Merced County high schoolers explore career options, dreams

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 24, 2013 

— By the time students become high school sophomores, they should be thinking about careers and the training they will need to achieve their professional goals.

About 1,100 sophomores from schools throughout the county and Chowchilla attended Thursday’s Career Industry Day, organized by the Merced County Office of Education at the county fairground.

Jeanne Knapp, a program specialist with MCOE’s Regional Occupational Program, said 160 presenters representing California’s 15 industry sectors manned booths in the fairgrounds buildings, telling students about their career choices and what kind of training is necessary to join certain professions.

“I am excited about having this event again,” Knapp said. “Careers are changing all the time. There are opportunities out there. This is where students get exposure to a broader range of career opportunities.”

Elias Williams, a Livingston High student, wants to become a veterinarian or marine biologist. Elizabeth Guzman, a Pacheco High School student in Los Banos, wants to become a wildlife biologist. She originally aspired to become a doctor but has always wanted to work with animals.

“This is a really good opportunity to learn more, what I want to accomplish with my dreams,” Guzman said.

Jose Campos, a Dos Palos High School student, wants to become an auto mechanic and specialize in diesel power. He hopes to attend the Wyotech training institute after high school graduation and found many interesting exhibits at the career fair.

Maynard Medefind, a Yosemite park ranger who works out of UC Merced, said students are interested in becoming park rangers, possibly because they are drawn to the outdoors and wildlife.

Medefind said park ranger employment opportunities are somewhat limited and students need to get a college degree before applying to the National Park Service. He has been a ranger since 1969 and spent 34 years teaching at Atwater High School.

Nick Stone, recruitment and retention specialist with Mercy Medical Center Merced, said when one thinks of the hospital, there are many more jobs than just doctors and nurses. He said some positions are difficult to fill, such as clinical lab scientists, case managers and labor-delivery nurses.

Stone said students were curious about physical therapy careers and becoming respiratory therapists. Some hospital positions may require only trade-school training rather than a college degree.

Natalie Aponte of Merced, a branch service manager with F&M Bank, gave students tips on job interviews and banking careers. Part-time teller positions could be appealing to college students working their way through school.

“It’s a promising career field,” Aponte said. “A lot of loans are being made out there, and we need loan officers.”

Tara Davis of Chowchilla, a State Farm Insurance agent, said there are opportunities to own an insurance agency and be your own boss. “Everybody needs insurance,” Davis said. Her firm also provides financial services.

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, was taking part in a tour of the program with school superintendents and elected officials. He said not enough emphasis is placed statewide on career and technical education programs, conceding not everybody is destined for college but may get jobs paying living wages after going through technical training programs.

Ida Johnson, president of the Merced Union High School District Board of Trustees, was examining career-technical education offerings. She said her district doesn’t currently offer cosmetology programs and should explore that area.

A former Regional Occupational Program teacher, Johnson said the career event gives students hands-on experiences to discover ideal career pathways.

Mary Whited, Regional Occupational Program coordinator, said planning for the career event is a year-round process. Students, presenters and schoolteachers give MCOE feedback about improving the event, she said. It has been consolidated from two days to just one day now.

Knapp said Career Industry Day also featured a two-hour extreme entrepreneurship class offered by Merced College’s International Trade Center at its downtown Business Resource Center. The Merced College program and the Educational Employees Credit Union co-sponsored Career Industry Day.

Students could participate in an ROP bingo game if they contacted representatives in each industry sector. The winner will receive a prize.

Knapp said there are Regional Occupational Program career technicians at all high school campuses to facilitate career development. The program provides 33 courses in 10 of the 15 industry sectors represented at the career event. Industry sectors include agriculture, business and marketing, arts and communication, education, automotive transportation services and health care.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or

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