Students learn on the job

Work: A county high school program enables students to gain experience in careers they might pursue.

March 14, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many people choose a career in high school and achieve a college degree only to find that the job isn't what they thought it would be. To gain first-hand experience in various careers, nearly 400 Howard County high school students are paired with professionals in the Gifted and Talented Mentor Program.

After a rigorous selection process, including an application, interviews, teacher recommendations and a minimum 3.0 grade point average, students, mostly seniors, spend five to 10 hours a week during the school year on site with carefully chosen mentors, gaining exposure to their career choices.

"I think it really gives the kids a picture of what it's like to be in the real world," said Ann Strozyk, Gifted and Talented Program teacher at Long Reach High School in Columbia.

"You're not sitting in a classroom, you get to go into the world and learn about jobs and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life," said Amy Lee, a senior at Long Reach and a GT intern at St. Agnes HealthCare in Baltimore.

Professional career choices range from sciences and medicine to computers and education. Students are expected to hone professional skills in three main areas. The first two are public speaking and writing. A research project and presentation are required. The project addresses a real problem and seeks an effective solution.

The third area is adult interaction. They need to become adult communicators, said Strozyk, who added that they rise to the challenge as the year progresses.

Many students don't realize what certain jobs entail. Practicing law, for example, isn't like the popular television show "Ally McBeal," Strozyk said. A tremendous amount of research and reading are involved, she added.

The mentor program gives youths a chance to see the pros and cons of their choices, helps them know themselves better and narrows each student's focus to a particular area, Strozyk said. Some decide that certain fields are not for them, while others confirm their goals, she said.

"They come away with an honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses," Strozyk said.

Amy Lee, 17, has been learning at St. Agnes since September with her mentor, Dr. Francisco Ward. With Ward, Amy is developing a survey to increase awareness and understanding of the little-known field of physiatry. She will interview physicians and report her results at the countywide Student Learning Conference in May.

Physiatrists specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and treat patients such as stroke victims and amputees and problems such as sports, spinal cord and brain injuries. Ward tries to find nonsurgical methods to rehabilitate patients, using drug and physical therapy.

Amy's interest in medicine began in eighth grade, and she is 90 percent sure the field is for her and plans to major in biochemistry. She applied to the mentor program after talking with other participating students. She wanted to see real situations - not what she saw on television or during routine doctor visits.

Working with Ward has fit the bill. Amy observes patient examinations and measures limbs under his supervision. She assists with the EMG (electromyography) machine, observes physical therapy and sits in on MRI, X-ray and chart reviews.

"I'm just opening my eyes to all the possible fields in medicine," said Amy, adding that she has seen more options than she thought possible.

Amy spent Friday afternoon shadowing Ward with patients. She watched intently as he examined 78-year-old Cecilia Ottey, who had been experiencing severe pain since undergoing surgery several months ago.

As Ottey described the location of her pain, Amy craned her neck and moved her hands on her own body to correspond with the areas of Ottey's complaints. Ward explained several techniques to Amy.

Amy said she most enjoys patient interaction and would recommend the mentor program. She is Ward's first high school intern, and he said he believes that the program is excellent, giving students a leg up for their college applications.

"When I was in high school, I did bedpans," he said. "She's really lucky."

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