Virtual format enabled TFIM to continue career explorations

Virtual presentations and chats with professionals from two disparate fields—wildlife conservation and engineering—provided excellent opportunities this month for interested students to explore those careers. At the same time, the events provided proof of a concept for The Future Is Mine (TFIM).

TFIM, our career exploration program for high school students, piloted Zoom presentations in May with Allegheny Land Trust’s Education Program Director, Julie Travaglini and Penonni Engineering’s Senior Vice President and Director of Strategic Growth, Joseph Viscuso.

The presentations helped TFIM continue offering programming despite business and school shutdowns associated with COVID-19. In doing so, they also demonstrated that technology provides a means for TFIM to expand career exploration opportunities even after schools reopen and employers resume normal workdays.

“The presentations were very well received and showed us that we have an additional option for bringing students in contact with working professionals,” said Program Director Gina Barrett, who oversees TFIM with Jennifer Sethman, also a Program Director.

“The face-to-face encounters and worksite visits that TFIM traditionally has organized can be invaluable,” Barrett added. “But they also can be limiting in terms of the number of careers that can be explored, access to presenters, the number of attendees that can be accommodated, students’ access to transportation and even sometimes the weather.”

Even at the pilot stage and focused on very specific career interests, the Allegheny Land Trust and Pennoni presentations each drew participants from four or five schools. Students from each wanted information that only insiders can impart about careers.

Sethman noted that the virtual presentations also made it possible for interested educators to sit in to expand their own career knowledge so that they can better guide students.

“Our Educator in the Workforce program has made us realize just how many teachers and counselors are looking for ways to stay abreast of career pathways and job opportunities for students and different kinds of training,” she said.

Affirming the value, Ariana, a sophomore in the veterinary assistant’s program at Parkway West Career & Technology Center, said, for example, that Travaglini’s career experiences shined a light on opportunities for further exposure that she otherwise wouldn’t have known.

“I learned about different things that she did, zoos and other places where you can volunteer [to build experience] that I wrote down so that I can look into them,” she said.