Your Child’s Career Exploration Starts Now

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Episode 67│Your Child’s Career Exploration Starts Now

Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022

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Show Notes

Jean Eddy and Elliana Cabellon

We often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, but how often do we help them figure out the answer? We invited Jean Eddy, Executive Director of the American Student Assistance (ASA) and ASA’s “Solve It” contest winner and high school student, Elliana Cabellon to talk about career exploration. They share how families can help kids follow their passions, plan for their futures and explore STEM career pathways.


Thanks to Huntington Ingalls Industries, a PTA Proud National Sponsor, for supporting this episode.


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Helen Westmoreland: Welcome back to Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast. I'm Helen Westmoreland.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: And I'm Kisha DeSandies Lester, and we're your co-hosts.

Helen Westmoreland: And today we're talking about the importance of career exploration. We often ask our children, what do you wanna be when you grow up? But rarely take the time to help them really explore the answer to that question. Kisha, is that something that you're doing in your house with Ellington?

Kisha DeSandies Lester: Yes, so presently Ellington, who's six, wants to be the black Spiderman when he grows up and a scientist. It's fun to really share different career paths with him and see what his reaction is to what people do. It's, it's a lot of fun.

Helen Westmoreland: Oh, well, Mary Eva is four and we've already started talking about different jobs in the community. She has very vehemently declared she wants to be an artist and nothing else. Aw. So I am looking ahead 10 years from now, cuz today we're gonna take a look at what these conversations can look like at the middle and high school levels, and how kids can get a hands on experience to discover potential career pathways. Kisha, I'm especially excited because we have a student on the show today.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: That's right, Helen. We're actually joined by two special guests today. Jean Eddy is the President and CEO of American Student Assistance, where she develops and drives the overall strategic direction. During her tenure there, she and her organization has transitioned from its 65-year history of helping students with college financing and repayment options to a new focus of helping students discover potential career paths earlier in their education journey. It's so important. Also today we have Elliana Cabellon. She is a ninth grader at Brockton High School in Massachusetts. When Ellie was in seventh grade, she was part of the Galactic Girls Group and won the American Student Assistance Solve Together competition. The team developed blueprints and models for a hydroponic farm to sustain a colony on Mars. Ellie is also an actress dancer and the only freshman in the Brockton High School Show Choir. She's a busy teen. Well, I wanna welcome both of you, Ellie and Jean. We're excited to have you here today. And Ellie, let's start with you.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: How can experiences like the one you had with the galactic girls, help close the gap with women working in the STEM workforce?

Ellie Cabellon: Yeah, I think giving young girls those opportunities will help them figure out like what they wanna do when they're older, but also give them less doubt. Cause I think that there's a lot of doubt in these young girls that think that they're not fit for the position in stem, in the STEM field. So I think that's showing them that they can do it and giving them the opportunity, Hey, there's this contest, you can sign up for it. You don't have to be a certain person to do this.

Helen Westmoreland: Mm-hmm.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: Yeah, I agree.

Helen Westmoreland: That's great advice.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: Jean?

Jean Eddy: I guess I would offer two things. The first is we find that young, young women, girls who use future scape and actually go exploring in the STEM fields are somewhat surprised to find out that they ab absolutely have aptitudes in that space. Mm. And then, then they start looking for careers that would align with that. I would also tell you that we've funded grants in various middle schools throughout the country that allow young people to go and try some things, and most of them have been in stem. And I would say, the first school I walked into that was doing an exploration class like this.

Most of the young people in that class were young girls. And so I was really intrigued by that. And I went and talked with all of them because we had this opening ceremony, et cetera. And at the end of the day, what I found, what I found out, and I would have to say to my great satisfaction. Some of them loved it and wanted to go on to the next best thing, and others couldn't stand it, but at least they found out. Right. And that is, that is enormous.

Helen Westmoreland: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. That is huge.

Kisha: Why is it important to give young people opportunities to explore different career paths?

Ellie Cabellon: I think it's really important to give kids some room to explore what they wanna do and really figure it out on their own, what they're interested in doing in life. Which is why I think it's important to give them the opportunity to find those paths and let them figure it out on their own so that they're really like certain about what they wanna do when they're older and just give them the freedom to make mistake and just try to do it on their own.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: That's really good. And it is really important. Jean, can you share a bit more about the work that ASA does to promote career exploration?

