When I was 15, my parents took me to tour JLG—the leading manufacturer of lift equipment in the United States. I remember walking through warehouses full of tall yellow and orange cranes, trying to comprehend the relevance of the experience. Did Mom and Dad think I’d be a lift operator one day?
That same year, my parents took me to tour the Pfaltzgraff (a ceramic company), Harley Davidson (the motor cycle manufacturer), and Merrill Lynch (a prominent bank).
Between my fifteenth year and the time I went to college, I got internships at the local hospital (in the radiology department), at the courthouse (working in public records) and with my dentist (I’ll never forget watching him make a gold tooth).
To me, each of these experiences was unique; I couldn’t quite decipher the connection my parents wanted me to make. Furthermore, I never thought to myself, “I definitely want to pursue this career.”
What I did think, however, was “Someday I will be able to work in a profession I choose!” And having heard the stories of the physicians and bankers I shadowed, or the engineers I observed discussing the design of motorcycle engines, I was aware of the way in which professionals in the world at large had to put their education to work for them, every single day.
Indeed, by the time I got to college, I realized Mom and Dad were not only trying to broaden my awareness of the many career paths available to me but also trying to ground my current work in reality; to say, “there is a direct application for the work you are pursuing today, and it’s more real—and nearer—than you might think.”
Often times high school students today can get caught up in test scores and college admissions processes; and don’t get me wrong—those scores and those admissions essays are critical hurdles on the track to a successful future. That said, if you don’t contemplate the lasting value of education and make the studying you do an effort that you truly and deeply digest, you are only doing a disservice to your future self—the self that will be looking for a job.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get excited about the course work you are pursuing as you complete high school and move on to college, where you’ll have to seriously consider your career choice, is to get out there in the field and ask professionals at work how they’re using what they learned in school.
I know I did. And it’s landed me a job I love.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
Was your high school internship a profound experience? What part of Meagan’s story affected you the most?
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