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Job interview: Students learn first-hand about careers from business professionals

Assistant Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O'Keefe spoke with Red Wing High School Students in Hovda Auditorium Tuesday afternoon as part of the high school's Career Exploration Project.

For a high school student, deciding what to do as a career can be a daunting process. To help, Red Wing High School and the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up this year to give students first-hand exposure to a variety careers.

"We're trying to get kids starting to think about what they want to do ... and give them an opportunity to hear about a variety of careers," marketing teacher Nicky Reynolds said.

Beginning just after winter break, the Career Explorations Project has brought a series of local business professionals into the school to speak to the students.

There are about two different speakers a month; the presentations are scheduled to take place during students' advisory periods. Students in grades 8through 12 can sign up to hear the presentations.

"They hear us talk all the time," Reynolds said. "It's nice to hear it from the horse's mouth. ... Having it come from a person that has that job is more powerful."

The Career Explorations Project is a revival of the high school's former "career day," which was discontinued a few years ago.

"We feel it is very important to... get our students connected with businesses and the wide variety of careers that are available in our area," Chamber Executive Director Patty Brown and Reynolds said in a statement describing the project.

So far this year, students have heard from seven business people, including a real estate agent, a radio broadcaster, a physical therapist and a musician.

"We picked different careers, not ones everyone knows about," Reynolds said.

All of the speakers have been from the Red Wing area.

"We wanted to get the community involved with the high school," Reynolds said.

"We're tying the school and the business community together," Brown said while commenting on the program last month.

On Tuesday, Assistant Goodhue County Attorney Stephen O'Keefe gave the students a rundown of how he became a lawyer and what they could do with a law degree.

"I just like doing it. I like talking," O'Keefe said. "I want to be a resource.

"The biggest thing is opening their eyes," he continued. "It does open them up to all kinds of things out there that they could do."

During his 25-minute presentation, O'Keefe explained how he earned his bachelor's degree in accounting and then attended Hamline Law School. He talked about what he does on a day-to-day basis as a county attorney and then explained what else can be done with a law degree, including working for corporate companies, non-profits or for law firms.

O'Keefe's biggest piece of advice? "Follow your interests," he said.

"You'll be more marketable and you'll enjoy your job more if you just pursue your interests," O'Keefe said. "The worst thing you want to be is in a job you don't love."

All of the speakers so far have offered job shadowing opportunities for the students and have taken the time to answer the students' questions, Reynolds said.

Sophomore Ryan Jonas said actually hearing real people speak about their careers has been helpful.

"It is a good thing to see. People hear about these careers, but they don't get to see it in Red Wing," he said. "It's good to have the students see the actual people that do it."

Jonas' classmate Josh Lyons agreed.

"It kind of helps me look at what I want to do when I go into college," he said. "It kind of widens my options more and lets me see into the careers more."

There is one more speaker scheduled for this year, Reynolds said. She hopes to continue the program next year.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.