Brain Gain: Students’ Virtual Career Tour Starts with Pro Athletes

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Although the coronavirus derailed plans for the Mahoning County Educational Service Center’s Career Exploration Bus Tour event, counselors with the center are still working to teach students about the wide range of careers that are available.

The Virtual Exploration Tour 2020 for students in grades seven through 12 began Monday and continues through the week with one-hour video calls with local business, educational, community and political leaders about careers ranging from law and politics to first responders and medical fields to IT infrastructure, apprenticeships and skilled trades.

Registration is not required to participate in this event. Students can access webinars via the links before sessions begin at 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon each day.

“The best part of going virtual was that it allowed us to continue to use local professionals from businesses and platforms that students may recognize,” said Robert Eggleston, lead career counselor for the Mahoning County Educational Service Center. 

Career counselors from MCESC are embedded in school districts throughout the county Eggleston said the counseling team works directly with students, teachers, and administrative teams to determine what student interests are and we used those interests to get speakers that students will find valuable. 

Virtual exposure to career opportunities will remain an option, but Eggleston said the in-person bus tour will come back next year. 

“It provides a hands-on experience for the students in those work environments, we will also continue to bring these local professionals into classrooms during the school year as well, our goal is to consistently expose our students to various careers,” Eggleston said. “Based on the fantastic response to these online webinars, we are also looking to continue with a similar virtual tour to expand the offerings to more students. 

The series began with a webinar on a career as a professional athlete, featuring three former NFL players now affiliated with Youngstown State University: Paul McFadden, Ashton Youboty and Tim Johnson. All three played for Jim Tressel, now YSU’s president.

McFadden, now president of The YSU Foundation, was a kicker at YSU before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1984. Youboty, a new coach for the Penguins football team, played cornerback for Ohio State University before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2006.  And Johnson, director of player personnel for the YSU football program, starred as linebacker for the Penguins. He was taken by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2001.

There are a half a million collegiate athletes and fewer than 2% will make it in professional sports, but all graduates will need consistent habits, character and lifestyle skills to go pro in something. 

“You have the ability to write your own stories,” Youboty said. “I’m not here to tell you what you can and cannot do. I want you to understand you’re going to go pro in something. So, I want to  emphasize building the skill sets you need to be a professional. Somebody is going to pay  for your expertise.”

The panelists noted that the characteristics of a professional athlete are no different than any professional, which include appearance, demeanor, reliability and ethics.

While most people may think getting to the NFL is solely based on athleticism, the three former players said the ability to maintain poise, good verbal and written communication skills, being organized and accountable are much-needed traits. 

“Being involved in athletics from a young age provided such a foundation for life skills and what I’m doing today,” McFadden said. “I learned more from failures and disappointment as I did from success.”

McFadden, who was a soccer player before starting football at 19 years old, emphasized the need to be willing to try new things and not to be afraid of trying new things. Even though he didn’t start football until he was in college, he said his success was based on the core skills of habits, character, discipline and work discipline.

Youboty talked about “the iceberg illusion” when it comes to looking at professional athletes. What people see on the top is success, but they don’t see is the underside of sacrifices, good habits, failures, struggles, hard work and discipline, he said.

Johnson emphasized the importance of focusing on doing the right thing when no one is looking because it allows you to succeed when you work behind closed doors. 

 “There’s no right or wrong way, your path is your path. Creating that new lifestyle, that’s the commitment no matter what way your path takes you,” Johnson said. “The research that goes into understanding who and what you want to be in life at an early age is very key to carrying yourself like a professional your entire life. I had to become an NFL player early on in my mind to develop my mind and skill set and goal setting. So it starts now.” 

McFadden agreed, adding that as president of The YSU Foundation, staff are looking at him and what he does as a leader. 

“We’re recognized more by our habits than what we say. I realized they’re [staff] are looking at me. I have to do it right. People follow those they want to model,” McFadden said.

All three presenters said when teams are looking for players, they aren’t just looking at athleticism, but also a person’s character.

“As a professional athlete if being a competitor is not one of your characteristics, you should look to get into another profession,” Youboty said. “If you’re a competitor and you’re not competing for grades and settling for C’s and D’s, you’re not a competitor that’s not your lifestyle, that’s not who you are. You’re just an athlete. Teams want competitors.”

The importance of grades was emphasized because without grades, no matter a person’s athletic skill, students can’t play in college sports. 

“When I said you can write your own story after this. You can still change your narrative” Youboty said. “If you’ve been a kid with C’s and D’s, go to a teacher and ask, ‘how can I be a better student?’ ” 

He explained that teachers and coaches want to help those they lead to development and succeed because it makes them proud. 

“Everybody is invested in you,” Youboty said. “When are you going to invest in yourself?” 

Pictured: Taking part in the Mahoning County educational Service Center’s panel on a career in athletics are – clockwise from top left – Ashton Youboty, Paul McFadden, Mahoning County ESC counselor Jill Mayfield and Tim Johnson. All three men played college football for Jim Tressel before going to the NFL.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.