Workshop offers wide range of career choices

Career Day brings many former students back as special guests


Staff Writer

SCOTT PILLING staff Old Bridge Police Chief Thomas Collow talks to eighth-graders about police work during one of nine rotations at Salk Middle School’s Career Day last week. SCOTT PILLING staff Old Bridge Police Chief Thomas Collow talks to eighth-graders about police work during one of nine rotations at Salk Middle School’s Career Day last week. OLD BRIDGE — Six eighth-grade girls sat listening intently and taking notes at a cafeteria table as Susan McNicholas, an organ transplant coordinator, told them about the rigors of her job.

Speaking at the Salk Middle School’s annual Career Day last Thursday, McNicholas told the girls a bit about the functions and intricacies of the brain, handing them bright green plastic bracelets that the girls unwrapped and put on.

“There are 3,000 people in New Jersey who need organs,” she told them.

A few tables away, students, dressed in shirts and ties, huddled around David Hacyzk, a U.S. Army serviceman dressed in fatigues, with backpacks, rope and canteens settled around his feet.

The program, run by the school’s English department and eighth-grade teacher Barbara Nice, takes a lot of coordination.

Each year, former students call the school and ask to come back for the career fair, Nice said, and many of the students find professionals to come in and speak to their classmates.

“The kids choose the types of things they’d like to go see,” Nice said. She explained that a rotation schedule was put in place, allowing students nine different opportunities to talk with the various representatives. Each session lasted about 15 minutes with short breaks interspersed throughout the morning.

“The object is for them to see what types of careers are out there,” Nice said.

The career day workshop was open only to eighth-grade students, she said, though some seventh-graders helped with the mechanics of it.

With 53 speakers and about 400 students, the extra help was warranted.

Nice said students were given career questionnaires to fill out after the workshop. Students were asked to look for the educational requirements, qualifications, working conditions, salary range, hours, advantages and disadvantages of each job. They were also asked to think about whether they would choose that particular career. A quick look around the cafeteria and learning center of the school, where other tables were crowded with listening eighth-graders, offered glimpses of moving pens and filled-up notebook pages. But students were not only writing down what they had to — they were asking their own questions as well.

“One [student] asked me if I get a house [for being mayor],” said Mayor Jim Phillips, who spoke at the commencement of the workshop. The mayor said he was also asked if he paid taxes and if he “got all the hot chicks.”

Guest speakers at the event included a spectrum of professionals from around the area. Represented careers ranged from television production and police work to nursing and chemistry. A PSE&G electric lineman, hairstylists and lawyers rounded out the speakers.

“We tried for a variety,” Nice said. “There are a lot of people that like to get involved in the community.”

Though Nice said that at the eighth-grade level most students don’t make any firm career choices, offering new options seems to help things along.

Salk has run a program like this for 28 years, she said. And every year, it has gotten bigger and better.

About a fifth of the guest speakers went to school in Old Bridge, Nice said. Others live in the township or have been involved with it in some other capacity.

“It lets them [students] know a little more of what’s out there,” she said. The career workshop was meant to teach students what people really do for their jobs, what kinds of responsibilities they face and what really goes on “in the real world.”

“A job should be something you enjoy,” said banker Patrick O’Donnell, looking at the nine young faces seated around his table. He urged them to try out different fields while still in school and get a feel for what would make them happy.

A few tables away, registered nurse Margaret Turner told listening students about the advantages of a job in her field, noting that nurses are always needed.

Across the room, Old Bridge Police Chief Tom Collow explained to students that because of his job, he is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Bill Boland, a television producer for the YES television network, sat at a table with an Emmy he won for an ABC sports 40th anniversary show.

He has worked on Yankee pre- and post- game shows, he told students.

Boland’s niece is now a Salk student, though he attended Salk and participated in the career fair as an eighth-grader too.

“I wanted to be a chef,” he said. “I cooked french fries for the entire block.”

Jennifer Scarpa, now a fourth-grade teacher at Sayreville Upper Elementary School, brought in stickers for students and tossed beach balls around at her table, telling students that to be a teacher, you need patience and a sense of humor. Scarpa also went to Salk; she said she wanted to come back for Career Day.

“I wanted to inspire people,” Scarpa said. “I enjoy teaching so much.”