Jean Eddy: Sure, as you said, we did a pivot with our mission cause we've always helped young people, but we realized a few years ago that the best thing we could possibly do is help kids get ahead of what I'm gonna call the issue. And that is how do you find your way to a successful life a successful career, rather than trying to figure out how to pay for it or how to repay pay for it, as you are going through college and try and find it when you're in college, why not help young people figure it out earlier? And our focus is on middle school. And as Eliana can tell you, she was one of those people who was exploring in middle school. And what's really great about middle school is the fact that young people are looking for opportunities to go exploring on their own. They wanna figure out who they are, what they love, what they're passionate about, et cetera.

And they really love the self-direction. As Elliana said, it's really nice to be able to have an opportunity to go exploring, find out who you are, and then be able to align that with the myriad of careers that are out there. And that's what Elliana did when she was in middle school doing exactly that. No one was telling her how to do it. She decided to go out there and do it.

Helen Westmoreland: Well, I wanna pick up with that. Ellie, I was super excited to have you on the show. I was a big science fair person when I was in high school. So I wanna hear a little bit about your journey with the Solve Together competition. How did you find out about it? How did you decide what you wanted to do? Tell us a little bit about that process for you.

Ellie Cabellon: Well, it mainly began when me and my friends are in seventh grade and our science teacher gave us a lesson on Mars and there possibly being life on Mars, which is mainly what sparked like our interest in the topic. And then later our guidance counselor, Dr. McDonald, he came up to us and told us that there is an opportunity to enter a contest, a STEM based contest. and so we rallied up our team. I was the team captain, so I got to choose who I wanted to be in the group. And I chose most of my friends, people that I knew, but I chose some people that were a little bit shy and some girls that had really great ideas.

And when we put our brain together, I think that we could brainstorm something like really amazing. So yeah, that's how the team came together. And we just worked on it for a couple months. The project, it was a really big challenge, but I'm super glad about how it turned out. But yeah, we were all super interested in STEM when we were younger. We used to make our own inventions when we were little, we would both go to each other's houses and like we made the, this thing called the Cloud-o-matic, and it was made of like cardboard box and like hot glue and it was little project like that that like brought us closer. So I guess you could say that science brought us closer as friends.

Helen Westmoreland: Oh, that's so cool. And did I understand right that you also got to work with a NASA scientist as part of the project? Yeah. What was that like?

 Ellie Cabellon: Yes, we did, we were actually hoping we could get, an interview from someone at NASA. We were preparing an email to write to NASA and submit to them, asking them if we could interview a scientist there for our project. But we later found out right before we sent the email Dr. Mack, our teacher, he said that his like brother had a roommate who was like, he was like the President or something like that of NASA. And so we were super excited and then we set up the call and we got to have a really nice conversation with him about Mars and future life on Mars. And he told us how, like he helped the astronauts train with their suits and stuff like that. And it was a really cool experience to be part of that conversation.

Helen Westmoreland: So do you wanna be a NASA scientist when you grow up?

Ellie Cabellon: That's kind of something I'm contemplating now. I think it would be a really interesting career to do when I'm older. One of the things that really interests me is life on Mars. So I've been looking into astrobiology and I think that would be something really cool to do when I'm older. But I also have other really fun hobbies I like to do, like from the beginning, I'm a dancer and a singer and an actor, so I really like theater and stuff. But I'm still deciding what most interests me and what would make me happy.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: Aw, that's great, and it's nice to have options and the opportunity to do that. Right. Helen? Like we had the science fairs and other things when I was growing up and I was exposed to a lot of things watching different people do different things in their lives, but I didn't always understand. So I think it's great that there is an emphasis on that now, right, Helen?

Helen Westmoreland: Yeah, absolutely. And now for a quick break.

