Sunday, May 10, 2015

Career Day in Mount Vernon

At Career Day in Mt. Vernon, Yale alumni and other community volunteers returned to speak to students at William Holmes Elementary and give advice on how to pursue their dreams. (YWAA photos)
Last year, Yale Westchester sponsored a Career Day at Mount Vernon's William Holmes Elementary School.  Yale alumni in banking, law, and medicine summarized their careers into neat 20-minute packages and encouraged students to consider livelihoods as lawyers, bankers and doctors.  This year, Yale Westchester returned to Holmes May 8, as part of Yale Day of Service, 2015, and a different group of alumni and community volunteers told their stories about careers in film editing, fitness, public safety, television production, marketing and architecture.

Garrett Omoto '08 MArch., the architect, showed slides of famous buildings to one class of fifth graders and asked the students to list features they would want to see in a newly designed building or house. One boy on the front row waved his hand eagerly and asked Omoto to design a house with a swimming pool that, with the push of a button, can be converted into a basketball court. The court would rise from the pool's bottom.

Omoto smiled and enjoyed the students' creative ideas and their colorful, sometimes grand visions of a new structure or building. Their imaginations soared around the room. The same students impressed him when they identified some of the best known buildings on his slide show or were able to name several iconic structures in New York (the Museum of Natural History, according to one student). One girl even knew about the the snail-like structure of the Sydney Opera House. Another asked whether the Berlin Wall counted as iconic architecture.

YWAA board member Susan Kaminsky '86, like last year, coordinated Career Day with the cooperation of Holmes principal Carol Quinones-Smith and invited a range of  presenters to cover the arts, the professions, public service and athletics. The adults spoke to students from grades 3-6 in over a dozen classrooms.

In his presentation, Omoto spoke of his journey from growing up in Arizona to studying architecture at Yale.  He tapped their imaginations more by asking them to come up with ideas about how to redesign, if they could, the school they attended.  The children's hands fluttered in the air, because they had a barrel of new plans to change the look of the school.  In just five minutes, they designed a new school with a tennis court, hot tub, green house, science lab, media room, and even a  hydroponics gardening system. Omoto might have found a budding architect or two or three in the room.

Besides Omoto, other volunteers who visited classrooms and inspired students with career tales included Seth Gershman, a marketing executive, and Rachel Kelly, an athletic trainer from Purchase College.  David Clark and James Hall discussed their experiences at the Mount Vernon Police Department.  Tom Emmengger, a film editor, talked to students motion pictures. La Tonja Lee spoke to them about careers in fitness. Chuck Lesnick '81, until recently City Council President of Yonkers, described the work of an attorney.

Liz Massie '86, an executive producer at Discovery Communications, recounted roles she has had in television production on the creative and the execution sides. She mentioned such threats to television viewing as Internet streaming, and most of the sixth-graders in one class knew what she meant.  When she explained "scripted" vs. "non-scripted" programming (the latter of which describes most of the Discovery channels), they understood, too. When she asked them why the "Military" channel was renamed the "Heroes" channel, the students offered thoughtful clues.

Like Omoto, Massie allowed students to ask questions until the school bell signaled them to stop. They flung their hands upward and hurled dozens of questions:  What do you do everyday?  What do you do at home after work? What do you hate about your job?  Does anything about your job make you cry?  One by one, Massie, patiently responded.  They interviewed her as if they were talk-show hosts.

Rob Niosi, an animator, brought his own computer to present a synopsis of his work, which includes short and long features, commercials, and special effects. He showed his own work samples of animated chocolate bars, alligators, and money houses. He amused the students by admitting he wandered into animation after dreaming as a child of becominge a herpetologist (to study and research snakes and reptiles).

One class of fourth-graders surprised Niosi. They were already familiar with animation, having done projects on field trips to the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville.  They boasted about what they knew, what they had done, and the painstaking work they performed to produce a film only a few minutes in length. This class, too, was agitated with questions, observations, keen insights, and just plain curiosity about what an animator does from day to day, year after year.

Mostly they wanted to know how long it took for Niosi to produce a few minutes of his own work.  He recalled one project in Mexico, where he spent two weeks to deliver a final product of a handful of minutes. Animation is long, hard work, they all concluded. But fun, joyful work.

The Holmes students listened to the stories from the film editor, the marketing executive, and the fitness instructor. However, they were always willing to share their own dreams, visions, and planned pathways.  One sixth-grade girl said she wants to be a fashion designer with her own fashion television program.  Another fourth-grade boy said he wasn't sure what he wanted to do, as long as it didn't involve flying in an airplane or leaving the U.S. His classmates teased him.

And yet the fifth-grade boy on the front row insisted he still hoped to see a design, in the end, for the swimming pool that, with the push of a button or two or three, converts into a basketball court with glistening wooden-panel floors.
Student ambassadors (top) were assigned to escort Yale alumni and community volunteers to Holmes classes. Holmes principal Carol Quinones-Smith provided instructions for students and volunteers. (YWAA photos)

Animator Rob Niosi (top) described how long it takes to complete an animation project. David Clark and James Hall (bottom, left) represented the Mt. Vernon Police Department. (YWAA photos)
Liz Massie '86 (middle) recalled some of the best and worst moments in her career as a television producer. (YWAA photos)
Garrett Omoto '08MArch. (above, right) allowed students to tell him how to redesign their school. (YWAA photos)
Rachel Kelly (bottom, right) explained the job of an athletic trainer and reminded students of the importance of frequent exercise and good nutrition. (YWAA photos)

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