Monday, October 13, 2014

TPS Students Visit Westar



Last Friday morning found most TPS students sleeping in. However, several dozen high school students chose to rise early to attend a morning session of “Electrify Your Future” at Westar Energy’s downtown corporate offices. Through a partnership with Westar, TPS students are afforded many unique opportunities- such as this one- to advance not just their educations, but also their careers, with the utility company. 

During their visit to Westar, which was led by TPS school board member and Westar Human Resources executive Patrick Woods, students got to meet with many representatives who told them about various careers within the company. Mark Ruelle, Westar president and CEO, spoke to the students about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, a sentiment that was echoed throughout their tour of the building. The students got to visit with executives from the accounting, energy trading, operations, and security departments. In each department visit, students heard about the education and skills needed for the jobs at hand and were also given the chance to ask questions of the presenters.

Following their tour, the students participated in a discussion panel that included two college interns, Chante Mitchell and Kaitlyn Truesdell (both THS grads), an engineer (Vince Avila), and a real estate analyst (Erin Quintanilla). The panel members answered questions and offered advice to the kids.  Intern Chante Mitchell encouraged students to challenge themselves in math and science in high school and college, recommending that they take harder classes and more courses than are necessary to graduate. Engineer and Senior HR Business Partner Vince Avila stressed the importance of soft skills, such as listening, making eye contact and giving a proper introduction. He also recommended that the students enroll in speech, debate and other communications classes as well as hands-on classes such as those in industrial technology departments. Real Estate Analyst Erin Quintanilla suggested that students be willing to tackle problems themselves and to try new things. One recommendation that most of the presenters gave the students was to find something they’re passionate about, that inspires them, that keeps them engaged, and make a career out of it. 

Careers at Westar, like any company that requires specialized skills, will be becoming more plentiful in the near future. Westar estimates that 50% of the present workforce will be eligible to retire in the next ten years. In an effort to help prepare a career-ready population of young people, Westar has partnered with Topeka Public Schools. The utility company has worked with TPS to design a curriculum, offer job shadowing and internship opportunities, and even provide college scholarships to the district’s students. Friday’s “Electrify Your Future” event was another way Westar has joined with TPS to ready our students for life after high school.

The students seemed to really enjoy their morning, asking lots of great questions and listening attentively to all the answers. Hope Street junior A’Jhana Dixon particularly enjoyed the security office visit, which boasted vast amounts of hi-tech equipment. Dixon, who plans to go to Washburn University or Butler Community College after high school, plans to pursue Westar’s job shadowing and internship programs. The visit to Westar helped inspire confidence in the young student, who said, “Sometimes I don’t try things because I don’t want to fail, but I feel better about trying new things now.”

Westar certainly offers students many opportunities to try new things, and Friday’s “Electrify Your Future” event was no exception. Thank you, Westar, for providing our students with this wonderful experience!