mentor speaking to students about her career virtually

How did you land your first professional gig? Did you know a family member or friend who worked in the industry? Did you study the field in college? Several factors played into it, but the influences in your life played an essential role in securing that position. Whether it was your professor, the boss at your internship, or your basketball coach, your relationships mattered. 

The reality is that not all students have access to experiences that provide them with the opportunity to make connections and build relationships. 

You can help students discover the path that will lead them to a successful future. Even just one interaction can open their minds to the world of possibilities available to them that, otherwise, they might not have known about. 

That's why your mentorship has a significant impact on students. It might even be life-changing.

Mentorship in Action 

"I thought it would be useful to provide kids with information that I didn't have when I was graduating from high school and going into college," explained Chris Zecco, who works as the Video and Motion Design Manager at MarketReach in Nashua, NH. Zecco is among those partnering with us to provide students with connections to career-based learning opportunities. 

Zecco is a presenter at Career Connections, which are live webinars that VLACS students can attend to learn about careers from professionals who work in them. Zecco speaks to students about what it's like to work in his industry, how he got there, and what they can expect going into this field.  

As someone with experience hiring employees for his company, he holds valuable expertise about what employers are looking for in a candidate. He shares his knowledge with students so that they are prepared when it's time to go on the job hunt. 

Zecco explained, "being in the creative industry, it's far less about what grade you got on something, what college you went to, or what professor you had… A lot of what I try to instill is beyond what you can do. That's maybe like 20-30 percent of the job. The other 70-80 percent is being someone that is pleasant to work with. That's what I try to strive for with my team." 

In addition to his work with Career Connections, Zecco also volunteers as an outside expert to VLACS students. When a student is looking for a more one-on-one experience with a professional, we connect them with experts like Zecco, who will meet with the student throughout the time they take their VLACS course. Zecco recalled collaborating with a student who was working on a short film. He reviewed her project and provided her with some of his video editing and film composition expertise so that she could make improvements.  

"The next time I saw her project, she had immediately implemented everything that I had suggested to her and even more beyond that, so it was clear that she had used a lot of the resources that I sent her way to make the project that she was working on better," Zecco said. 

When asked about what inspires him to work with the youth in his community, he recounted some of his personal experiences during his career exploration process. 

Like so many others, Zecco went to high school, identified his interest in video, and pursued a college degree. Yet, after working in news and tv production for a few months, he decided to branch out and work in areas outside of what he worked on throughout his school years. His journey to finding his ultimate career path motivated him to share the vast array of career options students can pursue. 

"At the time that I was in high school looking towards college, all of my career advisors were saying, this is what you do with that career path. I wanted to provide a broader range. One of the slides I covered was a list of about 45 different positions in all areas of film and video production. So, it's more along the lines of, if you like carpentry and you like movies, you can design sets. There is a career path for you even if you are remotely interested," Zecco said.

Like Zecco, Jennifer Landon, a frequent Career Connections speaker, makes it her mission to share the variety of job opportunities students can pursue in her industry. 

Landon currently works as the Director of Education in Workforce Development, representing the construction industry. But long before this role, she was a teacher and Director of Career Development, where her entire career focus and passion was to teach students about life skills and career planning. Her long history in this field inspires her to provide resources to students necessary for them to make informed career decisions.

"I think it is really important that people have an understanding that it's not college or career, that those can be intermingled. It's more of - what's your future path? What's your career path? What do you need to do to get there?" Landon explained. 

Landon expressed how significant work-based learning opportunities are in providing students with a chance to get hands-on, real-world experience. Through these experiences, students can identify what they are getting into before they start down a path that she describes can be both costly and time-consuming. 

"I can't tell you how many people were knocking on my door saying they got their degree and don't know what to do because they didn't have any type of internship or practical experience related to what they are doing. Yes, they might have a 4.0 GPA, but that doesn't mean they are employable," Landon said. Instead, it's having access to resources and talking about the different options available to them that leave the most lasting impact.

When collaborating with students, she explained that her goal is to convey that the job title isn't always what it is perceived to be. Instead, students should look at the industry as a whole, not just the job title. 

