Conference gives kids firsthand look at career options

A visit to Dollar Bank during the annual student Leadership Conference for The Future Is Mine (TFIM) helped Amani, a McKeesport Area High School senior realize she might find her niche in financial services, even though her love is foreign languages. “I could go into international banking,” she said.

For Joseph, a Bethlehem Center High School senior who’s considering a theater career, a visit to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust offered not only a look behind the stage, but also a chance to find out from actors and others what their professional lives are like. It couldn’t help but be an eye-opener—most of them said they work multiple jobs.

Firsthand exposure to work environments and to professionals in different careers always is a highlight of the two-day Conference, which caps the school year for TFIM, a Consortium program designed to help students explore and prepare for careers. Some 16 employers open their doors every year for attendees to visit, interact with employees, and sometimes even get a taste of what their work is like. Visits to Urban Design Associates (UDA), for example, always feature design charrettes, where kids try to reimagine a landscape and plan its redevelopment. This year, they focused on Smallman Street in the Strip District and the old produce terminal there.

Themed Ready for the Future, this year’s Conference took place April 20-21 at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center. It brought together some 400 students and team advisors from nearly 30 school districts.

The event also is designed to give participants a chance to look at higher education opportunities, attend a dozen career-related workshops, visit a cultural venue and meet peers from communities that run the gamut from urban and suburban to rural.

“The Conference is really beneficial because you get to look into what you might want to do and it definitely helps build your communications skills,” said Brianna, a Bethlehem Center High School senior.

It can be a life changing experience for some kids, as can the program itself.  Just ask Austin Davis, Executive Assistant to Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a TFIM alum and McKeesport grad. The program had a such a profound impact, he’s helped host employer site visits at TFIM’s annual conferences for the past several years. The way he sees it, “There’s usually a barrier for high school students trying to meet working professionals.” The exploration experiences TFIM facilitates, “help get you past that,” he said

Davis should know: he now holds the same job TFIM gave him the opportunity to shadow. What’s more, the individual who held it at the time, during former County Chief Executive Dan Onoroto’s tenure, has become a friend and mentor from whom he still seeks advice. “It’s a testament to how you can build relationships” through TFIM, he said.

In addition to the County Executive’s Office, the Cultural Trust and Dollar Bank, employers hosting site visits included: ALCOSAN; Allegheny General Hospital; Carnegie Museum of Art; Google; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Huntington National Bank; i-Heart Media; Jefferson Hospital; Schell Games; Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum; Waterways Association of Pittsburgh and the Gateway Clipper; and United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

A post-secondary education fair held at the Sen. John Heinz History Center gave attendees a chance to visit with admissions reps from: Alderson Broadus University; Art Institute of Pittsburgh; Community College of Allegheny County; Indiana University of Pennsylvania; LaRoche College; Penn State Greater Allegheny; Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics; Pitt Greensburg; Pittsburgh Technical College; Robert Morris University; and Slippery Rock University.

Sponsors for the event included: American Eagle Outfitters; Art Institute of Pittsburgh; Comcast; Dollar Bank; Duquesne Light Company; Eat n’ Park; the Education Foundation; Highmark; HM Insurance Group; Huntington National Bank; LaRoche College; National Center for Defense Manufacturing & Machining; NexTier; Nutrition Inc., Pitt Greensburg; the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation; the Pittsburgh Pirates; Pittsburgh Technical College; Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center; Scottdale Bank; UPMC; United Way; University of Pittsburgh; and Waste Management. Our site hosts are: ALCOSAN; Allegheny County; Allegheny General Hospital; Carnegie Museum of Art; Dollar Bank; Google; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Huntington National Bank; i-Heart Media; Jefferson Hospital; Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; Schell Games; Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall; Waterways Association & Gateway Clipper; United Way and Urban Design Associates.

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