Just what is a Pick-A-Cluster event? “Well, just a few short months ago, it was only an idea,” says Scotty Draper, program coordinator for the Step Ahead Program. The Step Ahead Program was created in May 2008 as an extension of the Barnhart Scholarship Program to create a desire in each freshman student to explore careers fitting their interests and aptitudes. “Providing the necessary tools to find a career match is the easy part,” says Mrs. Draper. “Creating the desire in these students to pursue the information, as any educator and parent knows, is the hard part.” If the enthusiastic questioning is any indication, then Step Ahead may just have found a way to make that part easier, too.
A Pick-A-Cluster is an event hosted by the Step Ahead Program to assist freshmen and sophomores in gaining information about certain career clusters. Each Pick-A-Cluster highlights a different career cluster by gathering at least five individuals representing a different occupation within that cluster. “It’s an informal career awareness program where students, and the adult who brought them, can now have direct access to individuals in these career fields.”
The event on Tuesday night highlighted the manufacturing career cluster. Participants were Richard Beasley, assistant instructor to the welding department at A.C. Jones; Jim Huffman, manufacturing manager for Wastequip, Inc.; Mark Parsons, co-owner of Hogue’s Jewelry; David Todd, owner of Todd’s Welding; and Bruce Wiatrek, account manager for Alamo Iron Works in San Antonio. These individuals spent an hour answering questions relating to their careers such as “How many hours a week do you work?”, “What class should I take in high school to prepare me for your job?” and “How did you choose this career?”. “Easily, these are questions everyone wants to ask about careers,” Mrs. Draper says, “but they aren’t always around these folks to do that.” And, “don’t let this get out, but even we as parents don’t always know where to help our children find these answers. So, we created this event to do that.”
In addition to highlighting career individuals, a department at A.C. Jones will also be spotlighted to remind students of classes and opportunities that may be available on the high school campus. The welding course that provides students with a Level I welding certificate under the direction of Mike Mylnar, a former certified welder for Koch Industry and current A.C. Jones welding instructor, awards an average of 47 certificates each year. Mylnar was also available to answer questions of attendees.
Students, and the adults they brought with them, enjoyed finding out all sorts of interesting information. Wiatrek, began his career as a welder and now oversees distribution of products for Alamo Iron Works. Parsons began his career in art, and now uses many techniques in manufacturing custom jewelry that other large manufacturing plants use to create steel parts – just on a much smaller scale.
The students are learning to rub elbows with people who may end up being peers in a chosen career field – “just another tool to add to their career toolbox.” For more information on this Pick-A-Cluster event, or any of the next four coming this year, contact Scotty Draper at 362-9664, or send her an e-mail at email@example.com. Step Ahead will host the next Pick-A-Cluster on Dec. 3 and will highlight the law, public safety, corrections and security career cluster.