Eighth graders explore future careers at MCLA


 by Jennifer Huberdeau

North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS -- Traditionally, students don't begin considering their college options until their junior year of high school, but the Berkshire Compact for Education wants them to start thinking about their educational and career paths much earlier.

To speed up that thought process, the Compact and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts hosted the first North County Career Fair on Wednesday, connecting some 400 eighth-graders from Northern Berkshire with area professionals.

"Today is a great chance for you to ask questions about what you need to do to get ready for the future," MCLA President Mary K. Grant said to the students at the beginning of the fair, which included


two workshop sessions. "The future is right now and it's here tomorrow. It's coming very fast and you want to be ready for it. There are opportunities out there for you that you can't even imagine yet. Today is a great chance for you to meet individuals from a range of professions and to ask them: How did you do this? What path did you take?"

She added, "One of the things that will be critical to your success is continuing your education beyond high school. It's going to be important for your future -- no matter what your future holds -- that you continue learning."

Prior to breaking out into workshop groups, the students heard from Adams native Paul "Hutch" Hutchinson, coordinator of experience-based training at Boston University, about turning your passions into a career.

"I remember one particular camping trip at the Greylock Glen, when I realized that if I could do anything in the world, I would like to make a living guiding people in the woods," he said. "I had no idea how to do that or if anyone since Daniel Boone had done that, but I thought it would be cool. I didn't know if wilderness guide was a profession that anyone I knew had ever heard of, at least my parents and guidance counselor hadn't."

Instead of pursuing his dream, Hutchinson said he decided to take a safe path and study history at Gettysburg College. During his time there, he discovered adventure-based learning and was hooked.

"When I graduated, I had to make a choice between following the safe route of an established career or go into the wilderness. And so I went into the wild," he said.

He worked several jobs while gaining experience after graduation, then earned a master's degree in experiential education at Minnesota State University Mankato, which led to a job at Lynchburg College in Virginia, where he built his own outdoor education and leadership program.

"If anyone had told me 25 years ago that I would make a career out of working in the back country and end up teaching at a school like Boston University, I never would have believed them," Hutch
inson said. "But I've realized that you never know where life will take you and everything comes down to the choices you make."

He also shared the stories of his former classmates from Hoosac Valley High School -- Rick Goddeau, a critical care neurologist; Scott Magie, an award-winning screenwriter; Dave Palacios, who works at NASA's jet propulsion lab; Paul Hellquist, who got his big break as the lead designer of the video game Bioshock, and Kristin Emery, who works for International Relief and Development.

"None of us had parents with huge bank accounts that allowed us to do whatever we wanted," Hutchinson said. "None of us went to some ritzy private high school. We're all public school kids from North Berkshire, just like you."

Students also attended workshops with professionals, ranging from bankers to veterinarians, who spoke about educational goals and their own career paths.

"We're launching this in North County and if it is successful, we'll expand it throughout the rest of Berkshire County," Josh Mendel, MCLA's associate director of admissions, said Wednesday. "We want to build their aspirations at a time that is traditionally tough for students at this age, especially with the transition to high school that is coming."

Participating schools included Hoosac Valley Middle School, Berkshire Art and Technology Public Charter School, Drury High School, Gabriel Abbott Memorial School and Clarksburg Elementary School.