An education consultant says early career exploration is not only a way to get your child on the right track but off the wrong one. She urges parents to find a way for their students to visit a professional this summer who works in a field that interests them.

Along with beach trips, take your kids to somebody else’s workplace this summer

A former college dean and university professor, Sonya Shuler-Okoli last wrote about dual enrollment for the AJC Get Schooled blog. (Her piece sparked a lot of debate. You can read it here.)
Today, Shuler-Okoli offers parents practical advice that I agree with 100 percent and yet have never followed. Drawing on her background leading college orientations, Shuler-Okoli says children as young as middle school ought to spend time this summer learning about possible careers by shadowing professionals in those fields. That early exposure will better equip them to not only choose a college major, but understand what is required, she says.
I agree students can learn a lot from even a short visit to a workplace, either observing the routine, or, better yet, helping out in some capacity. I never made that happen for my own children because I felt it would be too big an imposition. 
Shuler-Okoli says get over such hesitations and make the call. I never did, but maybe some of you will.

By Sonya Shuler-Okoli

Everyone seems to be running around to get the perfect summer plans together. From beautiful vacations to nationally ranked summer programs, parents are doing due diligence to ensure an educational and fun summer break.

But have you considered introducing your student to a professional in their desired occupation? Ironically, many parents don’t think they have the “string pulling” power to snag their child a job shadow/volunteer opportunity. It is funny how we are comfortable selling fundraiser trinkets, chocolates and Girl Scout cookies to colleagues, church members or even neighbors. Yet, we are fearful of doing the same 30-second elevator pitch to ask the family dentist to consider a summer student visitor. Believe me I get it, we all struggle with “self-promotion” or selling “ourselves. God knows some of our students certainly find this challenging, too. But it can help them.

Sonya Shuler-Okoli

Just as academic enrichment camps are a must, “early” career exploration is, too. Early career exploration is not only a way to get your child on the right track but off the wrong one. 

During academic advisement sessions, I’ve had students tell me they want to be a “psychiatrist” without knowing this requires medical school. Or, they want to be a “professor” not knowing this means graduate school. 

By the time your children are in middle school, they should be spending their summers job shadowing. By the time your students are in high school, they should be able to start answering these questions:

What do I love doing that I’m actually good at?
What choices align to my talents?
The subjects in which I earn high grades link closest to what fields?
Will my choice require a degree, diploma, certificate or license?
Will it require I attend a career-technical, community or traditional college/university?

As a university lecturer, I frequently teach freshman orientation in the fall semesters. Many freshmen are unsure about majors. One golden nugget instructional activity, before we even discuss majors, is understanding various careers. My favorite tool is the federal Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook. I found this to be the most interactive tool to sparking their interest. Many students leave orientation thrilled to finally feel they have an idea of what they want to be when they grow up. The tools on the site go beyond the basic salary or education requirements and provide an entire overview of a “day-in-the-life-of” working conditions, pros/cons and the opportunity to see professional’s on the job through short videos.

Moral of the story -- college is for everyone when you find the right one. So, this summer, in addition to the beach vacation, STEM or soccer camp, dust off the class yearbook and call in a few favors requesting an opportunity for your children to volunteer doing something they might just be doing for the rest of their life. 

Your children can graduate top of the class, get accepted to the best college in the country, yet if it doesn’t “fit” their education or career goals, it won’t matter much.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.