Conference provides opportunities to explore careers and build skills

A strong science student, Evan had once entertained the possibility of studying medicine, but a part-time job at an American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) store turned his head. Because of it, he began to see his interest in “developing a personal style” as more than a passing fancy and started thinking a career in retail might be a better fit.

Our annual Student Leadership Conference for the Future is Mine (TFIM) gave the Albert Gallatin High School senior a chance to confirm his hunch.  “This is just what I needed,” he said. “I know this is really what I want.”

Evan was among a group of students who explored careers in marketing and retail at AEO, while other groups of the 300+ attendees fanned out among 16 employers hosting opportunities to investigate fields ranging from engineering and finance to urban planning and broadcasting.

After exploring retail careers at American Eagle Outfitters, students gathered outside the company’s headquarters for a photo

For Mollie, a Yough High School senior, a visit to HDR wasn’t necessary to confirm a career choice. She already knew she wanted to study engineering. Still, the chance to talk with engineers, “get a feel for the environment where they work and see the kinds of projects you might work on and the difference between the small ones and the large ones” gave her insight about options within the field, she said. “I learned a lot.”

The annual Conference, which took place April 11-12, was TFIM’s 19th.   Even for students who don’t have a career in mind, the 2-day event always provides invaluable exposure.  Working professionals often give advice applicable to almost any job and Conference workshops help prepare students for job searches and the workplace.

At AEO, for example, one staffer gave tips for building resumes even without landing coveted internships. Others used personal stories to illustrate how willingness, adaptability, diligence and perseverance also can set candidates apart whether applying for jobs or seeking promotions.

“If you want it on your resume, do it yourself,” advised Stephanie Campbell, a Social Media Manager for AEO’s Aerie brand. Campbell said she demonstrated marketing ability to her first employer with a blog that she launched and promoted with Facebook ads.

AEO Director of Customer Systems Steve Schaab told students he’d positioned himself to rise through the ranks at AEO with a willingness to make lateral moves and learn more about the business. He also said his career trajectory was far from smooth or straight up. With insufficient family resources “college was out of the question,” when he left high school, but he eventually got there taking any job he could get and saving until he could enroll in Community College of Allegheny County. Along the way to his degree and his technology career, he was a stock boy, a cashier, a shoe salesman, a forklift operator and a bartender, before getting his first technology jobs with Adelphia Cable and RPS, the predecessor to FedEx Ground. He eventually earned a Master’s degree at Point Park University.

“Regardless of how you get there, it’s about the effort you put in,” Schaab told students. “Just have little goals—little goals can take you a lot of places.”

Schaab also was one of numerous professionals to expound the benefits of networking. As a case in point, the lead for his programmer’s job at RPS came from talking to a customer at the bar where he worked.

In addition to AEO, employers hosting workplace visits were: ALCOSAN, Allegheny County, Allegheny General Hospital, Carnegie Museum of Art, Covestro, Dollar Bank, Duquesne Light Co., Google, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, HDR, Jefferson Hospital, Production Masters, Inc. (PMI); United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Urban Design Associates and the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh with Gateway Clipper Fleet.

Following their workplace visits, students visited Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum where they browsed the exhibits and participated in mock interview sessions organized by Pittsburgh Brashear, Yough and Woodland Hills high schools.

Afterward, the students gathered at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center for dinner, a networking session, a dance, an overnight stay and a second day of career related workshops,

Different TFIM teams organized a number of the workshops. Among others, there were sessions on resumes hosted by Springdale High School; on business etiquette, hosted by Greensburg Salem High School; on diversity hosted  by Pittsburgh Brashear High School; on job search skills, hosted by Yough High School; on the importance of kindness by Monessen City High School and on the Pittsburgh region’s employment outlook by Bethlehem Center High School.

Community organizations and other volunteers also hosted breakout sessions. Among them were sessions hosted by Carnegie Mellon University researcher and psychologist Julie Downs, PhD about decision-making; by YouthWorks on nonverbal communication; by Chaz Kellem on diversity; by the YMCA on STEM skills; by Robert Morris University on networking by UNO’s Pizzeria on resume writing; by Consortium staffers on Human Centered Design; and by Ariana and Julia Brazier, who helped students assess their leadership styles.

Sponsors helped make the Conference possible. This year, they included: American Eagle Outfitters Foundation; Comcast; Covestro; Dollar Bank; Duquesne Light Company; Highmark Casualty Insurance Co./HM Insurance Group; Huntington National Bank; NCDMM; NexTier; Pittsburgh Marriott City Center; Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation; Pittsburgh Pirates; Schell Games; Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall; UPMC; Wells Fargo Foundation and individual benefactor Amy Winokur.