Alternatives to College Fair introduces students to other options for post-high school life

Cleo Falvey, Arts Editor

The Alternatives to College Fair, organized by the Brookline Teen Center and the Next Steps program, was held at the Brookline Teen Center on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The event spanned from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and showed attendees options for their futures such as joining a branch of the military, seeking private employment, working for the Department of Public Works or the United States Postal Service.

According to the high school’s profile, in the 2014-2015 school year, 91.4 percent of students chose to continue to higher education, attending either two or four year colleges. However, the remaining 8.6 percent of students have three options: seek employment (3.3 percent), join the military (2 percent) or take a gap year (3.3 percent).

Grace Yung Watson is the director of the Next Steps Program, which co-sponsored the event. Next Steps is a workforce development program that works with low to moderate income residents, assisting them in searching for jobs and training programs.

“College is a superb route for people to further their vocational goals. However, not everyone fits into that mold, and that’s perfectly fine. Not everyone is meant to go to college right away or ever, and at the same time, there are these different, amazing career paths that people can take. So why not give the opportunity to explore all of the options?” Watson said. 

Students and adults gather in the Brookline Teen Center Gym for the Nov. 18th Alternatives to College fair. CLEO FALVEY/SAGAMORE STAFF

George Zahka, the Assistant Director of Programming at the Brookline Teen Center, co-organized the first annual Alternatives to College Fair.

“What we’re trying to do is to model our event after a traditional college fair, but rather than having colleges attend, we will have business who are known for paying employees well and promoting from within,” Zahka said.

Watson said that she created the event to help students proactively investigate potential career choices.

“College at this point and time in our country is so ridiculously expensive that it can be hazardous to make that choice to go to college if one is not fully ready,” Watson said.

Zahka said that he thinks students can be successful without going to a four year college, and that by hosting the Alternatives to College fair, students will be able to network and receive opportunities that will lead to success.

“If someone has made a decision that college isn’t the right fit for them, they deserve the opportunity to go to an event where they can be exposed to 30 different organizations or businesses that provide either training for a strong career or a business that provides entry to a strong career, and that’s important in the community,” Zahka said.

Fifth-year senior Dennis Boddingham, who attended the fair, said that he was considering applying for a job at Chipotle, a fitness gym or Wegmans’.

“I don’t know yet because I’m still thinking. I should go to college, but I also don’t like school in a way. I might just go to work instead. There’s definitely going to be a way in the future I’m going to college, but not now.”

Kylie Alexander, a student at the Jeremiah E. Burke school in Dorchester, said that she was considering going to college for the experience and to receive a degree in architecture. However, Alexander said that she acknowledged the benefits of joining an alternative program.

“For career, you can just go straight into what you want to do instead of paying thousands of dollars to go to school while doing what you love to do because that’s what a career is,” Alexander said.

The United States Postal Service trains people on the job and provides “great benefits,” according to training technician Annmarie Kawalski. CLEO FALVEY/SAGAMORE STAFF 

Annmarie Kawalski is a training technician with the United States Postal Service, which doesn’t require a degree for entry-level jobs because employees receive training. Kawalski said that she has been working for the USPS for 27 years and loves her job because the organization’s size and scope allowed her opportunities to find a career that she truly enjoys.

“It’s a huge organization, they have every single job imaginable. Great job security, great benefits. Go in and follow your dreams! You can transfer anywhere in the US,” Kawalski said.

Hazaim Ramos, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, said that joining the army does not require a college degree. According to Ramos, joining the army has enabled him to get in shape and has given him real-world skills.

“Before, I was just sitting around on the couch doing nothing, very overweight. The army got me in great physical condition and got me skills that I can use in the civilian world. As far as my job, I’m an infantryman, so I do a lot of tactical and technical things,” Ramos said.

Fellow Officer Ham works as a gas turbine system technician in the United States Navy. Ham said that he was interested in the joining the Navy since he was 17 years old. According to Ham, joining the Navy opens up other opportunities for career advancement, such as becoming a police officer.

“If you’re not working or working out, you should be going to school. I am a guy with two degrees in Criminal Psychology and Mechanical Engineering,” Ham said.

Victoria Verrier is the director of Business Development at the National Emergency Medical Services Institute, a training school that offers courses that certify participants in basic emergency medical help.

“With our programs, we offer five additional certifications, ride along time with ambulance companies and much more, so it’s a very bulked up course and it makes you very excited to become an EMT,” Verrier said. “The course unlocks two exams that you need for the state and national certifications, and you’ll become an EMT in about a month.”

Watson said that she hopes students will see there are great careers that are easy to obtain, and that they will stay motivated to be successful whether they go to college or straight to a career. 

“Just because you’re not going to college right away doesn’t mean that you can’t chase your dreams,” Watson said.