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While Others Took Tests, They Tested Out Possible Jobs

After taking a tour of Atomic Object, a software development firm run by smart young techies, Gina Ricards knew what kind of place where she wants to work. “This, exactly,” the Lowell High School sophomore said, standing in the bright and airy workplace with a hip vibe. “I really like the environment. The people, just the group-ness of it. You get to work on separate parts, but all for the same goal.”

Gina was one of 21 Lowell 10th-graders to visit the firm in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood recently, as part of an “industry tour” for the school’s roughly 200 sophomores. Their classmates toured seven other workplaces, learning lessons in the job market while Lowell juniors were taking standardized state tests back at the high school.

Lowell High School sophomores visited these work sites:

  • Atomic Object, software development
  • Rockford Construction
  • Blue Flame Thinking, marketing
  • Pridgeon & Clay, automotive engineering
  • Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
  • Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion
  • Grand Rapids Police Department
  • JW Marriott

Since many courses include more than one grade level, school officials did not want juniors to miss class time while taking their M-STEP tests. The same day, seniors studied for Advanced Placement exams while freshmen did service learning projects.

“Back in September we realized we had this MSTEP thing, and realized we had to program for the other grades,” said school counselor Nicole Deckrow.

“The big thing kids wish they had more of is career research,” she added. “So we said, we’re going to take this time when juniors are testing and do career exploration.”

Wanted: Degrees Plus Passion

The morning excursions to Grand Rapids included visits to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Rockford Construction and the Grand Rapids Police Department. Students took their pick of places to go.

Many of the students who opted for Atomic Object are interested in computer programming, game design and the like. Several are students of computer science teacher Cari Slot, who accompanied them along with French teacher Ingrid Baird.

They heard presentations from managers and employees of the company, which was started in 2001 by a Grand Valley State University professor, one of his students, and a handful of interns. Today it employs about 50 people in three locations, including Ann Arbor and Detroit.

The firm makes mobile and web apps, and develops software for clients including ArtPrize, Domino’s Pizza and the National Center for Drug-Free Sport, which administers player testing for the NFL, NCAA and the PGA Tour. The 30 employees at the Grand Rapids office are mostly in their late 20s to early 30s.

Mike Marsiglia, vice president and managing partner, showed students a range of fascinating products, and told them the industry is hungry for young talent with college training.

“There’s more and more demand, and there’s not enough qualified people to do the work,” said Marsiglia, a GVSU grad. “I want them to have the right degree, but I also want to see passion from them.”

A ‘Really Chill’ Place to Work

Kimberly Wolting, a software designer, said she was all about art and language as a high school student, and wanted to become a Disney animator. Those passions have played out well in the software world, she said.

“As a designer, everything is an inspiration,” Wolting told students.

Student Kelsie Jurmo liked what she heard and saw. “I think it would be fun to work here,” she said. “It seems really chill.”

Jerrod Humphreys said he liked the open, collaborative working environment, which includes a snack bar where employees can chat about projects. The visit helped clarify what he needs to enter the job market, added Jarrod, who builds computers and is interested in game design.

“It’s really nice to get that idea of, this is what I should work for to geta job,” Jarrod said. “It’s really nice to know.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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