Career counselor helps students carve out a future

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Genesis Clark, eleventh grade student, left, speaks with Kaitlin Eck, the new Williamsport Area High School career counselor, at a recent visit to Eck's office in the guidance department at Williamsport Area High School.

Williamsport Area High School changed its guidance department to incorporate a career counselor to help students this year.

“I would describe the position as being retooled. We didn’t add a position … We retooled a position we already had,” said Dr. Richard Poole, director of student services.

Poole said the high school has four counselors who each focus on the four grades in the high school, and the fifth counselor, the career counselor, covers all the high school students.

Kaitlin Eck started this year with the district as the career counselor.

“I’m from Montoursville, and I graduated from there in 2001. I received my bachelor’s degree from Wilson College in 2005, then got my master’s degree in education from Bucknell University in 2008,” Eck said.

She did an internship with Williamsport in the past which made her familiar with the district, and she previously worked in the Warrior Run School District.

“The main focus and the goal of the position is to make sure that students are exploring all of the options that are available to them, whether it be military, post-secondary opportunities, employment, whatever the case may be,” Eck said. “My position allows me the time to work with students who might need a little bit more guidance with that.”

Eck works with students to help them plan a future for themselves after graduation in whatever route the student wishes to take after their senior year.

Many of the other counselors can be working with students on emotional support needs or social support needs, but any career specific questions or help can go directly to the career counselor.

“Traditionally, I’ve found … parents really don’t have a good grasp of what’s required for college,” Poole said.

He said many students don’t know they have to take SAT tests or other such guidelines to go to college, and some of them wait to decide they even want to go without knowing the steps they have to take to get there.

“Each of the counselors can make referrals to me as they meet with students and feel they need more help either with SATs, college applications or just figuring out what they’re interested in,” Eck said.

She can do interest assessments to help students who might not know what they want to do next figure out a plan. One student who Eck worked with an interest assessment so far was Genesis Clark, an eleventh grade student. It helped her find an opportunity to job shadow positions she might enjoy pursuing for careers in the future.

“I did not have anything set in mind for what I wanted to do,” Clark said. “It helped me narrow down a couple careers I could be interested in. It gave me different categories to look for.”

She’s going to be job shadowing in the environmental analyst field.

“I’ll be walking with someone, and they’ll explain to me what they do and show me how their machines work,” she said.

She said she’s very excited about the opportunity.

“I really like being outside and experiencing nature,” she said.

Having the experience will help her determine if she wants to pursue it as a career after graduating, and if she decides she wants to do something else, she can work with Eck for other job shadowing opportunities to see what her options are in fields she may enjoy.

“Right now, I’m just looking into this one, but if it turns out that I’m not interested, I’ll look into a couple others,” Clark said. “It’ll give me a couple different choices about if I want to do this or some other choices.”

Eck aims to help students figure out what they want to do.

“It’s just about trying to help them narrow down what the best job option for them is before students go off to college and start paying a lot of money for courses that they may or may not want to take,” Eck said. “We also work with the military recruiters and local employers to try and help students realize what all the options are.”

She said with the position being newly formed, many aspects of it may form as time goes on.

“We want all students to leave here with a plan to be productive members of society when they leave high school,” Eck said.

Poole said that times are changing.

“We are no longer about ‘kids need to go to college, kids need to go to college.’ That’s a hard sell for some parents because parents want to send their child to college. They think they have to in order to get a job,” Poole said. “What the research shows is that realistically, 70 percent of jobs in the next years aren’t going to require a standard four year degree. It could be a two year degree or going straight into a specialized training for that position.”

He said spending $200,000 on a college education for a position that doesn’t require it isn’t necessarily the way to go.

“We’ve been fortunate with Kaitlin educating parents, staff and even the faculty on changing the mindset that different career paths require different things.

“Whether our students want to go to Yale or Harvard, we can help them, but if they want to leave here and go straight into the workforce, we want to work with them to get the skillsets ready to be able to move into that workforce,” Poole said.