Getting real-world exposure to jobs in their potential career field is difficult for many high school students, especially if those jobs use expensive or delicate equipment, are located on construction sites or take place beyond the fence line of a federal nuclear installation.
Aiken County School District and a number of local firms have formed a partnership to help engineer a solution. On March 22, scientists and engineers from AECOM, Savannah River Remediation and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions brought their knowledge and expertise to juniors and seniors in the Advanced Placement program at North Augusta High School as part of the National Math and Science Initiative.
"I have always said that Aiken is a resource-rich county," said Sean Alford, the superintendent of the school district. "Our community is filled with very talented professionals. These folks here today are talented young people, and the students are connected and are listening. This is an opportunity for them to visualize and say, ‘This is what I can become.' "
The group of 10 computer scientists and mechanical, chemical and nuclear engineers started with panel discussions before splitting off to speak with smaller groups of students. The panel gave the students a chance to hear about the different job fields so they could better seek advice from a professional in their chosen line of work.
"Having the engineers here makes me feel more inspired in a way because I am able to see that they were able to do all of the things I want to do," North Augusta senior Ashton Aleman said.
Ashton said she wants to attend either the University of South Carolina or Clemson University to study chemical engineering. She said she wants to get a job that has both a laboratory and an office component.
"One of the engineers told me about a job she had creating the ink that goes into markers," she said. "I'd like to work somewhere I could make things with chemicals."
Ashton said the math and science initiative was helpful because she took AP classes for the first time as a junior and continued on to more challenging science courses this year. Program coordinator and Assistant Principal Paige Day said the initiative and the event expose the students to careers outside of the traditional nurse, doctor or lawyer job pathways.
"This helps them delve into the technical fields they don't have as much awareness of," Day said. "For them, it offers a relevant real-life experience to the applications of the AP chemistry, AP biology and the AP physics courses they are currently taking."
The engineers volunteered for the event and said they enjoyed sharing their experiences with students.
"I wish we had things like this when I was in school," said Christie Sudduth, a chemical engineer for Savannah River Remediation. "This helps provide a framework of reality for the students. There is some stigma around the title ‘chemical engineer,' and it can be very intimidating. It's a good opportunity to come in and show them what it means to be an engineer and show them the kinds of real-world things you can do in the engineering field."