"Taking a look at construction specifically, a lot of people think it's low wage, low skill. I look at it and say, well, construction is everywhere. You can't walk into a building without construction touching your life. It may not be that the building is something you're interested in, but we also need people in human resources, accounting, business development, and marketing. You need to look at the industry as a whole and see what industry you would be interested in," Landon added.

Working with students for VLACS partner Jason Sgro fulfills his goal of ensuring that students enter the workforce qualified and skilled.

Sgro runs the Atom Group, which specializes in software development and cybersecurity. Sgro has worked with VLACS to host Career Connections sessions and serve as an outside expert, working with students one-on-one.

As a tech industry leader, Sgro said he often gets several questions about whether students should take the standard educational path versus the online and boot camp path that technologists are taking. Many students inquire about these alternative options that allow them to get the job done cost-effectively. Sgro explained that it has been great for him to help students make these decisions. 

"We've had really good luck bringing in young professionals and being the first stop in their career. Just being part of that growth has always been something tremendously rewarding for us, and hopefully for them as well."

While collaborating with students, Sgro shared that he relates to that same career planning process they experience. He recalled not always having a defined direction in his life but reassured that having some uncertainty is perfectly normal.  

"One thing that I've tried to emphasize is you really don't need to know. All you have to do is keep taking steps forward. Keep learning. Keep engaging. Keep seeking out audiences with industry professionals, your peers, and mentors," Sgro said.

Sgro added that working with students also has impacted his thinking within his own work. As he connects with the future generation of the workforce, he describes these interactions as one of the most important experiences he can have as a leader. 

"You kind of get dragged down into your day-to-day life a little bit; I mean we are out here solving today's challenges… It's easy to lose sight of what's outside of your own little world. I think it is tremendously valuable to maintain that connection to the community, to maintain that connection to the youth and their ideas," Sgro said. 

"I do a lot of professional coaching, and anytime I'm mentoring somebody, I'm learning as much from them as they are from me. I'm always getting insights and listening to how people think about problems, and this generation has such a unique perspective on the world that's being crafted by some of the same events that we are going through… They are inquisitive, they are very large-minded, and as a leader, I think that they have a lot to teach us as well, and we have to stay connected to that."  

While we have had the opportunity to partner with professionals across the state, we have also had the pleasure of reconnecting with VLACS alumni like Erica Smith. Smith graduated from VLACS in 2011 and pursued her interest in dentistry. She began working in the front office of a dental practice, which piqued her interest in the clinical side of dentistry, later leading her to her current role as a dental hygienist. 

As she was wrapping up her final months in dental school, Smith was invited to speak at the American Dental Hygiene Associations' annual meeting. While speaking to her audience, she wanted to share the importance of taking your education into your own hands and creating your own path. From that point forward, she felt inspired to share her message with other students. "For me, it's been kind of building this journey of finding alternate ways to achieve what you want to achieve and that has been a project on my own that I have been working on in my own personal journey. It's having this mentality that there's always a way," Smith said. 

In addition to being a Career Connections guest speaker, Smith has also connected with students from other schools through the Nepris platform to discuss careers in dentistry. By mentoring students, she can fulfill her mission to encourage students to discover the journey that leads them to a bright future ahead. Whether her presentations spark students' interest in her career field or whether it leads them to the realization that the industry isn't going to be a good fit, she hopes that students walk away feeling confident and informed about the next steps in their career. 

"I would hope what they take away from it is that they feel encouraged hearing my story and how I got into the field and what I'm doing with my career now… They feel encouraged to pursue those things and not feel discouraged when their path towards something doesn't quite look like their classmates or their friends around them," Smith said.

Smith also recalls what it's been like to earn a badge, a digital pin that symbolizes her collaboration with students. This badge allows her to share her professional accomplishments and efforts toward preparing students to enter the workforce. She said having that badge and sharing it on her social media channels has allowed her to promote the importance of career exploration. "It allows me to share that with my colleagues and hopefully start some more conversations that way and in turn hopefully get more people interested and aware of what VLACS is doing," Smith explained. 

Your mentorship could change a student's life forever. 

If you are interested in volunteering, please consider becoming a professional partner with VLACS to provide students with valuable connections to your career. All you have to do is fill out this form, and we will reach out to you with more information. 

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