A taste of life after high school

March 29, 2019

NEW CARLISLE — A group of New Prairie High School students eagerly lined up inside the school library on Wednesday afternoon, wanting to hop on a small yellow platform and don a pair of virtual-reality goggles that promised to give them a taste of what it’s like to work on a high-rise structure more than 135 feet in the air.

A short distance down the hall, another batch of teenagers learned what it takes to soar even higher as a pilot with Southwest Airlines while snacking on some of the company’s signature in-flight pretzels.

A few doors over, yet another group of young learners found out how to travel across the airwaves as one of the voices of the legendary Fighting Irish. The students even got a chance to check out a real college championship ring, grasping the bejeweled object in their hands before passing it to the person next to them.

These presentations were among the 50 delivered by business professionals and public officials from across Northwest Indiana during the school’s annual Career Day that afternoon. Open to the entire student body, the program gave students a chance to discover more about the many job choices available to them when they enter the job market, be it after earning a four-year degree in college or choosing to enter a trade right out high school, said NPHS guidance counselor Heidi Schellinger.

Of the 950 students enrolled at NPHS, 915 signed up to participate in Career Day, the guidance counselor said. During the nearly two-hour event, the teenagers rotated between three 25-minute presentations they had chosen beforehand.

Among Wednesday’s presenters were La Porte County Sheriff John Boyd, Southwest Airlines Capt. Thomas O’Laughlin and University of Notre Dame radio announcer Bob Nagle. The speakers represented a diverse array of career fields, including health care, manufacturing, culinary and hospitality.

“I’m big into community involvement, so getting [these] many community members to come out here was very important,” Schellinger said.

Based on feedback from students and parents, Schellinger invited representatives from several professionals that were not featured in previous career day to Wednesday’s event, including mental health services and diesel engineering, she said.

Career Day is intended to widen student’s perspectives as to what awaits them after they finish their education, said Schellinger, who has organized the event for the past three years.

Too often, high schoolers narrow their choices down to the same few career fields — engineering or nursing, to name a few — which require at least a four-year college degree to get their foot in the door, the guidance counselor said. By exposing these students to careers they may have not previously considered, the school hopes to show that heading off to college straight after high school is not the only viable path to succeed in today’s job market, she added.

NPHS junior Gavin Kelly was among the hundreds who took advantage of Wednesday’s program, learning more about diesel engineering, carpentry and other hands-on jobs, he said. The student, who has participated in the last three Career Days, thinks the event is beneficial for those who are undecided about their post-graduation futures.

“Some kids discover the goals they have to work toward in the future or figure out what they want to do for a career,” Kelly said.

The junior, who plans to take over his family’s maintenance company one day, said he believes the knowledge he’s picked up about other careers will serve him well, in college and beyond.

Megan Boyd, a NPHS senior and the county sheriff’s daughter, has also attended the past three career days, listening to job presentations on emergency care and child victim advocacy on Wednesday — as well as her father’s talk, “just to give him a hard time,” she joked.

While the student has long been interested in a career in health care, the Career Day presentations have opened her eyes to possible jobs in the medical field besides just becoming a physician or nurse. The program also gives her and her classmates an invaluable chance to pick the brains of working professionals, giving them insight into important questions like how much money they can expect to make or the number of hours they will be expected to work in whatever field they are interested in.

“I’m going to college, but if I change my mind, it’s good to know I can do other things through job experience alone,” she said.

Fellow junior Kylie Briner, who also attended Sheriff Boyd’s presentation, said career day has given her insight into subjects she may not have learned otherwise, like the inner workings of a law enforcement agency. Briner has gotten the chance to talk to local entrepreneurs through the event, which has inspired her to one day open a business of her own after earning a college degree.

“It’s really cool the school provides something like this for us,” she said. “A lot of schools don’t have this kind of event.”