OTTUMWA — It's one thing to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. It's a bit different when they can speak to professionals already in that specific career.
For the past five years, Indian Hills Community College has hosted an Eighth-Grade Career Day to help students explore various career options, learn a few job descriptions and discover class requirements.
Even if these young people change their minds, at least they are giving serious thought to their futures, said Karen Swanson, The Hills director of high school programs.
Swanson said Eighth Grade Career Day was designed to get students thinking about what they want to do. So if they really want to work as a park ranger, they may be looking at classes in chemistry, history and environmental science.
"In Iowa, all eighth-graders are required to put together a four-year plan," she said. "We had people volunteer from the community in addition to our own staff members."
"I learned about different careers," said Kai-Li Diyaljee, a Fairfield Middle School student who picked up "some ideas for the future."
The list of career paths in which students could meet and talk to an expert included, but was not limited to, nursing, law, medicine, welding, robotics, accounting and firefighting.
"We're trying to reflect what's going on in our society," said Tom Rubel, executive dean of regional economic advancement. "There's a diverse [spectrum] of opportunity out there."
Most of those opportunities require education after high school.
For Friday, Kai-Li picked out three sessions to attend based on what looked interesting to her. When she signed up for career day, she said, she knew she had an interest in advertising. To a lesser extent, she had an interest in the fine arts as well.
"Now I think performing arts might be better for me," Kai-Li said.
That's fine, said Swanson. The day was all about exploring. Some career paths might seem less attractive to students or a session could peak their interest in something new.
The only real limit on presentations was to keep it realistic for jobs in southeast Iowa. Students came from Fairfield, Ottumwa, Davis County, Mahaska County and other communities within Indian Hills' service area.
"We think this ... can help lay the foundation for the future of southeast Iowa," said Rubel, who would like to see educated workers stay in this area.
"Also, for some of them, it's their first time being on a college campus," Swanson added.
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark