For Some, Spring Break Meant Exploring Careers

Exploring college and career possibilities took a science fiction-like turn for Nathan Lemons in early April.

With the space-agey Samsung Gear VR, a virtual-reality device, positioned over his eyes, the Kelloggsville Middle School eighth-grader was immersed inside the video game, “The Maze Runner,” while visiting the School of Digital Media at Ferris State University’s Grand Rapids location.

“That’s the weirdest feeling in the world,” he said. “It’s the creepiest thing because you can’t see your body.”

During Engineering Day for the Kent ISD’s alternative spring break, nearly two dozen seventh- and eighth-graders learned what’s already available and what’s coming soon in the realm of digital media software engineering, an ever-evolving industry that has limitless opportunities for future jobs. They learned apps like the popular Candy Crush have netted fortunes for developers by reaching a global customer base.

Seventh-grader Stacie Aguirre tries a virtual reality device while learning about software engineeringThat’s the kind of information Frederick Baker, director of Digital Media Software Engineering, said he hopes students find inspiring.

“I try to tell them to dream big,” he said.

With the Samsung Gear VR, he showed students how they can see real panoramic footage of Mars, and like the inventors of the Mars Rover demonstrated, “For this generation, their biggest dreams can happen.”

“Once you learn how to develop software, you can do it for any industry that interests you,” Baker told them.

Attracting Young Talent

The Kelloggsville students spent three days exploring college, career and community connections during alternative spring break. They visited professionals in industries that currently struggle to attract skilled trade talent, which students can begin thinking about working in now: construction, engineering and advanced manufacturing, said Amy Pierce, Kent ISD, career exploration coordinator.

Middle school is an ideal time to “connect the dots” between college and careers and introduce students to opportunities, Pierce said.

Eighth-graders David Marsh, Nathan Lemons and Chandon Reed get in some geocaching during the Kent ISD-sponsored alternative spring break“They still have their eyes wide open,” she said, noting that middle school is a sweet spot when students dare to explore careers without setting limitations in themselves. “Our goal was to attract the middle-performing student – the one who if given a spark of encouragement, will soar into the stratosphere.”

Eighth-grader Ivory Perez said the experience allowed her to see what engineering is really like.

“Engineering isn’t as hard as it seems,” she said. “If you want to be creative, just go for your dreams.”

On Site with Professionals

The event also showcased Kent ISD’s alignment with Gov. Rick Snyder’s mission of career exploration and exposure in critical industries.

Students spent full days focused on each industry. Besides software engineering at Ferris, they spent Engineering Day touring Grand Rapids based architecture, engineering, construction and consulting firm Progressive AE, geocaching at Kent ISD and volunteering at Kentwood’s Veteran’s Park.

“I try to tell them to dream big,” said Frederick Baker, director of Digital Media Software Engineering at Ferris State University, of giving them inspiring career examplesDuring Construction Day, they visited Grand Rapids Community College’s Tassell M-TEC Center, toured two residential construction sites and visited Davenport University.

For Advanced Manufacturing Day, tours were held at Custom Profile, which creates plastic profile extrusion products for the appliance, marine and office furniture industries; Kent Career Tech Center’s Precision Machining Program at GRCC; the GRCC Applied Technology Center and Autocam Precision Machining.

Eighth-grader David Marsh said he’s hoping to attend the University of Michigan to become a marine biologist, but he could see himself as a software engineer as well.

“There are so many jobs out there (in software engineering), yet so few people take an interest in them,” he said.


GRCC Tassell M-Tech Center

Ferris School of Digital Media


Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio


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