Dan Li, a seventh-grader at Ellicott Mills Middle School, knows what he wants to be when he grows up. "I'm pretty sure I want to be a neurosurgeon," he said.
But he still enjoyed the school's annual career day Friday, especially the presentation from two Maryland state troopers, who brought along drug-sniffing dogs.
"I don't want to pursue it," the 13-year-old said of a career in law enforcement. "But it was really interesting."
Now in its fourth year, career day at Ellicott Mills has become a popular springtime activity for seventh-graders.
As in past years, about 15 professionals were recruited, including sportscaster Greg Toland of WJLA-TV in Washington, restaurant owner Jordan Naftal of Jordan's Steakhouse in Ellicott City, state troopers Colleen McCurdy and David McCarthy (with dogs Trooper and LoJack) and oceanographer Steve Gittings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Most volunteered because they have a child in the school or through another connection, such as a sister-in-law who teaches, as in McCarthy's case. Pupils chose beforehand the three professionals they wanted to hear, then rotated through three 20-minute sessions, each held in a different classroom.
Betsey Castellano, who organizes the program with fellow school counselor Karl Friedheim, said she always plans career day for a day when eighth-graders are out of the building, so more classrooms are available. On Friday, eighth-graders were on a field trip to Philadelphia.
She said pupils love the experience. "They always want to do it for more than just an hour and a half," she said. "They want to do it the whole day."
Principal Michael Goins said the program gives the children "a chance to broaden their minds a little and consider different possibilities."
Seventh grade is a good time to start focusing on a potential career because midway through eighth grade, pupils will have to make decisions about which high school classes they will take, Castellano said.
Susan Katz, a reading teacher at the school, said pupils learn about careers as part of the county's reading curriculum, even using software that makes career suggestions based on a pupil's interests and tells which high school and college courses would be useful.
But nothing compares to meeting people who hold those jobs.
Toland, whose son, Ryan, is in the seventh grade at Ellicott Mills, brought a small video camera with him, so he could tape pupils reading sample sports scripts.
"Even though I work with big studio cameras, it's just a camera and a script," he told the kids. "That's what it comes down to."
He invited pupil Trevor Sasscer to stand in front of the room and read to the camera.
"That was really, really good," he said after Trevor had finished. "He was very comfortable out there. He made great eye contact."
Toland said he has been to other schools for career days, but never to Ellicott Mills. As it happened, he was working Friday night, so his morning was free, he said.
"I think they're at an age where they're thinking, `Gee, what would I like to do?'" he said.
As for his son? He said Ryan loves sports, but "I don't think he wants to tip his hand just yet."
Naftal walked the pupils through a restaurant budget and talked about the kind of food he serves, then took their questions.
Asked his least favorite part of owning a restaurant, he said: "It's the people who are really grouchy, and whatever we do they're going to be grouchy, and they make everyone else grouchy."
Gittings, the oceanographer, used a slide show to talk about his work and discuss many of the career options related to ocean study.
Even the submarine that scientists use to explore the ocean bottom represents exciting career possibilities, he said.
"These are miniature space shuttles," he said. "Except they're underwater."
In many cases, the pupils said they enjoyed learning about different careers, even though they know what they want to do.
Leah Mason, 12, said oceanography sounds interesting, but the presentation did not change her mind - she still plans to go to cosmetology school.
Amanda Parkhurst, 12, said she liked learning about marketing, but she still plans to be a pediatrician.
Of course, not all seventh-graders have such clear visions of their futures. Shawn Baugher, 12, heard from a human resources manager, restaurant owner and state troopers. He knows he wants to go to college, but he is not ready to pick out a career.
Asked what his dream job would be, he said, "I haven't thought about that."