Breakthrough Austin and the Pros

Way back in middle school, once a year our school counselor would come by our class to discuss possible careers. I remember a whole list of jobs based on the kind of interest you had. Doctor, Engineer, Technician, Real Estate Agent, etc. I vaguely knew what some of them were at the time, like obviously a doctor were those terrible people who stuck me with needles. Or pilots, who wore clear shield helmets and shot down the guys in dark shields. But, I didn’t really know people in these specialized jobs so I had no frame of reference for what they did, how they got there, or why I should pursue it. Without understanding the jobs, I had no path to reach them. Luckily, I got to see the very opportunity I missed for a group of middle schoolers.

Breakthrough Austin (whom I volunteered with over the summer) has a program where they help the kids research different careers they’re interested in pursuing, then they bring in actual professionals to talk with them. This program meets three times, once a month on Saturday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School which sit atop the gorgeous hills of west Austin. I wanted to see the program in action, so I volunteered to help with one of their groups.

Split into fields of study, I spent the second Saturday with the Technology/Engineering group. These kids wanted to become engineers, video game designers, architects, and such. I was already impressed with them based on their ambitions. I mean my career choice during middle school was professional baseball player (though my counselor always made me put down something more “realistic”).

They used the first part of the day deciding what questions to ask the professionals when they visited. Reviewing terms to use, like ‘degree’, ‘license’, and ‘salary’. Vocabulary that I of course understand now, but have no recollection of knowing back then.

The group was led by a couple of St. Stephen’s high schoolers and aided by Breakthrough staff, so the kids had several mentors to bounce ideas off of and help answer questions.

After that, the various groups met in the school’s small theater, the “Black Box” (guess what it looked like), to meet the professionals. There were nurses, lawyers, teachers, an actor, a radio show host, pretty sure a geologist, and other very interesting fields. The groups split back up and we got to meet our group’s pros.

Each of the professionals provided a presentation on what they did, how they got there, why they liked it, and what the kids should do if they wanted to do it too. This Technology/Engineering group heard from an architect, wastewater/water treatment engineer, a professor of biomedical engineering, and two from the computer science industry. It was fascinating to hear each of their stories. They were all very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their jobs. Even breaking down what they did in easy to understand terms. The long and short of it is definitely learn the math skills.

After the presentations were a Q & A, then we broke for lunch. Side note, if you want to see one of the best views ever from a school cafeteria, go to St. Stephen’s.

Back with the group, the kids used their previous research and professionals’ presentations to lay out what they would need to do in order to earn their chosen career. The mentors helped each kid think about and understand what it would take to succeed.

I was wholly impressed with the experience. Next month, these kids will have a career fair where they present all their research as though they have that career which I’m excited to attend.

Overall, this would have been the ideal opportunity to have at that age. I’m glad to see a group like Breakthrough providing this, and I’m happy I got to be a small (very small) part of it.