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Mentoring the Next Generation – Growing Our Own Event in Fort St. John, BC

Growing Our Own Event Matches Professionals with Students to Showcase Career Opportunities in Fort St. John

Kim Zackodnik
For many young people, deciding how to focus their studies for a future career can be difficult. Understanding the myriad opportunities available, as well as what training and education is needed to get there is not always clear cut. For Kimberly Zackodnik, an Engineer in Training from our Fort St. John office, this is what inspired her to organize a Women in Science and Engineering Mentoring Event in November of 2015 at her former high school, North Peace Secondary School.

The event, drawing twenty students, brought together female students interested in a career in science or engineering, and professional mentors in these fields to share their knowledge and experiences, and offer advice to a new generation. It was considered such a success that both Kimberly and Jeff Mayer, a work experience teacher at North Peace, were encouraged to hold another one, this time with a broader scope.

“There are some perceptions that there are only jobs in the oil and gas industry here in Fort St. John, so we felt this event could provide the opportunity to showcase what else is available.” Explained Kimberly. “We wanted to open students’ eyes to other ideas of what is possible.”

Through working with the Urban Systems Foundation, they set out to make the event available to all students in grades 10-12, regardless of field of interest or gender. Kimberly and Jeff felt this would help to attract more students to attend, and build on the success of the previous event. They were also able to open the event up to a spectrum of professional mentors, with the goal of really showcasing all the different career options available locally.

Jeff, who works closely with the students coordinating work experience placements and helping them prepare for life after high school, also saw the event as a great way to encourage the kids to stay in or come back to the community after post-secondary studies. “There is a lot of opportunity here in Fort St. John, and it can be hard to fill the positions. By teaching the kids about what is available, we can potentially fill those jobs with a pool of people who grew up here and are invested in the community.”

Urban-Sytems-Growing-OwnThis year’s event, called “Growing Our Own”, took place on Thursday, February 16th at The Lido and brought together about forty students, matching them with mentors from throughout the community and giving them time to ask questions about not only the work they do, but also how the students could guide their studies to be able to follow a similar path. Using the venues tables and booths, it was a more informal event than a traditional career fair, helping both students and mentors feel comfortable sharing information.

Urban-Systems-GrowingOwn2To find the mentors, Kimberly reached out to preselected individuals in the community to gauge their interest in participating. “Pretty much everybody said yes.” She recounts. In fact, as word spread about the event, she started receiving requests to participate from other professionals from Fort St. John. “There ended up being a good cross-section of mentors. They were outgoing and open, and willing to share with the students, who were full of questions. Many of the mentors were even able to help the quieter students open up.”

To be sure that each student was given the opportunity to have time with their desired mentor, Kimberly, Jeff, and the team at Urban Systems, created an online poll, allowing the students to identify their top four mentors. From there, using a “speed-dating” like model, each student was scheduled fifteen minutes with at least two of their top picks, in groups of about three students.

The opportunity to speak with someone outside of their predetermined area of focus was also beneficial to the students. “Many of the students thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try this,’ in terms of speaking to professionals outside their scope.” Jeff said. “It was eye-opening for them to see the depth and breadth of opportunities for what’s out there. Unless you see a job, you don’t know it exists.”

Of the thirty-three mentors in attendance, their professions ranged to include engineers, lawyers, financial planners and accountant, medical professionals and local small business owners, to name a few. Kimberly and Jeff were also able to coordinate having Stephen Prins, a representative from Northern Health BC, attend, who shared with the students the many opportunities at Northern Health available to them. He was so pleased with the way the event went that he is interested in working with the organizing team to make this a regular event and even increase the capacity.

The feedback from the event from both mentors and students alike was very positive, and Kimberly and Jeff are also both very happy with how things went. Kimberly is eager to make it an annual event, seeing it as such a great opportunity for students to not only learn what is available but make connections with local professionals who can help them as they further their studies. “I would like to be able to host similar events in other municipalities, and even reach out to more rural school and help give this experience to even more people.”

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