Friday, August 11, 2017

Student to Watch: Jemal Gause

It started out as a normal day for an intern at The Challenge Program, Inc. (TCP). Coffee, email check, social media notifications, and an overview of the past week. When notified of an interview later in the afternoon with graduated senior Jemal Gause, the tone of the slow moving Friday gained a touch of excitement that made the day a lot brighter.

Going out of the office to meet young adults like this gives you proof of what the Challenge Program, Inc. is doing for students. When they feel recognized, they want to do more which is exactly what Jemal is planning on doing. 

When talking about his future with him, his posture and smile reflected a kind of confidence that someone does not normally gain until they are thirty. His plans to not only go to school for nuclear engineering but to also join the Navy first made some jaws drop in awe during the meeting. While sipping some smoothies and getting to know Jemal better, it was easy to feel as though he could be friends with anyone; almost as though you had known him for years.

Jemal makes everything he does seems so simple and fun. He works at the local movie theater which is where most of his summertime has been spent, but he does not seem to mind the work. He was also a TCP senior award winner this spring. Jemal is very academically inclined in math and science and has hopes of going into nuclear engineering. So here I am thinking, wow of course he won the STEM award and yet again, I am surprised to find out Jemal's time in high school was also filled with various volunteer groups that earned him the Community Service award. Jemal works with the NAACP, where he is president of the youth group. He won the Community Service award for the amount of hours he put into the organization and in starting a student chapter at Greater Johnstown High School. "Sadly I will have to step down very soon because, well you know, I'm an adult now." “Adulting”, one of the scariest new young person words out there, is not an easy thing to deal with. It includes things that even worry this intern right here such as credit card payments, school loans, housework, and even making your own doctor appointments. This thought would probably scare most students but he says it with a huge smile that rarely left his face the whole meeting. It is in moments like this that you feel as though someone has changed you, in the smallest, but most positive way.

It is hard to imagine that such a small office of only six people could have this effect on the communities that they serve. Since other jobs have come and gone for me, it was never easy to imagine working someplace where the work never felt like work. The students often are surprising in the way that they can communicate and set goals for themselves. When you plan to meet high school students you are wondering if they will be uninterested or immature, but working for TCP changed that to wondering if they will have more goals set than I ever did or knowing that they, being respectful as ever, will call me ma’am and I will feel old. Jemal walks in and you kind of think definitely a basketball player but you have no idea that he is capable of that and so much more until you reach out to him, recognize him, and he proves it to you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

18 and Living the Dream: Gardner Denver Hires Admiral Peary AVTS Graduates

A day where you get out of the office and get to meet business partners and students is more than likely going to be a good day. When The Challenge Program, Inc. (TCP) found out that Gardner Denver was hiring two graduating seniors (Stephen and Travis) from their partnered school Admiral Peary AVTS, Sara, the Senior Program Development Manager, set up a meeting with the business and students for the end of June.

Gardner Denver, one of the country’s leading global providers of engineered solutions to operational challenges, based in Texas, has an office in Altoona, PA. The company manufactures industrial compressors, blowers, pumps and fuel systems. So when an intern, who studies communication and has no idea what a compressor even does, was given the opportunity to go to the company and conduct an interview with the students, she knew she had some planning to do.

It was a little intimidating walking through the doors of this large building filled with experts on turning nothing into something. The building was spotless inside and it was the perfect temperature that you dream of walking into on a hot summer day. You are greeted by every person you pass by with a smile and, almost feel like you work there yourself.

As a college student who interacts with 18-22 year olds on a daily basis, it was difficult to not expect the two young men to be uninterested in the interview process for a feature story. However, it was just the opposite. It was impressive how immersed in their work they were and how happy they seemed while asking them the questions about their goals.

Stephen Parzatka won the STEM award as a senior at Admiral Peary AVTS. “[Winning that award] was great. I really put my all into it,” he said. Along with financial incentives in 5 award categories, TCP provides students and businesses a chance to connect with one another. Gardner Denver has taken advantage of this benefit by hosting students from Admiral Peary AVTS to tours of their Altoona facility for the past two years. Stephen and Travis remembered how the tour sparked a buzz in their classrooms. Travis recalls, “Our teacher was in love with the place. He said it was so clean you could eat off their shop floors.” Travis and Stephen began researching the company themselves, and took the initiative to contact Gardner Denver and find someone who would talk to them about a job.

Travis and Stephen describe The Challenge Program as “motivating” and “rewarding.” Their advice to students attending The Challenge Program, Inc.’s assemblies this coming fall is to listen, take advantage of opportunities, and to know that there are jobs in the area. Travis adds, “The program was successful in connecting us to the business. Find something that motivates you. Have fun learning and put your mind to it.” The maturity level and kindness of the two young men was amazing considering most people their age have priorities that are much less developed. This just shows what motivation and personal connection can do for students.

Travis and Stephen both see a bright future working for Gardner Denver and recall their instructor telling them that “this is the place where old guys want to retire.” Travis said, “It’s cool that we already have that kind of job.”

Jerry Zeiders, regional manager at Gardner Denver, is clearly happy with the results he sees from these young men. “I never imagined getting this out of The Challenge Program. I just wanted to further their careers and now here they are and they are two great guys.”

After the interview, everything felt refreshed; as if seeing those young men so happy and proud made all of the hard work that goes into the program worth it. These are the things that most people are unaware of about the Challenge Program, Inc. They really do have an impact on students’ lives and seeing the results of that first-hand is almost magical.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Keeping The Connection

The Challenge Program, Inc. has the goal to connect businesses and education each year. As with everything in life, there are always things that have worked and things that have not worked perfectly. Both of those things need to be discussed and new goals need to be set. This is exactly what happened at an 8 hour staff meeting last Friday in the office.

It is not too often that everyone is in one room together since the program managers are always out and about trying to connect with schools and businesses. So, having everyone together is already the start of a successful day. Now you may think after a few hours there would be nothing left to talk about, but when there are six committed people striving to connect 100 schools with business across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia counties, there are always things that need to be discussed.

July 1st is the program's own New Years Day since it marks the end of the past school year and starts the planning for the next.The meeting centered around ideas to enhance business and education partnerships. The staff spent hours creating new ways to focus for the 2017-18 school year.

As a participant in the meeting you see a lot of different opinions and ideas shooting from one side of the table to the other. Eventually, out of all of these ideas comes one really fantastic one and, almost like magic, there is a plan set in place. It really is interesting to see the way these women handle the meetings considering the yelling, kicking and screaming that occurs at other businesses' staff meetings while they all fight to be in charge. In these meetings one person speaks at a time, everyone listens, and everyone contributes.

The day was spent around a conference table complete with a heat radiating projector, slideshow, cookies, coffee, charts, surveys, calendars, and spreadsheets. The good news is that the day went by quickly, goals were set, and students will continue to be provided with great opportunities from their business partners.