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PRB grads return to school, share professional experiences

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Pine River-Backus students were given the chance to hear from successful professionals Friday, March 22, 15 of whom were PR-B grads.

Among the professionals to visit PR-B were actor Doug Taylor, Dr. Nathan Laposky, graphic designer Grace Bettino, and excavator/heavy equipment operator Ray Schrupp, among many more. There were 43 professionals scheduled to attend and speak at three 40-minute group sessions to groups of about 20 students each.

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This opportunity is one that hasn’t happened at PR-B for years. Career exploration days were once an annual event for PR-B, but they eventually became semi-annual, and then they stopped altogether.

“Very few schools do their own anymore,” said guidance counselor Mary Sigan.

This year administrators decided to bring back career exploration day.

“I always felt if you are in your own environment, because you can kind of cater to your own kids, that is probably a lot more beneficial,” Sigan said.

To make the event more relevant for students, they were not only able to submit suggestions, via survey, of careers they would like to learn about, but were also given the chance to learn from locals and former PR-B students.

“There was a definite effort to reach out to former grads,” high school Principal Trent Langemo said. “I’ve heard a lot of feedback. Positive, really. I’m kind of excited about it, actually.”

“They know the kids, they know the population, and they know the jobs out there, and the kids already kind of put them on a pedestal so they are definitely going to listen, so I think that’s a real advantage,” Sigan added.

Speakers also enjoyed their time back at the school.

“I was nervous at first, but once you get started it is easy to talk about things that you love. I thought it was really fun. It was fun to speak to the kids and show them all about my business and what I love about it,” said Alicia Borman, professional photographer and PR-B graduate. “It feels good to be back here just to see the students and see what they are interested in.”

Jolene Bengtson, PR-B School District business manager, also spoke to students during the event.

“I thought it was really fun. I was a little nervous in the beginning, not knowing how they were going to take questions and my story, but it turned out very well,” she said. “There were a number of Pine River-Backus graduates that I haven’t seen in a long time, but it was fun to see them come back as professionals and share their experiences.”

PR-B students in the sophomore and junior classes were also given the chance to attend Central Lakes College career fairs in the fall and early spring of this school year. When considering their own fair, Langemo decided to extend the opportunity to freshmen and seniors as well. Sigan and Langemo said career exploration opportunities such as this are valuable to these students.

“One of the pushes to do that was thinking about ninth-graders. What can you do to link them early in their career so that when they are in school as a 10th-grader, maybe they have that goal out there because of a day like today,” Langemo said. “And the seniors, it’s interesting because the real world is right outside their doorstep. They’re almost there, it’s the spring of their senior year, and I can tell you most seniors are not going to end up doing in their life what they think they are right now. So exposing them to various things is as effective as it is for ninth-graders.”

Some career sessions filled up quickly, including a session of presentations by Bryan Drown, Ray Schrupp and Roger Roy, who spoke on careers in engineering, excavation and heavy equipment operations and manufacturing; a session by Jason Roepke and Jen Anderson on teaching, coaching and child care; and a session by Darren Bundy, Pat Bundy, Paul Lundgren, Nikki Shoutz and Miles and Sara Kuschel for careers in forestry, fish and game law enforcement, and farming.

Sigan described her observations when sitting in on the presentation by Schrupp, a well-known local business owner.

“You could hear a pin drop, so I think they already know he’s done well,” she said.

Though sophomore Austin Smith hopes to someday become an electrician, he attended Schrupp’s presentation to get an understanding of his alternatives and further understanding of his second career choice. Thanks to the event, he learned some of the less known, important details that could increase or decrease his chances of finding such a career.

“You need to have clean driving records and a good work ethic,” Smith said.

Overall, the purpose of career fairs and other exploration events is to inform students of ways to make themselves more employable and how to develop, or avoid, things that could make or break their chances of getting the job they want. The day opened with a speech by Jeff Wig of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and closed with a speech by Jill Carlson-Ferrie of the Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union.

Wig and Carlson-Ferrie explained to students that communication and business skills are vital in all careers. They also explained why it is important for students to avoid developing habits of cursing, think carefully before getting tattoos and piercings, and communicate discreetly and respectfully over social media.

Wig and Carlson-Ferrie stressed the importance of gaining experience, not selling oneself short, and planning early for future careers.

“I think it’s validating to teachers. It’s a hard job, and there’s hard days and long hours and you don’t always see the rewards and the benefits,” Langemo said. “Days like today, when people come back and you see the work you did pays off and you connected with a kid and you helped inspire them, that’s the good stuff.”

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