Clermont Northeastern graduate and General Tool Co. facility manager Alex Cunningham talks with students during the speed mentoring program Feb. 24. (Photo by Dick Maloney.)

Mentors try to help CNE students ‘speed up’ the decision process

By Dick Maloney

A representative from the U.S. Navy brought cups, pens and pencils; the women from Nestle Purina North America did him several better – they handed out tote bags, pet toys, balls, collars, and even had a dog with them.

The most important items exchanged, though, were time, wisdom and advice, and every one of the more than 20 presenters at Clermont Northeastern High School’s speed mentoring program Feb. 24 offered careers-worth of those.

Planning for the event, which has become an annual event at the school, started in August, according to social studies teacher Steve Thompson, and plays off the district’s initials.

“The idea of this is just that is getting kids, either career or next school or an enlistment pathway, which is kind of like what today is. On Fridays we do a ‘What’s Your CNE?’ which stands for career, next school or enlistment (in the military). So this kind of plays a part with that a lot because it's a three-tier program,” Thompson said.

Juniors and seniors put together LinkedIn-type profiles in December, and have also been working on their interview skills. The school will host a career fair in April for students who may not be planning to attend college.

During the speed mentoring program, 20 tables were set up around the basketball court in the high school gymnasium; students rotated to a new table every five minutes. Afterward, Clermont Chamber of Commerce Director of Development Heather Frye then asked questions based on some of the presentations; students who answered correctly received gift cards.

CNE 2001 graduate Alex Cunningham was one of the mentors. He is the facility manager at General Tool Co., an aerospace and defense contractor in Reading. His message: How do you find a job that doesn’t exist?

“I've written my own job description four times and of the five jobs I've had, none have ever been posted online, and I've never filled out a job application,” Cunningham said. “But I landed on those careers because I built relationships and communicated with people.” Cunningham got his first job when he was in the stands at CNE, watching his sister’s basketball game.

“One of the dads of her teammates and I were talking and I realized that where he worked was in line with what my degree was at the time. And that got me an internship and I wrote the job description and had a job offer before I was a senior in college.” at the time, Cunningham was a student at Morehead State University, studying physics because he enjoyed his high school physics class. He was also in danger of losing his full-ride scholarship because he carried a 1.0 grade point average.

His father, though, was in construction management, “so I developed those relationships a lot easier,” he said.

“The encouragement was for them to talk to their parents’ friends, and their friends’ parents, and maybe find people that you think you might want to emulate what they're doing and understand how they got to that point in their life and what you can learn from their mistakes and their successes,” Cunningham said.

Thompson said some CNE students are entering the welding program at General Tool.

University of Cincinnati Clermont College instructor Greg Sojka, a former dean at the school, also emphasized his academic struggles – he flunked math twice in college, but knew he could read and write, so decided to major in English and perhaps become a teacher.

“I tried to go round and make them talk,” he said, asking each student at each session to introduce themselves. “What are your superpowers? What do you like? What are you doing? Some know. Some don't know. I tell them get a part-time job. Find somebody that's doing what you're doing. Follow them around, talk to them. Job shadow, you know, get out explore. So my theme is explore, discover, then decide.”

Clermont County Public Library Adult Services Specialist Mark Hansman has participated in every one of CNE’s speed mentoring programs. He told students about his journey from growing up in Mount Carmel, to Glen Este High School and Xavier University, and then a career in information technology at General Electric, before his department was shut down and he was forced to find another career path.

“So I went and started doing substitute teaching for local schools. And I get the kids’ attention by talking about how substitute teaching is a terrible job. And … they all kind of get a grin on their face because they know how substitute teachers are treated with not very good money.”

Hansman then told the story of how, working in home instruction for Milford Schools, he was helping a kindergartner with cancer prepare for first-grade. “This year I've got a couple of students with medical issues. One had a hip replacement. The other girl had a vaccine issue and I worked with her because of things that have happened. So try to get her back to school next year.”

First District Court of Appeals Judge Marilyn Zayas told students to “stay in motion,” even if they are unsure what they want to do after high school. “Because by choosing something they will learn something about themselves. And perhaps what they chose is a perfect fit. And if it's not, they're going to take those learnings and make the next choice,” she said.

Thompson praised CNE’s junior and senior classes, calling them “phenomenal students. One of the best senior classes we've had a long time. Same thing with the juniors … really smart, outgoing class.”