With unemployment among blacks having soared in recent years, students at Cardozo Senior High School's TransTech Academy in Northwest are opting for careers centered around science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] where jobs remain plentiful.
During Cardozo's 3rd Annual Industry Day, which attracted 70 professionals from aviation and aeronautics, construction, engineering, and transportation, students listened attentively and asked questions while pondering career choices.
"Those students were sharp, bright and inquisitive," said Sonya Stewart, 47, vice president for Enterprise Applications Solutions at Lockheed Martin in Northern Virginia. "We had the right [mix] of young people. They asked questions about how we [as professionals] got to where we are."
Stewart – whose company along with the National Association of Black Women in Construction [NABWIC] sponsored the daylong May 10 event – said students in the TransTech program are indicative of the many African-American students destined for success. Largely, because of their intellectual capability and demonstrated leadership, she said.
"I go to a lot of industry events that are designed toward STEM, and industry leaders are eager to show up to engage these young people," said Stewart. "As I went from room to room and listened to pieces of the conversations between students and professionals, the exchange was fascinating."
The TransTech program – which boasts a 95 percent graduation rate – provides 125 students in grades 9-12 experiences in the STEM disciplines that will guide them on their career paths. About 85 percent of the program's graduates go on to higher education – and many get a jump start with participation in programs like the Summer Transportation Institute at Howard University.
"The point was to expose students to professionals in various careers so that they could talk to them about what they do and how they actually got [there]," said Career Day coordinator Shirley McCall, 60. "We have a diverse group of students, and under ordinary circumstances many of them do not [get] that kind of exposure."
Marcietta Washington, 51, a project manager for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Southwest, scored high marks with students. Through her engaging dialogue and knack for remembering their names, Washington told her young audience that although she attended college in Florida on engineering and basketball scholarships, she longed to play professional basketball.
But after graduating, Washington and some of her fellow classmates often found themselves watching space shuttle launches in Orlando.
"I didn't want to work for NASA when I came out of college, I wanted to go work for Mickey Mouse," Washington said, with an infectious chuckle. "Disney had a great engineering program, but when I got out of school they didn't have any openings."
She said that when NASA recruited her, she only planned to work there for a year, and then parlay that experience to Disney. However, on her second day at NASA, she fell in love with her work. "I have never worked any place else, and nor have I ever wanted to work elsewhere," Washington said.
D'Quan Young counted among students clearly impressed by the panelists. The 18-year-old graduating senior appeared mesmerized by Paul Bradshaw who talked about being an architect with Grimm and Parker Architects in Calvert, Md.
"All of the speakers were very helpful," D'Quan said. "But Mr. Bradshaw gave me the idea to visit Howard University, which is known for its engineering and architecture [curriculums]. I'm definitely going to college to study architecture."
Bradshaw, 48, said he finds events like Industry Day enjoyable.
"It's always good to get feedback from [students] because it makes people like me more excited about the work we do," he said.