Wheeler High School students explore career options during job fair

North Stonington — When lawyer Christopher Anderson was going to school, he thought he was going to be an eye doctor — until he found out he was colorblind. He said he tried out a number of different things, including working as a carpenter for a period of time, before returning to school and discovering he loved being in a courtroom.

His message to students assembled to listen to his career advice was "try something, fail, and try something else" while they are still young. Eventually something will suit you, he told them.

Anderson was one of 45 guest speakers at the high school Thursday afternoon to talk about their career paths — representing farming, the arts, business, biochemistry, the military and legal profession — and to offer advice.

Standing alongside a corporate and asylum lawyer, as well as a corrections officer, Anderson pointed out that less than 10 percent of lawyers spend time in a courtroom, meaning that there is a wide variety of jobs lawyers could have outside of what students might see on T.V.

And while the speakers warned of the student loan debt that comes with law school, they noted that finding something you are passionate about makes it possible to pay it off.

Ingrid Stock, a senior scientist at Pfizer, echoed this sentiment to a dozen students interested in biochemistry.

"Look at all your options," she told students when asked about how to start a career. She said that high school and the first years of college, in her opinion, were about taking a "variety of classes" to see where their interests lie, and then getting work experience to bolster their resume.

Having already interned at Connecticut College's behavioral neuroscience labs, Anjum Shaikh, a junior at Wheeler, came prepared with questions about crossover between doctors and researchers, and Stock explained that there are dual-M.D. and Ph.D. programs in which doctors can also run labs.

Shaikh, who is interested in cancer and diabetes research, said it was "good to get exposed to different careers and get the process started."

"I hope they have more fairs ... it was very beneficial," she added.

The fair was the first since about five years ago, said Assistant Principal Ryan Chaney. Early on in the school year, all students were surveyed about what career paths interested them.

There was a diverse range of career paths reflected, he noted, but several fields drew wide interest, including more than 50 percent of the student body who wanted to learn about science and technology career paths.

A committee of teachers that included technology education teachers Dave Bradanini and Noel Devine began to network with professionals in town and the region. They received help through the school's federal Perkins Grant program, which gives students better access to technical and vocational training before they graduate.

"Colleges get well represented," said Devine, but students looking into other career paths might not know about the variety of options available. She and other organizers tried to represent an even mix of four-year degree professions and jobs with other types of training.

Eventually, Chaney said, the school would like to add a career center to give even more support to students planning for after they graduate.

"I'm excited about the diverse group of careers" that students were interested in, he said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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