“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” – Sydney J. Harris.
The brisk chill of a Michigan morning. The buzz of rush hour traffic streams past downtown Grand Rapids on HWY-131. A caravan of busses hisses to a stop in front of DeVos Place. More than 8200 students from 72 schools stream out of their respective big yellow caterpillars; their excitement only mildly concealed under a well-practiced sheen of teen-apathy.
They are here for MiCareerQuest. An entire day designed for them, they've been told. It's important to be on your best behavior, they've heard over and over. These people have done an immense amount of work to help you see your brightest future.
Yada, yada, they think. Because these kids are no stranger to future planning. On the contrary, it seems like the entirety of their education from 6th grade on revolves around it; a constant stream of job fairs, college prep exams, and Career Pathway analytics quizzes invades their curriculum in an unhelpful stream of anxiety filled choice-making.
But this...? Man. This is pretty cool. (For a #schoolday.)
These West Michigan teens would be hard pressed to keep their mouths from dropping as the individual streams converge into a gawking mass just inside the doors of the convention center.
Over 90,000 thousand square feet of live, hands-on demonstrations in Health Care, Technology, Manufacturing and Construction awaits them. Almost 1100 volunteers greeting them with open arms. They cluster in their social circles and stare at the 150+ corporations that are here today with enthusiasm and passion, excited to meet them. And these are not just any representatives. These are real people, from real companies like CQL, Meijer, Haworth, AutoCam and Spectrum here to meet and work with them. Everyone’s eyes are bright and shining. They are full of energy, teeming with possibility.
Yeah, okay. This is awesome.
They’ve never seen their futures like this before. So tangibly. So passionately. So devoid of the impersonal questionnaires suggesting that Tom-the-vegan might enjoy a career in taxidermy, or that Megan, the ever-active cross country champ, would really thrive in an office call center.
This is MiCareerQuest. And it was made for them.
Yeah. We think it’s pretty great. As CQL’s Adam Clarke puts it “Its part of our investment in West Michigan’s future.”
This year, the second of CQL’s involvement, one of our software engineers, Aubrey Baker, led an exercise with Girls Who Code. Justin Menkveld, technical innovation strategist, was there generating discussion around some of the newest virtual reality technology. And Adam Clarke, MiCareerQuest Lover Extraordinaire (among other titles) curated a session in product configuration with a Build-A-Boat station.
But it was not only useful for students. MiCareerQuest has also managed to turn the tables, providing a one-of-a-kind learning experience for teachers and administrators as well. The event gives schools insight into the state-of-the-art business world developing in their very back yards; Helps them to craft better programs and classes that are not only more relevant, but far more engaging to learners.
We often ask ourselves what's going wrong with our education system. Why are so many kids disengaging with their futures in favor of bright lit cell screens and re-runs of basketball season? And more still; why are the best and brightest of West Michigan youth setting their sights outside of our great city?
MiCareerQuest may not have the answers, but boy has it invested in being part of the solution.
“We believe we need to help cultivate West Michigan’s future leaders,” Adam says. “As the catalyst for the next generation, it is not our job to tell them what to do, nor to make suggestions. We need not prepare them for what we think the job market needs. Our goal is to inspire, show them what is possible and point them in the next direction.”
And why not here?
- After all, Grand Rapids was rated among the top 10 “Emerging Cities” in the US for global trade
- West Michigan's economy is the 5th fastest-growing economy in the U.S.
- The Wall Street Journal recognized Grand Rapids as the 2nd best place to live in the United States
- Forbes named Grand Rapids the Best City for Raising a Family due to low cost of living and having a school system that ranks in the top third in the county
We cannot lay the path our children will walk, cannot tell them which dreams to dream. But maybe we can help them see that the little west-mitten town that they grew up in, might just be the very foundations on which they can build their futures. We can provide them with the tools they need for their journey, open their eyes, and give them everything they will need to discover their very own Quest.