a partnership with Berrien RESA, Kinexus Group, the business community and others to try to expose these kids to the opportunities that are here in Southwest Michigan. The thing is, they get to touch it. There are many hands on opportunities, and it’s not just ‘Hey look at me,’ and ‘Hey this is what I do,’ or even, ‘I’m going to come to your class and tell you what I do for a living.’ This is ‘Hey, touch some of this stuff, get a feel for it, so you understand what it’s like to actually do it.'”

Pscholka hearkened back to the days when he ran the On Location program for the Community Partnership for Lifelong Learning at Cornerstone Alliance, saying, “We would actually put kids into internships for a half a day every day for a week, and I think something like that makes sense again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someday that comes back, because the look on kids’ faces when they actually became a part of the team, was remarkable. This, like that, is an opportunity to touch it, feel it, to interact with actual employees who are doing the work on a daily basis, so this is an exciting day out here.”

It was a hands-on learning experience in Saginaw years ago when Pscholka met a professional broadcaster, Morgan in the Morning, who taught him small things like how to cue up a record for airplay, and let them touch the equipment and run the board, saying, “That’s what got me interested in broadcasting. That’s what got the fire burning for me.”

Venno concurs wholeheartedly saying, “We wanted to give students the opportunity to ‘walk a mile in our shoes,’ and that’s why I told the students when they got here to ask questions, because you’re going to want to know what you like and what you don’t like. Check everything out. There are careers in here that you thought you might really like and find out almost immediately that that is not the case and vice versa.”

Some students already have a handle on what they want to do. Connor Legault from Buchanan High School told me, “I’m looking into the construction sector. I’m looking into CTE classes in New Buffalo to build houses, and hopefully become a homebuilder of the future.” (This photo is a different student, not Connor, by the way.)

Patrick Lavery from Buchanan High School says, “I like business and management, and I want to lead people and help increase sales, and help a business as best I can. I like meeting people, and I like doing business.” When pressed for more detail, Lavery says, “I like marketing, because that’s what my dad did, but honestly I don’t know for sure. I just want to be able to lead people, lead a team.”

Zachary Morris from Market Van Buren had a booth where he’s looking at future leaders, telling me, “I’m here to talk about Market Van Buren and economic development. We want to make sure kids are educated about what’s going on in their community, what it takes to have a successful community, and what true economic growth really entails.” He admits, “It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, and if somebody would have talked to me about how fun and rewarding this career was, I might have started at it a lot earlier in my life.”

I asked Kelsey Wolf from Lakeshore High School what she wants to do in the future to which she replied, “That’s a good question. I don’t know, so I’m looking at everything.” When pressed, she says she’s essentially a blank page, or an open book and, “Not even really leaning toward anything. I don’t have any ideas yet.” But, hey…that’s what the Career Pathway Day was all about. Looking at all the possibilities.

Lauren Vegter from Lakeshore High School has a pretty good handle on what she wants to do, telling me, “In the future I hope to become a dance teacher and studio owner so I’m looking into business and education. I’m a competitive dancer.”

On the other hand, Trevor Langston, also from Lakeshore, says, “I don’t really know what I want to do, other than I’d like to do something with music, but there’s nothing really here like that, but I’m just still trying to figure out what I want to do.”

Others were laser focused. Paige Sichmeller from Lakeshore High School says, “I hope to go into engineering and make toys.” Lamar Sanders from Benton Harbor High School told me, “I want to be a police officer, for the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.” He had the chance to talk face to face with a handful of Sheriff’s Deputies about that career in the house today at LMC.

A couple of Eau Claire High School freshmen are angling for roles as electronic game designers. DeShun Holmes says he’s “Probably going to do game designing,” admitting he’s “Pretty good at computers and I like the electronic game field.” He hasn’t designed one yet, but when I told him about the Hanson Technology Center on campus that lets you craft your own arcade game he might just look into that. His fellow student, Carmelo Taylor says he’s also interested in creating games as a game designer, saying his personal favorite in the genre is” NBA 2K19.”

The goal of organizers was for students, by the end of the day, to have a better understanding of what opportunities are available to them within the local community, and how to take advantage of those opportunities as they proceed through high school and onto their post-secondary careers.

One very popular hands-on opportunity provided students with the chance to do the silk screening process on a tote bag from J&R Printing in Niles, place it through the heated dryer and walk away with a tote to carry the collateral materials provided by many of today’s vendors.

Companies in place at the Career Pathway Day event today included:

  • Eagle Technologies
  • Vickers Engineering
  • Edgewater Automation
  • Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 357
  • Whirlpool
  • Cook Nuclear Plant
  • Mid-West Family, Inc.
  • J&R Printing
  • Leidos
  • Market Van Buren
  • VR Craze
  • Michigan Works!
  • Moored Beauty Schools
  • The City of Bridgman
  • Berrien County Sheriff’s Department
  • The U.S. Military
  • The National Guard
  • American Airlines
  • The Berrien Springs Fire Department
  • Maximum Mold
  • Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters
  • Spectrum Health Lakeland
  • Medic 1 Ambulance
  • Fully Alive Family Chiropractic
  • Four Flags Family Dentistry
  • Greenmark
  • Love Creek Nature Center
  • Robson Farms, LLC
  • The Parlor