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Job shadows: Showing high school seniors what dream job is really like

Rice Hospital emergency services nurse Kaye Dooley, left, shows Willmar High School shadow student Brett Stock, 17, some of the equipment used in one of the hospital emergency rooms. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Seniors in high school probably get tired of all the questions — what are you going to do next year, where are you going to school, what do you want to be.

Willmar Senior High teacher Melissa Aaker has given her senior communications students a head start in answering those questions through a job shadowing assignment. She teaches two Communications 12 sections, about 50 students total.

While job shadowing may not sound like a project for a communications class, Aaker has filled the experience with a variety of assignments.

Each student identified a career that interested him or her and wrote a research paper about the profession, including job descriptions, education requirements, working conditions and job outlook.

They used the material from their papers to create six-panel informational brochures about the careers.

Then, businesses around the Willmar area began getting carefully written letters from high school seniors asking for a job shadowing experience.

Students each spent a day with their host businesses, which gave them a bit of hands-on experience and helped them learn more about the day-to-day activities of the jobs. Students conducted interviews to be used in later assignments.

Most of the job shadows have been completed. Now, the students are writing essays to reflect on and evaluate their experiences. And they are writing thank you notes.

Aaker said recently that she has heard mostly good reports from the employers.

Rice Memorial Hospital hosted a number of students, because many are interested in health care careers.

“Rice has been very good about working with us,” Aaker said. “They see the benefit.”

Joyce Elkjer, director of human resources at Rice, said hundreds of students come to Rice for job shadowing, clinical rotations and mentoring experiences.

“Rice is very committed to giving health care experiences to students interested in that career,” she said.

A job shadow is a good option for high school students, she said.

With patient care and confidentiality a primary concern, people younger than 18 aren’t usually allowed to work on patient floors, she said. A job shadow normally includes a tour of the area the student is interested in and a chance to interview a person who has that job.

Rice does its best to honor student requests within the limits of patient care needs, because “we want them to see what Rice can offer,” she said. Many employees go beyond their job duties to accommodate student requests during the year.

Daniel Wood, 18, visited lab and pathology departments at Rice. He said he learned about the type of education he might need and “it helped me find out what I’m interested in.” He learned how to preserve and prepare a tissue sample for testing. He went to the blood bank where “I didn’t faint” and visited the morgue.

For the most part, the students have enjoyed their experience, Aaker said. “They appreciate the chance to get a better perspective,” she said. “When they do a job shadow, it’s usually with people who are passionate about what they do.”

Teens can have an idealized view of careers, she said, and this project gives them some real-life information as they try to decide what they want to do after high school.

Several of Aaker’s students said they appreciated the opportunities they had and recommended the exercise to others.

“If you’re interested in something, you should do it,” said Jordan Bares, 17. He rode along with a Willmar Police officer for a day.

Bares saw drivers pulled over for speeding and for other reasons. He saw one person arrested.

He learned that officers appreciate talking to polite, friendly people; they don’t enjoy dealing with someone who gets lippy. They really don’t like cussing.

Jordan said he was a little surprised at the number of things an officer does in a day. He also learned, when he went to lunch with two officers, that rookies, even job shadowing ones, get stuck with the bill. (The officers paid him back.)

Ruby Saenz, 17, worked with Heidi Wuertz of Carlson Studio in Spicer. They spent an evening taking portraits of youth hockey players, some as young as 4. Saenz said she learned about the importance of lighting and saw the studio’s editing equipment.

Wuertz even asked her to come back and help again, she said, and she’d like to do that. She’s sure now that it’s what she wants to do. “You can do lots of things as a photographer.”

Bollig Engineering hosted Ayanle Iman, 19, for a day. He toured several projects, went to lunch with owner Brian Bollig and talked with project engineer Nathan Feist about his work.

He said the day make him even more convinced he wants to be an engineer. He’s been interested in it since he was a young boy.

“I love civil engineering,” Ayanle said. He knew he would study lots of math in college, and said, “It’s OK, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Bollig said his firm had not done a job shadow with a high school student before. “It’s nice to be able to do that for the community,” he said, and he’d do it again as schedules allow.

The people in his firm were impressed with Ayanle’s determination, Bollig said. The young man works at Jennie-O Turkey Store and goes to high school full time.

Tyler Gettel is a man with a plan. The 18-year-old is already a member of the Minnesota National Guard. He plans to eventually join the Marines and serve on active duty then open a body shop when he retires from the military.

His day with Trevor Bakker at Bakker Bros in Willmar solidified his plan.

“It’s nice to be able to do something you know is going to be in your future,” Gettel said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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