Will Students Create Their Future Here or Leave?

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The future is now for dozens of middle school students who shared their lofty aspirations that begin with at least a college degree in pursuit of careers that might or might not keep their talents here.

The consensus among the students is to attend college (after first getting their driver’s licenses, they hasten to point out) and graduate from high school. 

Students in grades five to eight participated in panel discussions The Business Journal hosted as part of the program Brain Gain: Building a Culture of Entrepreneurship and Workforce Development. Students from Brookfield, Campbell and its Impact Academy, East Palestine and Springfield shared their insights on what it will take to stop the outmigration of young talent. 

The Mahoning County Educational Service Center helped organize the panels. School principals and/or teachers chose the participants. At Brookfield, names were announced for students to see the principal. 

“I had no idea what it was about,” says eighth grader Justin Budnik. “I thought I was in trouble.”

College wasn’t the only choice presented to students. A few, and at some panels none, indicated they wanted to pursue a career in the trades. Asked if they knew what jobs in skilled trades meant, some students were puzzled. 

Jacob Hodge, a sixth grade student from Brookfield was brave enough to admit he wasn’t sure what “the trades” meant.

“I honestly thought you were talking about trading objects like a bicycle or something,” he says to laughter.

A majority of students aspire to work in health care, specifically as a doctor. Most have already chosen a specialty such as brain surgeon, cardiologist, pediatrician or anesthesiologist. Other students hope to become veterinarians, teachers, engineers and lawyers or professional athletes.

Alivia Miranda

Those choices mirrored results from a national survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Zety. The poll of 2,000 Americans showed that childhood dreams of older generations were to be doctors, teachers, veterinarians, professional athletes, police officers and movie stars or artists. 

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents reported not fulfilling their childhood dream job. Statistics are worse for becoming a doctor. According to Dr. John Collins, chemistry professor at Princeton University, nearly 140,000 freshmen in the United States are on premedicine study paths, but only about 17% earn admission to medical school.

Statistics aside, students say their dreams aren’t limited by someone else’s definition. They appear to subscribe to Walt Disney’s philosophy, “If you’re going to dream, dream big.”

Increased access to classes aimed at science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, are important and have significant benefits, students say. 

Alivia Miranda, a seventh grader at Campbell’s Impact Academy, likes how STEM classes challenge her to do more to reach her goals.

“I always wanted to be a brain surgeon. Math and science are really important, and honestly, schooling is very important if we want to be who we want to be when we grow up in our careers,” she says. 

Brianne Carnahan, in the fifth grade, Springfield, agrees. “I feel like when you do STEM, rather than just read from a book, you’re more plugged in and focused. So that way your mind can fully grasp it further,” she says. 

Amaya Abeid likes STEM learning because she’s a visual learner. The Springfield sixth grader says the experience is opening her mind to other career possibilities. 

In every school panel, a couple of students timidly confess they aren’t sure what they want to do. Body language, such as partially raised hands, seemed to suggest their discomfort of straying from the group dynamic of going to college.

Evidence of conformity sprung up after hearing numerous classmates talk about wanting to become doctors. Career interests became fluid, switching from a general interest in health care or nursing to possibly becoming a doctor. Some students say they aren’t sure why they gravitate to medicine other than they want to help people. 

A number of students pointed to family members as being the inspiration behind their career choices. 

East Palestine’s Mackenzie Parker is interested in health care, probably nursing. Her mother works at a hospital as a radiology technician. 

Rylee Hoover, a sixth grader, says her mother is her role model.

Amaya Abeid

“She started as an RN [registered nurse] and worked her way up. Now she has a really important job where she works,” Hoover says.

Abeid was inspired by watching her cousin use her laptop to create designs; she’s leaning toward a career in graphic design and photography.

For Brookfield’s Hodge and seventh grader Yusef Rasoul, their true aspirations are in conflict with – or not fully supported by – their parents. 

Despite a passion to race supercross professionally, Hodge says he doesn’t discuss it with his parents.

“Because I already know what they’re going to say. ‘Bull crap. You’re never going to do that,’ ” he predicts. Asked why he thinks that would be their response? “I just know. That’s how they are.”

If supercross doesn’t work out, he wants to be a news reporter. “It seems fun,” he says.

Rasoul wishes Brookfield offered cooking classes. He lights up when he talks about a culinary career. “My parents told me I’m not  going to make any money doing  that,” he says. But he says cooking is still an option for him because he enjoys it.

Despite little interest in trade skills, several students are already doing mechanical work, welding and construction projects at home.

The mention of welding caught Justin Budnik’s attention. He’s already doing some welding at home, which he started learning a year or two ago, he says. The most recent project was a gift he made for his mother on Mother’s Day.

Yusef Rasoul

“It was this flower holder,” he says. “It said, ‘I love mom.’ I made a heart with a plasma cutter and cut it out.”

Budnik’s father, who currently runs heavy equipment but used to work as a welder, taught Justin how to weld, he says.

The eighth grader also rides motocross and has ridden with Hodge,  he says. He works on his bike and races competitively. If racing professionally doesn’t work out, he’d like to work in construction or be a farmer, he says.

Students were mixed on whether they plan to stay in the area or leave for study or work. Campbell seventh grader Dezire Smith believes she needs to leave the area for better career opportunities.

Smith wants to study crime scene investigation and believes in some situations “people don’t do the correct approach. I feel like I could possibly help improve that,” she says. However, she feels she would find more opportunities for an in-depth science education, as well as jobs, by leaving the state after high school.

“I’ve been in Ohio all my life, so I think it would be interesting to go out and have more opportunities,” she says.

Dezire Smith

Campbell’s Miranda is already investigating other places to attend college to pursue brain surgery, including Michigan and South Carolina. While she cares about her family, she’d rather leave “just to start over” with new opportunities.

Others say they want to go away for school but expect to return, possibly as entrepreneurs. 

Brookfield’s Christian Davis wants to go away to college with hopes of a professional football career. If football doesn’t work out, he says he’ll probably come back and work with his father, who works in construction. Davis says his father has taught him some skills from an early age, but his passion is football.

Impact Academy eighth grader Jeremy Hainsworth wants to be a software engineer and video game designer. He plans to leave the area for college, but would like to return if possible.

While he’s skeptical about opportunities in the Mahoning Valley for software designers, he is open to the idea of starting his own business to provide jobs in his field.

Mihali Koullias, a seventh grader at Impact Academy, aspires to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, performing heart transplants.

“I’m going to college somewhere else and then come back here and open up my own business,” Koullias says. “To make my own place would be cool and I could be close to my family.”

For many of the students, now is the time to plan the future. But life and circumstances will change by the time these students graduate. For now, Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote is timeless. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Pictured: Brookfield students take part in a Brain Gain panel hosted by The Business Journal.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.