Supported by Huntington Ingalls Industries National PTA, STEM Plus families Propelling Our World program connects families with engaging hands on activities in science, technology, engineering, and math. Propelling Our world inspires students and families to be interested in STEM, the skilled trades, and exploring STEM career paths by supporting STEM career readiness, propelling our world is inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders. Learn more by visiting

Kisha DeSandies Lester:  What advice do you have, Jean, for parents to help foster career exploration with their children?

Jean Eddy: I don't doubt the primary thing that parents have to do is to encourage their students to go exploring. To look for any and all opportunities to expose themselves to as much as possible, whether that is careers, whether that is people in their neighborhood or in their family, or in their church, or any kind of congregation that allows them to meet people from different walks of life.

I think also, and I'll unashamedly say this, if there aren't opportunities for their sons and daughters to be able to go exploring, find out who they are and what they love to do, and the myriad of careers out there and they can't get that in their school system, then they need to go out and use any kind of thing on the web that allows them to do that.

And we have something called Futurescape, which allows young people to do exactly that. And it's either through a school, through an online experience It's through doing a lot of talking and a lot of exposure to other, other people's careers and professions. Because I will tell you, kids can't do what they don't know. That's right. Mm-hmm. So with all, no, the people in the very floor unit around them, then that is what they're going to aim for. But happily, with Eliana’s case, she's got choices.

Helen Westmoreland: Mm, mm-hmm. I wanna pick up on that because that's great Jean. And you know, I think as parents sometimes we're not perhaps as open and accepting of our young people as they are doing this exploring as we would like to be. So, whether you might be worried, like, you know, can you make money in that? Will you be able to find a job in that later? What do you both say to parents who might just have a little bit of hesitation, you know, really turning the reins over to their young people a little bit to let them really lead some of this? Elliana let's start with you. What do you think?

Ellie Cabellon: I would say that if the parents can really see that, that their child is super passionate about it, then there should be no reason why you should stop them. If it makes them happy, then I think that that's like, at least sign that this is something that they wanna do when they're older.

And it's important to give them the opportunity to pursue that idea that they have and tried out and see if they like it, and give them chances to make mistake, then really explore the field that they wanna do.

Helen Westmoreland: Mm-hmm. What do you say, Jean? Have you run into parents who were having some hesitations about their kids' career aspirations?

Jean Eddy: Totally.It's natural for all of us to do. I attempted to, to help my own children go out and explore and do some things. But there is certain amount of anxiety at the parent. We wanna make sure that our kids are happy. We wanna make sure that they land, that they, you know, they have a viable career, that they can support themselves all of those things. But I would say then what's wonderful about this generation of young students,

The fact that that this generation of young people, Gen Z, really love to grow out exploring, you know, get information, but then they have no trouble whatsoever going out, talking to their parents, talking to their teachers, and getting their opinions. Then they go back and take what they've heard from their parents and their, their teachers, and then kind of reapply it to the research that they did. But I will say that when Elliana talks about, you know, she's not sure she wants to be a NASA scientist yet because she's got all of these other. The beauty of this is she doesn't have to pick one thing, right? Mm-hmm. We are in an age right now where people do one thing and another thing and another thing. 21st century jobs are very, very different than when I grew up, right? And so there will be opportunity even within NASA to be able to explore a whole host of things.

Helen Westmoreland: You're gonna build a stage on Mars. You're gonna start the first production .

Kisha DeSandies Lester: I mean, I even think with my son.

Yeah, I even think with my son, you know? When I hear him say, oh, I wanna be Spider-Man when I grow up. I'm like, oh God, what's gonna happen when he finds out he can't be Spider-Man? But then I'm like, well, who's to say he can't be? He could be. That's right. That's right. He could make that into something of his own. So we really try to be open. And it, like you were saying Helen and Jean, it is hard, but I think that seeing how people transform themselves in so many different ways and find a way to really use their talents and skills in an impactful way now, because there aren't these boxes that you have to be this and you have to be that. Mm-hmm. this only, this can make you money, and if you're a woman or a man, you can only do these things. Like, it's so much open now and I that I'm trying to use that to help take the pressure off. Now I have two kids, so we'll see how that goes, but right now I'm just like, okay. Go be Miles Morales, Sure.

