June 27, 2020 Category: Stories

The Fresh Air Fund’s Career Fair: An Experiential Learning Approach to Career Awareness

“To our students and future leaders, the Career Fair is an opportunity to focus your aspirations and for you to dream what can be – I encourage you to ask questions and stay present. Remember, quoting Nelson Mandela, that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” said Director of Camping & Year Round Programs, Alicia Skovera, during her opening remarks at the Career Fair.

The Fresh Air Fund’s Annual Career Fair was held on March 7th, 2020, and generously hosted at the Con Edison Learning Center in Long Island City.  The experiential learning day of programming provides students in The Fund’s Career Awareness Program (CAP) opportunities to participate in interactive workshops and learn more about possible future career paths.

Bright and early, dressed in professional attire, students walked in excited to see their friends and participate in the interactive workshops. 

A 13-year-old CAP student, Amaya, attending the Career Fair for the first time, shared her expectations, “I’m expecting to have fun, learn a lot and experience it with my friends. I look forward to getting a better understanding of what I want to do and how to get there.” 

During the Career Fair, each group of students rotated between four 40-minute breakout sessions and participated in experiential learning workshops led by volunteers from a variety of professions. The categories of workshops included: A Life of Service; Science: Fiction to Reality; Get Your Hands Dirty and Finding and Following Your Passion. 

Science: Fiction to Reality

When you walk into Anna Thompson’s workshop, you’ll notice CAP students dressed in lab coats and goggles attempting to put M&M’s and Skittles into a small bottle without touching it. One student expressing her frustration as she drops M&M’s on the table looks at Anna and says, “How is this even possible?”

The Science: Fiction to Reality track focuses on all things science – and the volunteers share their passion for science and discuss their education and career path.

As a pharmacist, Anna provided students with hands-on experiences in her workshop – Fun with Medicine. Students learned how to work with customers and fulfill medicine orders. She emphasized the importance of being detail-oriented because working with medication can be tricky – a slight mistake can have a very significant consequence. 

11-year-old Nelson said, “I learned about medicine and how important it is to look at the details. I want to be a doctor someday.” 

Experiential learning is an opportunity about how you can learn from your mistakes. Anna showed the students how to transfer the candy from the funnel to the bottles, and it seemed easy until they tried it for themselves. Students struggled at first, but after a few tries, they learned how to do it faster. 

“One of my favorite parts of the Career Fair was seeing the students fidgeting and trying to figure out how to work with the medication like spilling the candy on the table, and how they tried and got it correct the next time. I think they enjoyed the learning process,” Anna said.

Get Your Hands Dirty 

The Get Your Hands Dirty track highlights professions that go beyond the typical office 9 am to 5 pm jobs – such as careers in the restaurant and fashion industry. 

Oliver Selby, an Assistant Outerwear Designer for Tommy Hilfiger, volunteered as a Counselor for a Day at Camp Tommy last summer and was excited when offered the opportunity to lead a workshop at the Career Fair. 

Oliver started his workshop with a quick introduction about his work and an overview of other careers in the fashion industry.

“My goal was to demonstrate the various positions within the industry. Fashion design is not just fashion designers,” Oliver says. “I wanted to outline and describe how a product develops through various steps and involves a number of people from product and fabric development to tech design, pattern development and the fashion designers who design the product.”

During the workshop, students created their own line of clothes and planned the concept, fabric, design and colors. Some students were sketching out designs, and others were cutting from a magazine to be inspired. 

12-year-old CAP student Leander said, “I really love being creative. I like to draw, and I was able to do that in the fashion workshop. I’m also really interested in sales and numbers, and how the business side works, because I want to sell my art one day!” 

“It was nice to see everyone working together and collaborating on ideas. In any industry, working with a team is very important,” said Oliver remembering one of his favorite moments. 

One student told Oliver that he was interested in both the arts and basketball with a passion for pursuing both. Oliver thought that this was incredible and offered some advice, “I offered the idea of looking at colleges that offered programs in both the arts and sports – my goal was to help the kids explore their interests and hobbies.”

A Life of Service

The A Life of Service track highlights careers dedicated to serving others – from education to social work. 

Jenille G. Cross-Figueroa, is a Senior Procurement Agent at a law firm where she’s worked for over 20 years, focused her workshop on how students can be intentional about their career paths and choose one that incorporates what they enjoy doing.

Jenille’s workshop gives students ownership of their career path.  “It’s important to grow with each opportunity, but also to have a heart for people in anything that you do – I love the people I work with and what I do,” Jenille said.

Finding and Following Your Passion

Take a step into the workshop facilitated by Kristen Stain and Sam Del Pilar’s about Footwear Design and you would see a large oval table with magazines, bright-colored sneakers, knitted hats and patterned clothing.

Kristen shared the idea behind creating the Footwear Design workshop, “We wanted to touch on the idea that you can be inspired by so many different things, by anything really – that’s why Sam and I decided to bring as many items as possible. Sam brought a can, and I brought art books, travel books, we even had toys.” 

Kristen, a color and concept designer at Under Armour, was excited to meet all the students for the first time and see the enthusiasm on their faces as they entered the workshop. Sam, a Career Fair volunteer for the past four years, still gets the same feeling of excitement with each new group of students he works with.

“I always love the reactions we get from the kids after they share their ideas. We see an immediate form of self-confidence and interest in creativity. Every year, I come back – it’s great to hear the kids’ readiness and excitement for the workshops,” Sam said.

 “A lot of young people don’t have access to information about career options. Because that was my experience, I want to let young people know that there are a lot of options and you can use your strengths and talents to get into spaces that really interest you,” Kristen said about why it was important for her to volunteer at The Career Fair.

Looking to the Future

The Career Fair is one way the Career Awareness Program gives students hands-on experiences to see and think about what’s possible. We want our students to realize their dreams and understand what education and experience they will need to achieve their goals.

Career Fair volunteer Jenelle said, “People always say, ‘Think outside the box,’ but unless you show someone what’s outside of the box, they’ll always be limited by the box. You must break that box open and give kids the option to see.”