New England News
4:52 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Career Fair Exposes Students to STEM Fields

Students had the chance to try and grab a piece of candy out of a model human abdomen using medical devices at an exhibit offered by the McCann Technical School.
Students had the chance to try and grab a piece of candy out of a model human abdomen using medical devices at an exhibit offered by the McCann Technical School.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
Students had to monitor their movements of the devices on a computer screen.
Students had to monitor their movements of the devices on a computer screen.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

Science, technology, engineering and math are the focus of a career fair in Pittsfield today.

Roughly 400 high school students had the chance to speak to representatives from more than 30 companies, colleges and governmental agencies highlighting careers in the STEM fields. Judith Monachina works in career services at Berkshire Community College, which hosted the fair.

“What I think all of these students have in common, these students who are interested in this fair and who come here, is they like to do things,” Monachina said. “They like hands-on. They like to see their ideas manifest in some item, project or something physical.”

One of the most popular exhibits among the students was General Dynamics, whose plant in Pittsfield supports the U.S. Navy. Tony Kalish is a systems engineer with the company.

“I mean the submarine is one of the most advanced engineering devices man has ever created,” Kalish said. “So the fact that we work on that, interests the students. The submarine is not terribly well-known so their curiosity is sparked as well.”

Kalish says students are also interested in hearing about how to best set themselves up for a successful career, taking into account the rising cost of post-high school education.

“They are more so interested in how it is one becomes an engineer, what’s available to you afterwards and how the job market is,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about student debt, paying off student loans and getting a job once they graduate, but most of the engineers here didn’t have that problem.”

Timothy Jones is a junior at Saint Joseph High School in Pittsfield with an interest in engineering. He says having a specialized career fair featuring local employers is reassuring when applying for college.

“If you go out and learn something you can really always come back here and there will be something waiting for you that you know of,” Jones said. “You always know that there are engineers working with General Dynamics or people working in the medical field all around this area. So it is really nice to see a lot of specific places with real people there that can tell you what they do and that you can come back here knowing that people are doing that.”

A non-traditional exhibit being offered by the surgical technology program at McCann Technical School was also attracting a lot of attention. Jocelyne Hescock is the program coordinator.

“We decided that we would do something where the high school students could actually participate,” Hescock said. “They check out the instruments that are being used during laparoscopic surgery and try and see if they can pull out little pieces of candy.”

Jenayia Patterson is a junior at Pittsfield High School and had no trouble using the medical devices to pick a green Jolly Rancher out of the model human abdomen.

“It was actually working so it wasn’t that hard,” Patterson said. “That one was actually fun.”

Dee Pompei works in marketing and sales for Apex Resource Technologies, which designs, manufactures and sells products ranging from medical implants to computer memory card cases. She says it’s important for the region’s young people to realize there are career opportunities right in their own backyard.

“A lot of the kids are going elsewhere because we don’t have a lot of big companies any longer,” Pompei said. “Apex has grown. We’ve added on over a $100 million clean room a couple years back. We want children to stay here and grow the community.”

Monachina says engaging students in career paths earlier on is essential.

“Any way they can meet people who can inspire them,” Monachina said. “That’s really what it’s about.”

The seventh annual fair was sponsored by the Berkshire STEM Pipeline Network, a cooperative regional effort to expand the field. In recent years, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has advocated for government support of life science initiatives, as $19.5 million of the $33.6 billion budget for fiscal 2014 has been designated for investments in the area.