It’s a Friday afternoon, and the energetic buzz of some 40 or so conversations hovers over the main conference room at the Collin College Higher Education Center. A bell rings, and half the room stands and shifts to the next small table in line. There are handshakes and greetings, and then everyone is seated again, and the buzz of conversation returns.
This is the 2016 McKinney ISD Business Symposium, and it is an important component of the MISD high school Interdisciplinary Study and Mentorship (ISM) Program. Perhaps best described as an afternoon of intensive speed-interviewing, the symposium will give each of the students in attendance an opportunity to hone their communication skills while sitting across from McKinney professionals from a wide range of industries and disciplines.
The students are juniors and seniors from each of MISD’s three high schools. This afternoon, there are 42 students from McKinney High School making the rounds as they move from table to table in lines that stretch across the room. In the morning session 30 Boyd students and 13 students from North took their turns. Each participant gets in five or six interviews by the time they’re done, and for or some, this will help in the search for a career mentor. For others, it’s a way to network and learn.
Kaitlin Osterreicher, an MHS senior interested in pursuing animation and illustration is here with her twin sister Nicole—who has her sights on a career in graphic design—and they’ve found the exercise beneficial, even though the sisters’ particular fields aren’t represented among the professionals in attendance today.
“It’s been very, very educational,” says Kaitlin. “It’s interviews, so it helps students and even mentors find out more about just what you’re doing. No one here is in [animation and illustration], but I’ve talked to a bunch of business people—which is very interesting.”
Nicole offers her take, “I find it very inspiring and motivating. It’s definitely helping with my public speaking and communication. It’s a little taste of what’s going to happen in the real business world. It’s been very educational.”
It’s Mark Loth’s first time to volunteer as an interviewer. He works for an IT consulting business, and he speaks highly of symposium and the students who have sat across from him so far. “I think it’s terrific. All of them have been sharp, really sharp. I’m impressed. … They’ve come prepared, and they’ve all done a really good job.”
Students apply to be in ISM, and those in the program represent some of the most driven, career-focused students in the district. They focus on the career they’re interested in, research it, find a professional mentor and begin running hard toward that destination.
“ISM gives students opportunities that a normal class would not allow for,” says McKinney North High School ISM teacher Kasie Taylor. They have to go through rigorous application processes, interviews. You’ve got to have a passion and a drive and a desire to do this, and that’s what these students possess.”
Taylor says that there are currently about 90 students from across the district’s three high schools enrolled, and they are pursuing almost as many different careers.
“I would say they’re pursuing at least 80 different professions,” Taylor says. “Very few overlap. We have linguistics. We have chemical engineering; we have areospace; we have neurosurgery, pediatrics, international relations, politics—anything you can think of.
“Basically, they come to us, and say, ‘I’m passionate about this.’ We take them, and we say, ‘Ok, this is how you relate with professionals,’” she says.
2015–2016 was the inaugural year for the program, and only seniors participated. This year, they’ve included juniors as well. Even in its very first year, ISM had a significant impact on the students involved in it.
Taylor speaks of one student whose mentor worked at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA). That connection led to the student’s design project being displayed on a long-term basis at the DMA. Another student was interested in sports broadcasting. “He was at ESPN, and he was at the Ticket … and actually got to tour their studios and talk to the guys that are in sports broadcasting,” Taylor says. “So it’s forcing students outside of our school walls into what their passion is. This course takes them as far as they want to go.”
Kyle Kung, a 2016 graduate from North, was interested in aerospace engineering and found a mentor in that industry. “Kyle went out and wanted to look at drones,” Taylor says. “He settled on a project focused on pharmaceutical drugs and a way to deliver them from the pharmacy to a patient’s house. So, his mentor said, ‘Hey, let’s focus on the innovations here. What’s new?’
“And, what was new was the release mechanism from the drone that Kyle came up with. He designed and developed a prototype of the release mechanism for a drone to release any size prescription drug, depending on the size of the bottle. He actually had a guy that said, ‘Patent it. I want it.’”
Kyle eventually ran into some roadblocks with his project, but, in his mind, that didn’t diminish the benefit he gained from the journey. “Unfortunately, due to current FAA restrictions, this project cannot be implemented quite yet,” Kyle says. “However, I learned so much about communication, troubleshooting problems and addressing concerns that I hadn’t even thought about along the way. Additionally, the communication skills, organizational skills and professionalism I learned during the year will no doubt be invaluable to me as I apply for internships and jobs in college.”
Kyle has shifted his focus from aerospace engineering to astrophysics and is currently attending UCLA with a plan to pursue a doctorate in the field and eventually work for NASA or as a university professor. There’s no reason to think he won’t succeed.
“Instead of waiting until their junior year in college and wasting a lot of money,” says Taylor, “they figure it out now.”
And, there’s no better time than now to start gaining on the future.