ITW David Speer Academy STEM Career Fair

By Natalie Arroyo

On November 17, ITW David Speer Academy, a STEM-focused high school within the Noble Network of Charter Schools, held a STEM Career Fair for sophomores and juniors. Currently, only 16 percent of college graduates in the United States earn a degree in a STEM field, but Speer Academy’s goal is for 50 percent of its students to matriculate into STEM careers after earning a two-year or four-year college degree in a STEM program.

“Our mission is to get students to matriculate into STEM careers, because they’re the highest in demand and so many jobs go unfilled each year,” said Jordan Kruger, assistant principal at Speer Academy. “Students often don’t have exposure to all the jobs that are out there. Many schools start senior year before college and it might be a little too late at that point. We think sophomore year is a better place to start.”

At Speer Academy, students – or “innovators”, as they’re referred to – spend almost two years gaining career exposure before they choose a major their sophomore year. The major they choose will affect the  Summer of a Lifetime program they attend, which helps student fulfill the requirement that all students spend a minimum of one week on a college campus over the summer. According to Kruger, Speer Academy has sent more than  500 students to over 60 different college campuses in the last two years. During their junior year, students take elective classes focused on their intended major. In their senior year, all students spend every Friday from mid-October to mid-April interning at off-site locations. Currently, Speer Academy has  200 students placed in internships around the Chicagoland area.

But it all starts with choosing a major – something that can be a difficult task for a sophomore in high school. That’s why experiences like Speer Academy’s STEM Career Fair are so important.

“Over 70 individuals from 45 businesses came to Speer Academy to share their career paths with our students. Some of the businesses represented are Illinois Tool Works, Wheeler Kearns Architects, McMaster Carr, the Art Institute, and Fermilab,” shared Bekah Holland, Speer Academy’s internship coordinator who organized the career fair.

Isiah Gonzalez, sophomore at Speer Academy, is in the middle of deciding on his major. “I attended the information technology and animal science panels today. We are learning how people within different fields balance work with their social lives, and we get to ask about important things like salary and benefits at work.”

Juniors attended panels their sophomore year, too, but now use the opportunity to ask bigger picture questions and connect with professionals in the field. “My major is computer science, so I attended the software engineering and scientific research panels today,” shared junior Olayinka Adeokla, “For me, a big thing is the impact they have on society, so I’ve been asking that question, trying to understand how they contribute and affect people.”

“The career fair has opened up a wider perspective to many careers I didn’t know about,” Gonzalez added. “Thank you to the professionals who came out, for thinking about the younger generation and our success.”