Home News Local news St. Patrick's Students Get Firsthand Career Advice

St. Patrick's Students Get Firsthand Career Advice

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Jan. 28, 2008 — Civil and computer engineers, a corrections officer, an entrepreneur and a retired federal employee shared the ups and downs of their career paths Monday with middle and junior high school students at St. Patrick's School.
The career day was the first of five days of special activities and presentations for Catholic Schools Week. St. Patrick's was established in 1854.
The arched windows and wide doorways of St. Gerard's Hall were open, letting in a strong, cool breeze and showing the weathered stone of St. Patrick's Church against clear blue skies as the students filed into the cavernous old hall. They walked into rows of white folding chairs facing the hall's stage, sitting down and facing front, with an occasional rumble of chatter and chitchat prompting a rebuke from Principal Pam Tinsley-Moors.
"If the seventh graders can't be quiet and show respect for our guests, you can march right back to class," she said early on, repeating variations on that theme whenever the kids began to get loud. Most of the students wore green school uniforms, but peppered throughout the audience was a young lady wearing a business outfit or a nurse's uniform, in honor of the career focus of the day.
Ann Abramson, a firecracker in her mid 80s, spoke first. Abramson is a former Public Works commissioner whose name graces the Frederiksted Pier, and who in 2000 was convicted in federal court of making false claims and statements in connection with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. Far from retired, she's still a busy and successful businesswoman who owns several businesses on St. Croix.
"Self discipline: Regardless of what you do or where you go, if you don't have discipline, you are not going to make it," Abramson told the students. "You have got to serve and do what you are supposed to. I take kids around here all the time, picking up what you leave on the ground. You have to turn a leaf in your life. The time is now to start becoming responsible."
Don't tell yourself you can't do well because you are poor, she said.
"Too many folks have the mentality that they are poor, so there is nothing they can do," she said. "But you maybe have it too good. I am sure none of you grew up with the conditions I grew up with. My parents sent me to school at the age of two and a half because they needed someone to watch me while they worked …. When I was five, they started me in first grade. I was the youngest of 15 children."
Despite the hardships, her parents provided.
"My mother worked in the fields and my father was a builder," Abramson said. "But we never had a hungry day. Now your parents buy you toys and nonsense. How many of you have an Xbox? But when it comes for money to pay for school, they don't have anything."
She implored the students who go away to college to come back when they are done.
"It's not going to get better with you leaving forever," she said. "If you leave and don't come back, there is a void."
Robert Schuster, coordinator of Technology for the Department of Education, spoke about trends in computer, robotic and nanotechnology — and put a plug in for trade and craft careers.
"How may of you can use a computer?" Schuster asked the students.
Most hands went up.
"As of 2006, anybody who can't use a computer will go unemployed," he said. "How many can use a ruler and can measure? That is critical for those of you who go into the trades. Not everyone needs to go to college or university. Remember that. The trades are important and valuable."
Schuster narrated a PowerPoint presentation, talking about the exponential rate of increase in computing power, the boom of the Chinese and Indian technology economies, experimental use of microscopic machines or nanotechnology in medicine and other fields. With such fast change, learning must be continuous.
"In college, what you learn your first year will be obsolete by your third year," he said. "It is a process where you learn how to use resources to achieve what you want. To you right now school looks like punishment, but it is a process of transformation."
Whatever path you take, education will still be critical, Schuster stressed.
"Today there is a great need for carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians, and those trades are honorable, will make you a good living and require many necessary skills," he said. "For starters, you are required to read. Literacy is necessary. If you are not literate, you will be adding to the poverty level."
But if you are technologically literate, there will be all manner of opportunities.
"The top 10 in-demand jobs coming for 2010 didn't exist in 2004," he said. "The amount of new technology is doubling every year. … I wish I was your age, because what is happening today is so amazing. As you grow up, try and acquire as many skills as you can. Don't decide on just one thing."
Daniel Coughlin, a civil engineer and nearly lifelong Frederiksted resident, shared recollections of his work building Frederiksted's Ann E. Abramson Pier and advice on careers in engineering.
"I'm a civil and structural engineer, and I've got a little bias for the civil end of engineering," he said. "If you like to play in the dirt, you might look at civil and structural engineering, because we dig big holes in the dirt. And if you like to fool around with cars, you can be mechanical engineers."
Lauritz Blackwood spoke about what it takes to work for the federal government.
"You need computer skills for careers in the federal government, also," Blackwood said. "At the present time, most federal jobs require advanced degrees. I was fortunate in my day to be able to pass a test and be hired. Now you need a degree."
The website usajobs.govlists most federal jobs and the application requirements, he said.
Edwin Joseph, a correctional officer at Golden Grove Correctional Facility, spoke last and prompted the most questions.
"Doing time in prison can be very stressful," he said. "There is a high suicide rate and the possibility of violence. It's no place you want to be. The other prisoners create stress, and you still have to face the court system if you break the rules."
Prisoners can develop and progress while incarcerated, he said.
"Some make jewelry, pay bills and are more active once in jail than before," he said. "The sad part is some inmates don't know they have a talent for something until they are incarcerated. My job is rewarding and disappointing at times, but I like it."
"How is prison life?" a student asked.
"Prison is not like at the movies," he said. "As a corrections officer, I tell you when to get up, when to go to sleep, when to eat, what to do and what not to do."
"Have you had to break up many fights?" another student asked.
"I can't count how many times," he said. "But I don't ever do it by myself. An officer should never try to break up a fight alone. Fights between inmates are very brutal, rarely just with hands. Often there are hand-made knives or shanks, made of wood, plastic, a toothbrush, anything that can be sharpened. There is even a way to make paper into a shank, by getting it wet over and over again and pressing it."
"Has an officer ever been killed?" another student asked.
"Not killed, but attacked and injured," he said. "When an inmate attacks others, they are taken out of Golden Grove, which is medium security, to a maximum-security facility stateside."
After the questions were done, Tinsley-Moors had the teachers round up their classes and march them by grade back to class for the rest of the day.
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