Speaker series sparks interest in future careers

Emma Peters

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an Air Force fighter pilot, or a lawyer, or have a share in a Nobel Peace Prize? The new lunchtime speaker series Career Conversations offers students a firsthand opportunity to learn what it takes to be in these—and many more—prospective careers.

In the speaker series, parents from diverse professions come to the school’s College and Career Center during lunch to discuss their careers and experiences in the hopes of spreading student awareness of different professions. Career Conversations held its first presentation last Friday with speaker Lee Uniacke, who spoke about his career in video gaming, advertising and Internet start-ups.

Architect Laurie Friedman tells students about her experiences working in sustainable design as part of the Career Conversations lunchtime series.
Architect Laurie Friedman tells students about her experiences working in sustainable design as part of the Career Conversations lunchtime series.

In the 35 minutes allotted for lunch, Uniacke took students through his career in digital advertising sales, from launching the video game website 1Up to his current position as the Chief Revenue Officer for GameStop Digital Media.

The atmosphere in the College and Career Center was casual, even though Principal Sondheim, the assistant principals, and several teachers stood listening by the door. College and Career Specialist Paula Vantrease said she was glad when 12 students appeared for the presentation and five more trickled in midway through.
“I was pleased by both the presenter and that we actually had students come,” Vantrease said. “For a first go around, I think it went extremely well.”
Freshman Michael Schwartz, who attended the presentation following the annual college and career meeting in his Social Issues class, said that Uniacke’s talk helped him learn how to apply his interests to a particular field.

“At this point, I’m trying to get some sort of inspiration on not only what I want to be but also on how I can really thrive in whatever career I choose,” Schwartz said. “I honestly didn’t know it was going to be about gaming, but I was lucky to go to this specific meeting because my dad and I are planning to create a nonprofit organization website. I am glad that he happened to be in the business of advertisements.”

The school has advertised the new speaker series in nearly every media outlet possible.
“We have sent home multiple emails to students and parents, put it on the school’s website and on Facebook,” Vantrease said. “It’s being advertised all around school, but when we first started this we weren’t sure on how it was going to work.”

Speakers were given limited instructions on the nature of their presentations, so that each talk would be different in both subject matter and its display.

On Tuesday, Laurie Friedman spoke about her career as an architect dedicated to sustainable design, and later presentations will include parents who are physicians, engineers and filmmakers. The schedule and explanations of all of the speakers’ careers are posted on the Redwood website.

The series has been in planning mode since a speech Sondheim gave at the first PTSA meeting in September inspired PTSA volunteer Ellen Eissler to organize the series.

According to Eissler, Sondheim was interested in helping students discover their own interests, which he said was less straightforward than teaching academic subjects.

“High schools keep students so busy with academics that it is hard to find out about what people are really doing in the world,” Eissler said.
After Sondheim sent an email in late October encouraging parents to volunteer for the series, Career Conversation coordinators Greg Davison, Candace Curtis and

Ellen Eissler were flooded with offers by enthusiastic parents, according to Eissler.

Seventeen parents have already committed to speaking during lunch periods sporadically scheduled throughout the semester, due to already planned three-day weekends, STAR tests and the High School Exit Exam.

Because of the overwhelming number of responses and career type overlap, many parents could not volunteer. However, Vantrease says she hopes to continue the series next spring and give the parents who are unable to speak this year another opportunity to share their careers with students.

“I envision that speakers in the fall will be college-geared, and in the spring we will have the speaker series since colleges don’t usually come visit at that time,” Vantrease said.