For Some Students, Career Preparation Begins in 7th Grade
Baltimore--Jesco von Puttkamer had just finished explaining some of the programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (nasa) to an auditorium-sized crowd of 7th graders and their parents. He asked if there were any questions. A little girl wanted to know where nasa gets the physicians who will accompany the astronauts.
Mr. Puttkamer, nasa's program manager for long-range studies, explained the selection process. Later, after his formal presentation ended, the girl returned to question him further about job prospects in the space program.
"There will be 3,000 people in space in the next 17 years," he told her. "You can be one of them, easy. But you need a good education."
The aspiring astronaut was one of a group of children and their parents who spent a recent Saturday at a career-education day, cosponsored by The Johns Hopkins University's center for academically talented youth, the "intellectually gifted child study group" also affiliated with the university, and the Maryland Academy of Sciences. All of the students had participated in the university's "talent search," which seeks to identify academically gifted 7th graders.
This was the third time around for the career-education day, and although the format has remained relatively constant, according to the sponsors, this year's program had one significant difference: The number of people attending quadrupled. The first year, about 100 children and parents attended. The second year, the number increased to 200.
But this year, illustrating what program officials say is a growing concern about stu-dents' preparation for the job market, about 1,000 parents and children showed up. They came from 13 states and the District of Columbia to hear "highly successful professionals" in a wide range of fields talk about their work, the preparation that one might need to enter their field, and what the prospects are for future jobs.
'As Informed as Possible'
"I think the interest was so great because what you have are students and parents who are becoming aware that they have to start making their own decisions about education," said William G. Durden, the center's director. "If they're making those decisions, and if more and more monies are being taken away [from education], they want to be as informed as possible. Part of that planning involves careers. Career orientation belongs to education."
The intent of the career symposium, according to Mr. Durden, is not to send the children away knowing definitely that they want to be doctors, lawyers, or astrophysicists, or to cause them to think about careers in a way that "incurs nervousness and sweating."
Rather, it is to help them learn about the options they have, he said, and to understand that the choices they make over the next few years may determine whether these options will be open to them when the time comes to decide what to do.
"The key message is to prepare them for chance," said Mr. Durden, who told the students that many of the people who have made significant contributions to society were "those who were prepared to recognize chance as chance and do something with it."
Other speakers picked up that theme. "'Chance favors the prepared mind,"' said Dr. Stanley Order--quoting the French chemist Louis Pasteur--as he described the discoveries that have expanded his field. Dr. Order is professor and director of radi-ation oncology at Johns Hopkins.
The speakers also emphasized the increasing likelihood that the first career a person chooses will not be the only one that he or she works at.
"The message they're beginning to hear is that people may have more than one career," Mr. Durden said. "It's healthy to hear that at a relatively young age."
"People used to finish school, start doing something, and keep doing it forever," said Reg Murphy, publisher of the Sun newspapers in Baltimore. "It isn't true and it will never be true again, and it would be a mistake for you to believe that it will. The world doesn't work that way anymore."
The students, for the most part, appeared to listen intently to the descriptions of various jobs offered by the professionals.
Although many--like one boy who rejected his father's suggestions that he might be interested in medicine, physics, advertising, or business--said that they really didn't know what they wanted to do, most of them questioned the speakers carefully after the talks. Can you be an astronaut if you wear glasses? Do lawyers have to be articulate? What should you do if you want to be a politician? Does it give you an edge in the Foreign Service if you know another language?
Some students indicated that this was not the first time that they'd heard about the importance of preparation. "I'm trying to be really careful about math," said one girl, a 7th grader at Stephen Foster Junior High in Fairfax, Va. "It all ends up at math."
Her desire to do well in mathematics has influenced her course selection, she said; she had qualified for an accelerated program in English but chose not to participate because it would take time away from mathematics. "I have a whole strategy," she said.
The sessions that described careers in sci-ence and medicine were among the most popular, Mr. Durden said later. There, as in other sessions, speakers stressed the need to do well in a wide range of courses.
"Nowadays, you become an astronaut if you excel in school," Mr. Puttkamer said. "That's the only thing that counts. You can be a boy or a girl; it doesn't matter. The important thing is to have a good education."
Importance of Information
Mr. Murphy, the publisher, stressed the need to acknowledge the vital importance of information in society and to prepare for "the deluge that is sure to hit."
"You read and you read and you read," Mr. Murphy said. "If that means you read cereal boxes, that's okay. If it means you read complex materials, that's okay too. I don't know of any other way to handle the overwhelming amount of information that's going to come your way. You're going to have to know how to sort it out and what to do with it."
A knowledge of computers, too, will be an important part of preparing for virtually all careers. "I'd put my time in computers," said Dr. Order, in response to a mother's question about which workshop would be most useful to attend.
But the first thing that the students must think about, several speakers said, is what they would enjoy doing. "The first thing you have to decide is what kind of a person you are," said Stephen Kimatian, a Baltimore lawyer. "Every career has its drudgery aspect. It has to be something that's rooted in your personality."