A student loves math but doesn’t know how to make a career out of it.
Another student enjoys writing but also shares an affinity for technology and wonders if the two interests can somehow combine into one job.
A program at Hopkinton High School aims to answer questions like this by introducing students to career information right from the source: people employed in those careers themselves.
In a career awareness program that began in the fall of 2019, Hopkinton High School students have the chance to meet and learn from workers in a wide range of fields, including veterinarians, artists, social workers, aquatic ecologists and actuaries, to name just a few.
The career program was inspired by results of a survey to high school students in 2019 asking what was missing in their education, principal Evan Bishop said.
One frequent response, Bishop said, was the desire to learn more about career opportunities after graduation. “That got the wheels turning,” he said.
With support from a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education grant that was secured with support from assistant superintendent Jennifer Parson, the high school began a career awareness program. Valerie Lechtanski was brought on as the school-community career coordinator to lead the program.
In February 2020, after months of planning and discussion, a job shadowing program was launched during school vacation. Students had the chance to follow people along during their workdays to learn about their careers firsthand.
A month later, of course, the world shut down. The program, like much of the school’s offerings, was cancelled for the rest of the school year.
This year, the program has returned, although virtually. For February and April vacations, students signed up for sessions with representatives from careers in which they were interested.
Career experts were asked to provide information on what a typical day is like, what to consider in a college program and future job opportunities, among other issues, Lechtanski said.
The February Zoom sessions featured 86 students and 24 careerists, including a senior integration manager and programmer, health policy writer and real estate agent.
In April, 66 students heard from 16 individuals about careers such as cell biologist, Air Force pilot, architect and physician.
Although school vacations have ended, an evening career series launched in May will feature 10 new speakers, including an industrial organizational psychologist, graphic illustrator and CEO of startups.
Lechtanski made connections with local companies and their workers, which she hopes will strengthen the bond between the work world and the school community. “A lot of experts are so excited to share their careers,” she said. “Almost all of them say, ‘I wish we had something like this when I was in high school.’ ”
Rachel Rossin, a data scientist and Hopkinton resident for more than 15 years, said she participated in the program to “showcase how current classes [in this case math and computer programming] relate to real-world questions.”
Her data science presentation reignited the interest of high school senior Alisa Stolyar. The career had intrigued her, but, Stolyar said, “I wasn’t totally informed of what data science consists of.” After talking with Rossin, “The day-to-day life of a data scientist feels super exciting to me, and I now feel very enthusiastic and confident in studying this field.”
Dr. Jim Kenealy, a board-certified otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon and longtime Hopkinton resident, said he wanted to “give back to the Hopkinton educational system.”
His son Aidan, a 2014 Hopkinton High School graduate, “received an excellent education in the Hopkinton school system and he was well prepared for both the academic rigors of college and subsequent employment in the workforce.” One of his “many excellent teachers” was Lechtanski.
Even more crucially, he said, “It is important that we encourage the best, brightest and most caring individuals to pursue a calling in medicine. We need diversity in medicine.”
Freshman Veronica Stolyar was enthusiastic about the outlook of the artist whose session she attended. “I was very interested when he talked about doing what you want and going through the hardships of that rather than going through the hardships of something that you’re pushed into,” she said. “It gave me a lot more inspiration and motivation to go into this type of field.”
Sophomore Lindsay Hong said the interaction with a software engineer was “extremely helpful. This session helped me break the stereotypical image of software engineering and get a better understanding of what life would be like” in that profession, she said.
Having career specialists who live and/or work in Hopkinton, particularly if they graduated from Hopkinton High School, makes them more relatable. Bishop said. “I always feel that resonates the most,” he said. “It adds a nice touch and gives them more to think about.”
The grant opportunities may end, but Parson hopes the program will continue. “This work isn’t done yet,” she said.