I recently took my juniors on an interactive field trip to Deutsch, a bi-coastal ad agency with internationally recognized clients. The purpose of the field trip was to learn about the different jobs available in advertising and let my students see the work environment, which was much different than they had imagined. They could not get over the public spaces and friendly faces that greeted them.
The other purpose of this field trip was to give my students the opportunity to conduct an informational interview. In the past the informational interview was a homework assignment I gave every year to little success. Only a fraction of the students followed through with the assignment, and of those only one or two would contact an unknown person to interview -- the rest just interviewed a family friend regardless if they were interested in the career. The ones who did accomplish this task always learned from the experience, but I was fixated on all the students who missed out.
I know from personal experience that when you contact someone in a career you are interested in, and tell them you would like to meet them to ask a few questions, they are almost always willing. On these interviews you get a first hand experience about the true details and skills necessary for the job. It also allows you to grow your networking community and gives you an organic opportunity to pass along your resume. I got my big break into television production at Nickelodeon in 1999 as a result of these informational interviews and I know many others with a similar story.
At Foshay Learning Center's Technology Academy, one of our focuses for the juniors is for them to earn summer internships. So it is important for them to get a sense of the corporate world and the life of an employee before they begin high stakes interviews.
I started these interactive field trips three years ago. I pride myself on creating a student centered classroom; however I began to rethink the field trip when I took my students on what I considered a fantastic field trip to where the employees made special presentations about their career path and job responsibilities. I was horrified when I caught three of my students falling asleep. It turns out that the novelty of going some place new quickly wears off if the students are just sitting in chairs while professionals talk at them. A lecture is still a lecture, and high school students generally are egocentric and easily bored.
While I am always so grateful when companies invite my students for a tour and panel discussion about careers, the truth is that does not make for a very personal experience for the student. Now, when we go on trips I request that our hosts take time to get to know my students instead of just informing the students about the company.
These interactive field trips are now my remedy to ensure that all my students conduct an informational interview. It does take away from the initiative of the students in reaching out to people on their own, but it has succeeded in opening up their eyes to new careers and meeting potential mentors. The interactive field trip also forces my students to see their work with new eyes and recommits them to revising resumes, portfolios, and projects.
How the Interactive Field Trip Works:
First I get the students ready with a goal -- something that they have to accomplish as a result of the field trip. This could mean updating and editing their portfolios for feedback, or preparing for an informational interview or resume review.
Our first interactive field trip -- which was back to the international ad agency where I caught my students sleeping -- started the same way as before: we met in a conference room and had five employees present about their career path and current job responsibilities. The students then had time to eat and ask personal questions. The next phase was breaking the students into groups, each of which met with an advertising executive who went over their professional portfolios. This gave the ad executives a chance to know my students and gave my students a personalized experience.
After our most recent visit to Deutsch, I had my students write reflections from their experience to get them to focus on what they learned, and to help me see if the trip was a success. Here are some of their responses:
Alberto B: This does sound like a job I would greatly be interested in, mainly because of the environment in the work space. You're always going to have people to work with, so if you don't know where to go with a certain project. there is always going to someone to help you. One very important thing I gained from this experience was the advice given to me during the interview. Learning these life skills and job information from an employee of a company that I may want to work for one day, already gives me an advantage into seeing what I need to do to be in the growing tech industry.
Tariq B: I gained an understanding of the best way to help a project get finished is to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Audrey: I was able to learn about a typical day at his job, and to never be discouraged.
Lilly: I gained two mentors. And of course the courage to hopefully get an internship.
The students also wrote thank you notes to the employees they interviewed. This helps continue the dialogue and connect them with potential future mentors or someone who can help them network as they get older. It is also a perfect opportunity to practice real world professional writing.
Excerpt from Annika: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. I can honestly say that our conversation has opened my eyes to more options in the technological field. I will always keep in mind that curiosity and passion are important to have when considering a job.
Excerpt from Katerin: Thank you for taking the time out of your day to participate in our informational interviews. I'd also like to thank you for sharing some of your personal goals and giving us advice on how to strive for what we want. I am personally impressed by how much work you have put into getting where you are and still working diligently to get even farther. I feel very inspired and motivated, it not only makes me want to work harder but also reminds me to make time and go after what I enjoy and love to do. Attached to this email is my resume, I'd really appreciate it if you could look over it and give me feedback. I have also pasted the link to my digital portfolio which contains some examples of my technological work if you would like to see it and give your input on it as well. Have a great rest of your day!
I can't help by beam with pride and excitement when I read these thank you notes. My students are putting into action all the job skills we are learning and they will reap the benefits. They are also getting experience that is making them take note of their future and recognize potential opportunities that was previously unfamiliar and unknown. More companies are reaching out to invite us. The people at Deutsch wrote to thank me for giving them the chance to be inspired by my students. The field trip still has a similar structure but the impact it is now making on individual students has clearly increased exponentially.