Students see the future at Summer Career Connections Fair

More than 500 students from Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) and the city’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT) initiative traded their classrooms for a glimpse of the future last week during United Way’s third annual Summer Career Connections Fair.

The fair — made possible by our generous donors and volunteers — was presented in partnership with Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC) and GDYT. It’s a key part of our College and Career Pathways work. We bring schools, community members and business leaders together to prepare Detroit youth for life after high school.

“For students, this is game day,” said Tammie Jones, vice president of education at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “It’s a great opportunity for Detroit youth to land productive summer jobs that will improve their trajectories over a lifetime.”

Today, nearly a third of students nationwide leave high school without the skills necessary to succeed in college, participate in a modern workforce or earn an income that can support a family.

Summer is a critically important time for students of all ages to build lifelong skills and prevent summer slide. The impact of summer learning loss can be severe at the high school level.

A marching band was on hand to welcome students to the fair.

More options, more opportunity

For the first time, the summer fair offered four distinct tracks designed to fit the unique needs and goals of each student.

“We understand that some students are ready to go directly into the workforce while others are still exploring their passions or thinking about college,” Tammie said. “It was important to us that all youth would walk away from the fair with a valuable experience and a clear plan for what’s next.”

Students on the Ready to Work track interviewed with local employers for one of hundreds of jobs available onsite.

Through our career fairs, we have successfully connected 1,050 students to summer employment opportunities with more than 100 employer partners.

Laurie Washington, a program manager at DTE, was looking to hire around 10 additional students for the organization’s summer program. She described the students on hand as “impressive and enthusiastic.”

“We’re here to give students not only jobs but also hope and encouragement and to build their awareness,” Laurie said.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan President and CEO Dr. Darienne Driver Hudson speaks with volunteers at the Summer Career Connections Fair.

Life after graduation

Students on the Ready to Develop track participated in practice interviews with volunteers, where they reinforced key communication skills.

Lashonda Echols, a junior at Central Academy and High School, received encouraging feedback during the session. As a result, she feels ready to tackle the real thing.

“I liked the mock interviews,” Lashonda said. “They get you prepared for real interviews without the pressure.”

The Ready to Explore and Ready to Graduate tracks offered students a chance to learn more about their personalities and get a feel for the type of career that would be a good fit.

Pershing High School freshman Michael Pillvant discovered that he was a green personality on the True Colors Personalities at Work exercise. The result aligned with his interest in architecture and engineering.

“Now I kind of know what opportunities to look for next summer,” he said.

Attendees participated in mock job interviews during the fair.

Preparing for future success

Dozens of cheering volunteers greeted students from 17 DPSCD schools and also helped them navigate the sessions.

Cheryl Carr, a career services advisor and outreach coordinator at Walsh College, volunteered to offer her expertise to Detroit youth.

“The event is a lot of fun,” Cheryl said. “I work with college students. This is a good opportunity for me to connect with high school students and help them along their path.”

Tammie stressed the importance of surrounding youth with caring adults.

“We build networking and mentorship into these fairs and our College and Career Pathways work because we understand these relationships will help students prosper in the future,” Tammie said.

“The support doesn’t stop when they receive a job or leave the fair. That’s just the beginning.”