PHS students explore career options, build confidence

Recovering a three-dimensional shoe impression left in the snow is not your average high school assignment. Yet for Abby Peterson, a Patch High School senior it’s all in a day’s work.
Peterson, 18, is enrolled in the school’s Career Practicum program, a one- to three-credit course designed to offer students opportunities to explore career goals through practical experiences.  
As an intern with the local criminal investigation command office, Peterson spends much of her time dealing with paperwork. “But every now and then, I get the chance to do field work with my co-workers such as lifting fingerprints or making casts of footprints in the snow,” she said.
Like most detectives, Peterson isn’t a fan of all the administrative paperwork, but she appreciates being able to “go behind the scenes” at the post office or the Exchange’s Loss Prevention office.
“How many people can say ‘I’ve sat in the video room at the PX, and I wasn’t in trouble,’” she said.
Or how many people can say they’ve expressed a dog’s anal glands?
That’s a procedure Carson Rehn, 18,  has learned to perform while working at the Stuttgart Veterinary Treatment Facility.
It may not have been the most glamorous of tasks, but Rehn took it in stride.“I like getting as hands-on as I can,” she said.
Rehn, who said she wants to be a vet, signed on with the practicum program to learn firsthand what the occupation is like.
“Being a vet is kind of what I expected, but there’s a lot I didn’t realize. A lot of the stuff like labs, testing,  blood work and stool samples were new to me; I didn’t know they had to do all of that,” she said.
That’s exactly the kind of experience the Career Practicum program is designed to give.
“The students get to leave the school environment and see what is expected of them in real situations of employment,” said Winnie Zekel, a PHS teacher and the Career Program program coordinator.
Because a Career Practicum student is expected to make decisions, accept responsibilities and show initiative, the end result is a student who better understands who he or she is and what career fields to consider, according to Zekel.
As coordinator, Zekel recruits agencies and organizations to participate, places students at the training sites and monitors their progress.
Her formula is simple. “I try to pair people up with placements pertaining to what they want to do,” she said.
Zekel’s efforts have not been in vain. A few recent successes include a former intern with the PHS video program who was hired by Universal Studios; a teacher’s aide intern now teaches elementary school; and a former intern at the frame shop went on to become an art major.
The program gives students the opportunity to discover and test their individual interests, capabilities, and goals.
Liam Wallace, 18, who is interning with the local Army Corps of  Engineers office, is one such student.
“I like the math and science fields, and I want to major in engineering in college,” Wallace said.
Through his internship, Wallace has sat in on meetings and teleconferences, and visited construction sites.
“I got to go on site to the new dentistry and vet clinics [during] an indoor walk through, which was really cool,” he said.
These are opportunities that PHS students need, according to Zekel.
“I think that our students don’t have enough of an opportunity to actually build things, make things [and] use their hands. I wish our schools could offer more vocational and hands-on training like this program does,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Nicole Zuccola, a Career Practicum intern with the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Public Affairs Office, also contributed to this story.