Ellie Cabellon: I actually wrote a essay not too long ago about this exact topic, about whether I want to be an as biologist or performer when I'm older and I tell that fire versus rain because fire and rain are very opposite and I kind of just talked about how as I get older, I'm gonna slowly take my time to see what really interests me. And now no matter what people say, cause I've heard, I've had people say to me that oh, I can't wait to see you on Mars. I'm gonna see you on my news, walking on Mars. Those like comments are very like like helpful and like inspirational that they have like faith in me, but I won't let them sway what I want to do when I'm older because that is really my decision and my decision only. So I'm just kind of taking my time.

Helen Westmoreland: Ooh. I like that.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: That is awesome.

Helen Westmoreland: I'm so glad you said that because I think the, the sort of flip side of my question is even in the way I think I asked you that question, like, parents also pressure their kids a little bit like, oh, a NASA astronaut. Be that, be that, that sounds great. And we've gotta reign in our excitement, our hesitation, but also our enthusiasm about certain choices too.

I wanna shift gears a, a tiny bit, we've talked about what parents can do, many of our listeners are also advocates, right? Who are wanting to make sure our schools and school systems are also supporting our young people to, to do this. So Jean, I wanna turn to you a little bit and hear, what advice you have for folks or best practices to look for in schools that are doing a good job, helping young people really develop this sense of identity and curiosity and possibility about what they can do in the future.

Jean Eddy: I think that there are more and more school systems that are developing programs to have kids learn the soft skill and be able to learn how to interact with each other, make good decisions and those kinds of things. I think career exploration and self-identification of attributes and interest, are still not widely embraced. They are in a lot of places, but not as many as one would hope. I think at the crux of it is that teachers have a lot to do and they don't have that much time to deliver all of it. And so what we're looking for I would say school boards in particular, they are very helpful, but I have found, I've worked with some amazing, amazing school superintendents and principals who can envision what learning could be like, and that if you could relate learning to what a young person hopes and dreams are and what they would love to do, that they would actually learn better.

So it's kind of flipping learning on its head. It's flipping our system on its head. And as I say, some, some superintendents are doing it brilliantly. But if I were a parent today with young children, particularly in the middle grades, I would be looking for that in my school. And if they didn't have something like that, I would be wanting to figure out what role I could play in helping that.

Helen Westmoreland: We're gonna close out in a second. I realized I do have one last question. Elliana, what is the future of the Galactic Girls? First of all, I love that name. That was a very creative name. So are you guys still friends? Are you gonna do another project together? What's in the future for all of you?

Ellie Cabellon: Yeah, it's funny you say that. It took us a really long time to find a team name, so I'm glad everybody likes it. But yeah, we're still friends. Since in high school there's like 5,000 students at Brockton High, so I don't have any classes with any of my friends. But I do see them all the time, like in the hallways. One of my friends from the team, unfortunately moved away just like 45 minutes away. So we still try to make the best. But I think that the other competition really gives us a connection, like a strong bond that will never be broken because we spend a lot of time together on that project. It was still during Covid around the half online, half in school time. So we spend a lot of time in video chat and stuff like that doing the project. Yeah, we're all still friends and we're all still really interested in STEM, so I'm excited to see where each one of us decides to go when we're older.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: That's great.

Helen Westmoreland: That is wonderful.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: Jean and Eliana, this has been a really great conversation. You are inspiring me so much. And you've given us a lot to think about when it comes to supporting our own children and thinking about their future. Jean, out of everything we discussed is there anything that you think we should tell our families that they should walk away thinking about this episode?

Jean Eddy: Just get involved. Get involved, have those conversations, help your young people go exploring. Everybody will be happier.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: I agree. I agree. Eliana, what do you want parents to know about supporting their child's interests and passions?

Ellie Cabellon: I would say just listen to your kids' voices, cause we do have voices and we like to speak up for ourselves when we feel passionate about something. So any advice I would give is to listening to your kid voices and look into what they're interested in.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: I love that.

Helen Westmoreland: That is great advice. Well, thank you both. This was a great conversation.

Kisha DeSandies Lester: And to our audience listening, thank you for joining us. For more resources related to today's episode, check out notes from the, and thanks so much for tuning in, so join us next time.