At Skaneateles Middle School, Lori Ruhlman dedicates part of her work to making sure that students think about their futures.
For the past five years, eighth-graders have participated in an annual career day event, organized by Ruhlman, that allows them to look into several different career paths and see what they would be like in an everyday setting. Held May 31, this year's event brought local representatives for 18 different jobs to the school for a full morning of discussion and shadowing.
Ruhlman, who serves as the job shadow program liaison for the school district, began organizing the yearly career day as a way to prepare students for the more in-depth career analysis that much of their high school experience will focus on.
"This is just the perfect bridge for them in eighth grade," she said. "It's very general, but they're still exposed to so many different careers that they can think about exploring more in high school."
In preparation of the day's planning each year, the students are given a worksheet with questions about their skills and interests and how they relate to certain career fields. Ruhlman then takes the answers and compiles the top eight careers based on the responses in order to decide whom to invite to the event.
Ruhlman said that the most common career choice among the students every year is an elementary school teacher, and other popular interests — such as sports broadcasting and criminal justice — brought in speakers like Matt Park, play-by-play announcer for the Syracuse Orange, and Tom West, a Secret Service agent. But this year's choices also included some new jobs that she had never invited before, such as a forensic scientist.
Anita Zannin, who owns an independent bloodstain analysis firm, spent the morning demonstrating the fingerprinting process and bloodstain pattern analysis. Zannin, who started out with a career in the medical field and went back to school later in life, said that she agrees to speak at career day events frequently because she sees the importance of figuring out what you want to do with your life at a young age.
"I think a career day like this would have helped me and saved me a lot of time and money going back to school," she said. "It's important for kids to experience as much as they can before they decide what they want to go to school for. They need to be sure about it."
One important goal of having different jobs represented at the event is to teach students about possible careers that they may not have considered before. Eight-grader Sophie Kush agreed, after listening to some of the speakers, that her eyes had been opened to new possibilities.
"It's been really helpful," said Kush. "The blood pattern analysis was the best, but the Secret Service was cool, too."
Much of the information relayed by the speakers that morning concerned the importance of students finding a way to turn what they love into a career. Park spoke to the students about his love of sports, and how he worked hard to weave that interest into his job choice and make it a part of his everyday activities.
"I loved sports as a kid and I thought to myself, 'How can I make sports something I do every day for the rest of my life?'" he said.
Another aspect that the guests stressed during the event is the importance of doing well in school. Though not all positions require a college degree, the speakers all said that even the things students learn in middle and high school will help them later in life, no matter what career field they choose to go into.
"No one ever asked me what my grades were or how I got my degree, but I would still encourage everyone to go to school," Park told the students. "I use math, history, language, typing — all of it — every day at my job."
Ruhlman said that this stage of school is extremely important for students to be able to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and is grateful for the volunteers who continually participate in the school's career day events. She said that some of the careers, like veterinary medicine, have become so popular among both the students and guests that she often doesn't have to reach out anymore for volunteers. Instead, they come to her.
"I'm always just blown away by the people who give their time and come here to talk about what they do," Ruhlman said. "It's great for them to talk to the kids about how they were at that age and how they found their career path based on their interests."
Despite the different vocations represented by the 18 people who volunteered to participate in career day, there is one common theme that Ruhlman said can be found among each and every one of them — they all love what they do.
"If you can find a way to pursue what you love, it will feel like you're not working," she said.