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300 Area Students Get Inside Local Companies on Groundhog Shadow Day

Job-Shadow Event Connects Students to Employers

Miko Poot’s father worked with his hands, and that’s what the Wyoming High School senior imagines he’ll spend his professional life doing. But just how he’s not sure. So Miko took advantage of an opportunity this week to job-shadow some who use their hands to make their livings at Amway Global Headquarters in Ada.

It was Groundhog Day, which for Miko and other Kent County students meant a chance to take a look around career areas that interest them the most right now.

During a stop in the manufacturing maintenance department, Miko and other students stopped to watch employee Justin Soyka explain how he and his co-workers are making an instrument that will sort parts such as the pump-heads for lotion bottles.

“I’ve been here four years,” Soyka told the students, “and I don’t think there’s been two days I’ve done the same thing.”

“This is stuff I’m very curious about, how something like a tiny gear can change how one thing affects everything else,” explained Miko, as he made his way with his group along a yellow painted path inside the spotless, massive warehouse-like area. “I’m very hands-on. Pen and paper in school only go so far with me, but I’m still in the process of finding out exactly what I want to do.”

On the second floor of a distant building on the mile-wide Amway campus, another group of high-school students listened as Dawn Carbines, marketing brand manager, explained the selling concepts behind a new children’s chewable.

“When you’re positioning this product, of course it’s got to be interesting to the kiddos,” Carbines told them, “but remember, you’ve got to think of who’s doing the buying: the mommas.”

At Heritage Life Story Funeral Home in Northwest Grand Rapids, Cameron Empie spent the day with funeral director Paul Uzarski.

The Wyoming High senior, who had never visited a funeral home before, helped prepare a chapel for a visitation, learned about casket selection and green burial options, and rode along to deliver remains to a crematorium.

“I’ve always been interested in the emotional side of this,” Cameron explained. “I feel like it would be a very tough time for the family, and being in this business you could really help people.”


At these and other work sites, some 300 high school students from 18 Kent ISD districts and beyond got a chance on Tuesday to see what really happens day-to-day in careers they are interested in. Such as:

  • how zoo employees care for animals;
  • the latest in high-tech manufacturing;
  • what it takes to run a successful college athletic program;
  • and how nonprofit marketing pros get the word out about their organizations.

Students spent the day with 130-plus mentors at 45 companies and organizations.

Now in its second year, Groundhog Shadow Day is offered by Kent ISD’s Career Readiness department as a way to help students explore careers and to connect businesses to area schools and potential future employees.

This year, both the number of participating students and businesses nearly doubled from its inaugural year. The event meets Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for more skilled-trades experiences for K-12 students, and exceeds it by including many other industries.

High School Talent Pipeline

Both the schools and the businesses that participated say it’s just good business to be involved with each other.

“Local employers in West Michigan truly want to help give students the opportunity to explore careers,” said Lindsey Tilley, Kent ISD career exploration coordinator. “They understand that it isn’t fair to expect schools to do all the heavy lifting of preparing students for the next phase of their lives, and they want to help.”

Plus, Tilley said, in many fields there are more jobs than applicants, and even larger talent deficiencies are projected.

At Amway’s Ada Headquarters alone, there are some 4,000 employees in dozens of fields.

College recruiter Molly Murray said students who participate in area career events such as Groundhog Shadow Day, Career Quest, Explorers and others, tend to have a leg up on the competition when they are ready to look for internships and even jobs.

Groundhog Shadow Day “is a pipeline of potential talent for us,” Murray said. “We’re probably going to lean toward those who have invested the time to connect with us already, and to learn about the range of what we do.”


Kent ISD Career Readiness

Full List of Participating Employers

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


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