Collage of screenshots of six people during virtual Mentor Monday

This version of Mentor Mondays was different.

Instead of meeting in groups face-to-face with mentors from local businesses like usual, students in the Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School viewed a live-streamed virtual panel discussion among some of the mentors from the current and previous school year.

Student-submitted questions generated the discussion, which largely focused on various aspects of the impact the coronavirus public health crisis has had on businesses and school. Topics included how to concentrate while working or studying at home, pros and cons of working from home, how the businesses have helped others during this time, how hiring practices have changed, if businesses expect an influx of applications after the crisis and how students should spend any extra time they now have to prepare for entering college or the workforce.

One of the mentors, Kayla Morrill, human resources manager at Gehring-Tricot Corp., said she has taken many online college classes, and that could become more common going forward, so she recommended that students stay resilient and prepare to continue adapting how they learn.

“I think the important thing right now is to remain flexible for students,” she said. “Get comfortable with your technology, get used to doing webinars, and learn as much as you can about all the changing things that are happening right now.”

The VP-TECH program at Herkimer BOCES launched Mentor Mondays during the 2018-19 school year and has continued it during the 2019-20 school year. This was the first virtual Mentor Monday, and students also have been encouraged to reach out to mentors via email during this time.

VP-TECH focuses on technology, project-based learning and real-world work situations. Students can spend four to six years in the program to earn a Regents diploma, an associate degree in quality assurance from Herkimer College for free, a certification in advanced manufacturing and connections with local businesses.

VP-TECH business teacher Andrew Carpenter hosted the virtual Mentor Monday along with Herkimer BOCES School to Careers liaison and work-based learning coordinator MaryBeth Napolitano, School to Careers school counselor Rebecca Roberts, VP-TECH Coordinator Danielle Monahan, VP-TECH school counselor Adam Bombard, VP-TECH English Language Arts teacher Samantha Wahl, VP-TECH science teacher Megan VanEvera and VP-TECH mathematics teacher David Wasson. 

In addition to Morrill, the mentors for the panel discussion included:

  • Alicia Brockway, vice president and senior commercial banking relationship manager at NBT Bank
  • David Paciello, broker/owner at One Realty Partners
  • Rick Short, Indium Corp. director of marketing communications
  • Tim Fitzgerald, associate vice president of economic development at Mohawk Valley EDGE

For concentrating at home, Brockway suggested working or studying in a room you won’t get too distracted in. For her, that means being away from the kitchen and laundry room. She also makes a checklist of priorities for what she needs to get done.

Adaptability and flexibility are important traits to have when adjusting to working or studying from home, Brockway said.

As things continue to change quickly and everyone learns what the next steps will be, Brockway recommends students follow current events closely.

“Just basically staying in tune with the news – I think that’s going to be key,” she said.

Morrill, who was working from Gehring-Tricot during the panel discussion, said the company’s manufacturing of textiles was deemed essential. When she is working from home, one thing she does to help her children stay focused on studies is to have a jar of treats they can choose from after completing a class or an assignment – and it also works for her, she said.

Carpenter said one thing he does to help himself work from home is to get up and get ready for work the same way he would when driving to Herkimer BOCES even though his commute is now only a matter of walking from room to room.

“I still try to keep the same routine, and I think that’s important,” he said.

Napolitano said one benefit for students of learning from home via video conferencing is that it helps them develop soft skills such as communication.

“I think we’re all resilient, and I think we’re going to come out better in this,” she said.

Paciello said pros of working from home include having more flexibility and saving about an hour per day on commute time for him. A con is getting distracted, but he tries to stay task-oriented.

“Write don’t everything that you’ve got to do, and go at it one step at a time – or systematically,” he said. “That’s probably the simplest way to go about your school work or projects or whatever it is you’re working on.”

Paciello said students should use some free time to do research related to the career field they’re interested in and see what companies in that sector are looking for in employees.

Short said adjusting to working or learning from home has to be looked at as a completely new thing in order to be successful – otherwise it’s like being a scuba diver for years, and one day, somebody just put you on a basketball court in your snorkel and swimming fins.

“If you approach it the same way, you’re going to fail,” Short said. “It’s not the same game.”

Short said pros of working from home include peacefulness and fewer disruptions, so he can dive deeper into things he’s working on. Cons include not crossing paths with others and having that help spark ideas of things you want to accomplish.

Fitzgerald said pros of working from home include the flexibility, having fewer meetings that are unproductive, realizing how much of his work can be done from home and being around his wife and son more. Cons include distractions and a lag in communication when you can’t walk down the hall to talk to a co-worker.

He recommended finding a quiet place to work – for him, a spare bedroom – and if you get distracted easily, write down and display rules for yourself such as that you won’t open a web browser or check social media until you complete certain tasks.

Fitzgerald said there’s going to be a lot of people needing jobs when things start re-opening, but he expects the foundations of the economy to still be strong.

He recommended that students spend some of the extra time they might have watching videos of career-related topics that interest them and getting a better idea of what they want to do in the real world. “Don’t kind of just rest on your laurels and use it as a vacation,” he said. “Do some reflection.”