Career fair challenges traditions

Published 9:45 pm Thursday, February 27, 2014

Students learned from employers about non-traditional careers during a Suffolk Public Schools event at the downtown Hilton Thursday. Jasmine Veal, Lakiaya Aponte, and sisters Cierra and Alexis Gilmore, of Lakeland High School, learned what career opportunities Target has to offer, from group leaders Teri Bomisso and Cheryl Lawton.

Students learned from employers about non-traditional careers during a Suffolk Public Schools event at the downtown Hilton Thursday. Jasmine Veal, Lakiaya Aponte, and sisters Cierra and Alexis Gilmore, of Lakeland High School, learned what career opportunities Target has to offer, from group leaders Teri Bomisso and Cheryl Lawton.

A Suffolk Public Schools event at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn armed students with information and inspiration to break through gender stereotypes.

About 275 sophomores and juniors attended Thursday’s fifth annual Non-Traditional Extravaganza, according to Gail Bess, the district’s coordinator of career and technical education.

“The concept is to be sure that students understand that they are not limited to career of their gender,” Bess said. “We call it ‘thinking outside the box.’”

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Twenty-one employers and industry associations attended the event this year, including first-timers InMotion Hosting, The College of William and Mary, Turntine Insurance Agency and Verizon.

Verizon’s Joy Fosser, a technician on the business and government side for the telecommunications company, said she was proof girls can forge successful careers on the infrastructure side of technology.

“I’m not the biggest, strongest person, but I do the job every day, and I feel like if I can do it, anybody can do it,” said Fosser, who spends her days installing and maintaining Verizon systems.

“It can be physically demanding, but I view that as a plus, because I don’t have to go to the gym and work out every day.”

Tonya Byrd, wife of King’s Fork High School principal Stenette Byrd III, represented Dominion Virginia Energy. The nuclear instructor at the company’s Surry nuclear power plant said there is a “significantly lower number” of females in its engineering — which she started in — and training departments.

But “when you see people wearing hardhats and safety glasses, it doesn’t mean that a woman can’t do that job,” she said.

The Byrds have a son and a daughter in school, and Tonya Byrd said she and her husband had always taught them not to feel bound by gender stereotypes as they considered future career options. After all, she added, she’s a nuclear engineer, and her husband started out a teacher.

Bess reported an increase of about 3 percent in the number of students graduating from a non-traditional career-preparation program.

For girls, non-traditional programs included agricultural education, technology education, computer-focused business and information technology courses, and military science. For boys, they were business and office administration-focused information technology courses, Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow, fashion-focused marketing courses, health and medical sciences, and family and consumer sciences.

Two of the district’s non-traditional students are Lakeland High School’s Amber Holmes and Maddison Adams, who represent a small but competitive cohort of girls in Connor Gardner’s architectural drawing and design class.

“I don’t really feel any different,” Holmes replied when asked to compare herself to the boys. “I feel like I’m doing better than them.” Adams said she wants to be an architect “because I want to build houses.”

The class normally has one or two girls and about 18 boys, Gardner said. “I don’t treat them (the girls) any different,” he said, adding the girls usually have an edge over their male peers when it comes to design and interior decorating, while “they probably have a little more difficulty in the mathematics.”

Bess encouraged employers interested in future events to contact her at GailBess@spsk12.net or 925-6759.