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Students Urged to ‘Find What You Love’

Professionals Present Career Possibilities


If someone had told Greggory Hampshire how clinical psychologists spend their days (with lots of paperwork), he might not have pursued it as a career. That’s one reason he likes bringing community professionals into classrooms and giving students real exposure to real careers.

“I want you to get an idea of what exists out there, of what you want to do with your life,” said Hampshire, director of education for Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes.

Seventh-graders Samatha Benitez and Camiyah Blackman try to figure out how to balance six nails atop one nailhead, a challenge from Mayor Stephen Kepley
Seventh-graders Samatha Benitez and Camiyah Blackman try to figure out how to balance six nails atop one nailhead, a challenge from Mayor Stephen Kepley

Middle school students got a glimpse of different careers during Reverse Job Shadow Day, when entrepreneurs and professionals stopped by to share their journeys in pursuing their dreams.

Eighteen speakers — six per grade level — visited sixth- through eighth-graders for the event. It was made possible through a partnership with JA, which teaches young people about work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills.

The goal was to get students thinking about career fields they may not have considered, said school counselor Laura Kuperus. Professions included manufacturing, health care, law enforcement, finance, cosmetology and education. Several visitors, including a professional boxer, were small business owners and some had pursued skilled trades instead of college.

Speakers described ups and downs they had faced through school and in their careers. “That’s inspiring for our kids,” Kuperus said. Karyn Hocking, owner of Salus Massage in Grandville, told eighth-graders that she struggled in school because of a learning disability.

“If you struggle in an area, no matter what subject that may be, that doesn’t mean anything,” Hocking said. “You can still get out and do what you want to do.”

Josephine White, owner of JoJo’s House of Business in Grand Rapids, said running a business is hard work, but passion makes it worth it. “Find what you love,” she urged students. “If you find what you love, it’s not that hard.”

Professional boxer and entrepreneur Parnell Gates shows his belt to sixth-grader Quijuan Madion-Lewis
Professional boxer and entrepreneur Parnell Gates shows his belt to sixth-grader Quijuan Madion-Lewis

A World of Options Awaits

Middle school is a great time to start exploring careers, Kuperus said.

“It’s so important for our students to see the variety of careers available to them. Often they think of traditional things they’ve heard of, but they become aware that there are careers they haven’t thought of before.”

City of Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley was an engineer for the city for 11 years before being elected mayor in 2013. He said he loves meeting the city’s young people.

“My favorite part of the job is investing in the next generation,” Kepley said. “I love networking and solving problems.”

Regardless of career choice, people need to know how to work well with others, he said. He illustrated that by challenging students to work in groups to balance six nails on one upright nailhead. “How you solve problems is going to be a big key in how successful you are.”

Kentwood Police Department Officer Jeff Augustyn talks to students about careers in law enforcement
Kentwood Police Department Officer Jeff Augustyn talks to students about careers in law enforcement

Students said they enjoyed peeking into the lives of business owners.

“It shows you that there are a bunch of different opportunities to choose from,” said eighth-grader Brooklyn Kelly.

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Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes

SNN Article on Groundhog Day Career Day

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She 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, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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