Alums shed light on career paths

Amy Ratzlaff, associate athletic director and head volleyball coach at Tabor College, tells Hillsboro Middle School students about her jobs, how she came to them and what it takes to follow a similar path. Ratzlaff, a 1990 graduate of Hillsboro High School, was one of 25 alums to participate in the first Kansas Day College and Career Readiness event last Wednesday at HMS.Hillsboro Middle School students discovered last week that youth who were a lot like themselves can grow up to find fulfilling jobs and careers in their own community?and places far beyond their hometown, too.

Twenty-five Hillsboro High School alums?19 in person and six via electronic means?shared their path to career success and fulfillment during the first-ever day-long Kansas Day College and Career Readi?ness event last Wednesday.

The event was the brainchild of Anne Janzen, who teaches special education at HMS, with assistance from Gita Noble, who teaches math, physical education and health, and yearbook.

The purpose was to celebrate Kansas Day by highlight local Kansans in the context of the college and career readiness educational emphasis that is growing across the state.

Janzen hatched the idea after reading an article in the Free Press about an HHS alum who had been flying unmanned aircraft in Antarctica as part of her aerospace training.

?I don?t think she knew as a middle schooler that she?d ever be taking a trip to Antarctica,? Janzen said. ?For Kansas Day, I thought we need to promote our Kansans and our Hillsboro High School alumni and let our students see what our alumni are doing.?

Program takes shape

It took Janzen some time to visualize the best way to accomplish that.

?It?s been in my head for the last couple of years,? she said. ?Then Gita said she had done a career fair at Collegiate and she would be willing to help. In August, I asked if she was serious, and she said yes. So it started and went from there.?

The day began with a 45-minute presentation by Jim Robb, former HHS social science teacher, who took on the persona of the great Kansas mile runner, Glenn Cunningham.

?The tie-in was how he valued education and made the most of his situation,? Janzen said. ?He had been severely burned and lost his toes on one foot. They thought he probably would have been the one to have broken the 4-minute mile record in the Olympics in 1936.?

From there, students were formed into groups based on their personalities and interests to listen to alums who work in fields that might appeal them.

Creating small groups instead of one large presentation was strategic, Janzen said.

?They?re middle school kids and we needed to remember that,? Janzen said. ?They?re sixth, seventh and eighth graders and they need to move.

?That was part of, too?finding people who could speak to middle schoolers and were OK with their wiggles and movement and attention spans.?

Wide range of careers

Of the 19 alums who came to the school, most were from Hillsboro or lived within a 50-mile radius. One exception, Ryan Janzen, works as an electrical lineman and drove in from Topeka.

The professions they presented covered the gamut from teaching and coaching, to banking, business, administration, T-shirt production, retail sales and publish?ing.

Each alum talked to the assigned group of students in conversational style. Most brought props or visual aids to describe their work, and then described the path that led them to it.

Participating in person, in addition to Ryan Janzen, were Lucas Hamm, Micah Ratzlaff, Mindy Munguya, Brent Barkman, Nancy Klaassen, Brent Driggers, Dustin Dalke, Jon Chris?tensen, Joel Klaassen, Amy Ratzlaff, Marci Heide?brecht, Krista Heinrichs, Justin Friesen, Chip Reece, Ronn Coates, Tyler Peachey and Mark Rooker.

?Everybody did a great job,? Janzen said.

The six alums who addressed the students via Skype, Google Hangouts, teleconference or prerecorded interviews worked in various places around the country and even overseas.

Chris Coryea works for Lockheed Martin in London; Carissa (Bartel) Magnus takes care of tigers in an Omaha zoo; Jennifer Whis?enhunt is in architectural engineer in New York City; Laura Lindsay does voices for commercials; Jandi Nikkel is joining the Secret Service and Lora Andrews is preparing to be a Methodist minister at Vanderbilt University.

Visiting businesses

Following a chuck-wagon lunch, students formed eight groups to visit local businesses in action.

?We were particularly looking at businesses where there were multiple jobs within the one,? Janzen said. ?I think a lot of the students see the storefront, but don?t realize what all goes on behind it. It takes a lot of people to run a business.?

Businesses that hosted students were Rod?s Tire & Service, Mid?way Motors, Jost Welding, Emprise Bank, Container Services Inc., Hillsboro Com?munity Hospital, Coop?erative Grain & Supply, Hills?boro Police Depart?ment, Lang Diesel and Hillsboro Animal Clinic.

?We were pretty specific with our businesses,? Noble said. ?We wanted them to share with students things like starting salaries and wages, the education needed, certification required, hours and so forth.?

Student response

Janzen and Noble said they were pleased not only with the presentations from alums and businesses, but the way students respond to them.

In regard to the personal presentations, Janzen joked, ?There wasn?t one kid who left the room to go to the office to be sick or go to the restroom. They all were doing a great job.?

The interest level continued at the business visits.

?They asked great questions and engaged in the afternoon visits,? Noble said. ?I had several students say, How do I get a job here? What do I need to do? Do you have anything available now that I could start to work with?

?I thought it was impressive because they realized the value of work and what kind of opportunities it opens up for them.?

Janzen said some of the presenters were concerned that they weren?t in a profession they originally had trained for.

?We wanted the kids to hear that,? Janzen said. ?We want kids to know there?s a big wide world that?s open to them. And we can celebrate that we may be a small school, but there are a lot of places to go.?

Janzen and Noble also expressed gratitude for the support the project received from adminstration and school staff.

?We didn?t get very many nos when we asked,? Janzen said. ?It took people from the kitchen staff, to transportation, to maintenance?it took a lot of people, and they all said yes.?

Janzen said she was pleased with the inaugural effort. It may be repeated in three years when a new group of students are enrolled at the middle school. Also, it gives the alums and businesses a break.

?We don?t want to impose on people,? she said. ?In three years we can go back to them and ask them to come back and be part of this.?

Written By
More from Don Ratzlaff
City of Hillsboro earns passing marks from auditors for 2012
The city of Hillsboro received a thumbs up from its auditing firm...
Read More