More than 500 Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and Marcellus sophomores attended Lewis Cass Intermediate School District’s Career Awareness Day Nov. 17 on Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus.
Participants toured campus and navigated five 30-minute sessions with SMC faculty exploring criminal justice, social work, education, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), business, information technology, accounting, marketing, sports management, health, automotive technology, construction trades green technology, robotics and welding.
Faculty recounted roundabout routes to the classroom through Hawaii, Dubai, Russia and the National Park Service and informed students about 3-D printers building cars and printing with chocolate.
Students didn’t want to remove their blue booties and surgical masks after suiting up for “surgery” with nursing Simulation Lab Coordinator Amber Villwock.
For students confident the “a” in STEAM must stand for anatomy, Science and Math Professor Donna Courtney, a Dowagiac Union High School graduate, traced her own trajectory, then turned to friends she met studying at Western Michigan University with a world-renowned bat biologist.
Courtney entered the Navy as an aviation electronics technician.
“Basically, I hunted submarines for a living,” she said. “After I got out of the military, I worked as a telemarketer, ran a cash register at a 7-Eleven, worked in a video store, made parts and checked parts and blueprints. Do you see the pattern? Every step I took involved STEAM.”
“After I left the factory, I went back to when I was a kid to do something I’d always wanted — be a game warden on the Serengeti Plains of Africa. I did the next best thing and became a park ranger with the National Park Service in North Carolina,” specifically Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg’s National Historic Site home and barn, where his wife raised goats.
Courtney was also stationed at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park protecting a river system.
“I got to canoe up and down the Jacks Fork and Current rivers,” she said. “I was there to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933-42 New Deal public work relief program to counter the Great Depression.
Courtney also talked about friends Sarah Alessi and Dr. Jacob Job.
Alessi, of Hawaii, married her passion for marine turtle research with her husband’s photography to co-found FlyWire wearable video cameras.
“They (attach) cameras to turtle shells so they can see where they migrate, what they eat and hazards they face,” Courtney said. “They’re used for underwater work in the fishing industry and to monitor coral reefs.”
Job “married his love of music with birding. He studied chipping sparrows around Kalamazoo and listened to their songs to see how they changed because of interactions with human environments. He works for both the University of Colorado, where he directs their sound and light ecology lab, and the National Park Service as a wildlife biologist. Summers, he backpacks all over the country with his sound gear, recording what he hears to save natural soundscapes. It’s hard to find human-free soundscapes anymore.”
Another friend is lead herpetologist (snakes) at the Tulsa Zoo.
“Maybe you haven’t found your passion yet, so you can think about these kinds of things,” Courtney said. “Don’t let fear of science or math stop you from pursuing what you’re passionate about. Culinary arts can fit into STEAM.”
Business faculty colleagues Chip Weeks and Bill Boeckman studied accounting together at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, then their paths diverged.
Weeks, a Kalamazoo native, went from Oklahoma to Hawaii for 14 years, working in accounting for a surfing clothing company.
Boeckman for 20 years worked in accounting and human resources in Russia, Dubai, Kazakhstan and Luxembourg.
Social sciences faculty (Chair Christi Young; Heather Zile, early childhood education; Don Ricker, criminal justice; and Don Ludman, psychology) demonstrated how intertwined the disciplines are with a scenario about a kindergarten student placed into foster care after a methamphetamine bust.
“We’re trying to paint a picture for you of professions found within social sciences, what you can do with those kinds of degrees and how they interrelate,” Zile said.
“Seventy-five percent of counselors have social work bachelor’s or master’s degrees,” Young said.