I am grateful to work for an organization that focuses on reforming education and personalized learning, but most of us work passionately behind the scenes without the opportunity to interact directly with the students we ultimately serve. So when the planners of the My Tomorrow initiative at Cincinnati Public Schools asked if we would host students for a job shadowing experience to foster college and career readiness, I was excited to offer the volunteer opportunity at KnowledgeWorks.
We paired sixteen students from Aiken High School with KnowledgeWorks employees who volunteered to spend the day sharing their professional journeys, current roles, and career advice. Students observed meetings, practiced mock college entrance interviews, shared and received feedback on their resumes, interviewed employees about their careers, and learned about the operations of a foundation.
In reflecting on the event and hearing students share their learnings at the close of the day, it’s clear that students left with more than KnowledgeWorks branded pens and tote bags.
- A real-world connection between academic success and success in career. Students asked questions about employees’ education and ongoing training, and made notes in their interview guide about the skills the employees use in their roles – including technical skills like accounting and graphic design, and workforce readiness skills like teamwork and communication. One student spent the day with Drake Bryan, Manager of Network Quality for StriveTogether, a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks. Bryan collects and analyzes data on the StriveTogether Network, and after observing him, the student said she learned that “information in my AP Statistics class really can be used in a career!”
- An understanding that many career paths are not linear and a variety of opportunities exist. Harold Brown, Senior Officer for the Advancement of Underserved Learners at KnowledgeWorks, stressed to students that, “many careers are not linear. When you look back at your resume, it seems to align and make sense in a chronological order, but that’s not always how things happen.” This rang true for my own experiences, as many times roles were adapted or new positions were being formed as I took them. This is also true as we look across the range of skills and talents of KnowledgeWorks employees: a former teacher who is now an education policy researcher, a colleague with an accounting degree who went on to become a technology professional, or a biology major who is now the director of a nonprofit organization. I’m hopeful that the range of career fields at KnowledgeWorks opened students’ thinking to the possibilities available to them.
- Advice and encouragement. During a lunch question-and-answer session with KnowledgeWorks’ President and CEO Judy Peppler, students asked, “How long did it take you to become a CEO?” and, “What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a CEO someday?” She recommended that students find a good mentor, and “not be afraid to take risks.” Judy also shared a story about a former job in which she set a goal for herself to eventually work her way into a state president role within the company. She encouraged the students to set goals and “start with the end in mind” so that every decision is made with a lens of, “Will this help me get closer to my goal?”
My colleagues and I left the day feeling energized and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with such curious, engaged, and talented young people. Sharing the day with one student served as a great reminder to why our work to improve outcomes for every student is so important.