Virtual Mentor Mondays provide helpful opportunities for Herkimer BOCES VP-TECH students

HERKIMER – The Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School recently kicked off its third year of Mentor Mondays by hosting the meetings with mentors virtually this school year.

Mentors from local businesses in a variety of career fields will meet virtually with Herkimer BOCES VP-TECH students in grades 9-12 four times this school year to provide advice and answer questions, VP-TECH business teacher Andrew Carpenter-Brockway said.

“We are very fortunate to be able to continue offering Mentor Mondays virtually this year,” Carpenter-Brockway said. “Although we would love to be in person, this medium provides so many learning opportunities for students when it comes to video conferencing etiquette and working virtually. I believe there will be many jobs that will continue to be done virtually even after the pandemic is behind us, so it’s great that we can acclimate students to this new way of life right as they are about to enter the workforce. Additionally, students now have a professional contact aside from their teachers that they can use for references or just some extra advice.”

The first Mentor Mondays event of the 2020-21 school year took place on Monday, Nov. 2. The other meetings are scheduled for January, March and May. Students work with the same mentor throughout the school year.

Mentor Mondays started in the 2018-19 school year with in-person meetings and continued last school year. The final Mentor Mondays of the 2019-20 school year was also conducted virtually through Zoom, as all the meetings will be this school year.

“This year, in addition to being virtual, the format is slightly different,” Carpenter-Brockway said. “The mentors are assigned by grade level, and the discussion is different depending upon what grade you’re in. Soft skills are the focus for the ninth and 10th grade, while 11th grade and 12th grade are doing situational activities that lead to great discussion regarding appropriate ways to react in certain workplace situations.”

There are six mentors – with one assigned to ninth grade, two for 10th grade, one for 11th grade and two for 12th grade.

The mentors this school year are:

  • Melinda Green, architect with SMSA Architects
  • Tim Fitzgerald, associate vice president at Mohawk Valley EDGE
  • Kayla Morrill, human resources manager at Gehring-Tricot Corp.
  • Kailey Sweet, chief financial officer and co-owner of Liberty Translations
  • Paige Zupan, nursing student at Utica College
  • Mark Cushman, vice president of organizational development at Fiber Instrument Sales

Green, Fitzgerald, Morrill and Cushman are returning mentors, and organizers are very happy that they have been able to keep most of the mentors from the start of the program in 2018, Carpenter-Brockway said. This year, two new mentors were added based on student feedback: Sweet and Zupan.

Sweet is a graduate of the Herkimer BOCES Information Technology Academy program that Carpenter-Brockway taught at the time Sweet was a student. Through Herkimer BOCES, Sweet obtained multiple credits from Herkimer College in business administration and went on to complete that degree. She now is the co-owner of Liberty Translations, in Utica, which provides interpreting and translating services for multiple languages, Carpenter-Brockway said.

“We are really proud of her accomplishments and glad to have her here mentoring our students,” Carpenter-Brockway said.

Zupan, a graduate of Hamilton College who went on to do some consulting for a nonprofit in New York City for a year, is now a nursing student at Utica College. As a current college student, she has a lot of insight to offer on the transition from high school to college and beyond, Carpenter-Brockway said.

“She actually already has a bachelor’s degree and realized after obtaining it that it wasn’t what she wanted to do, so now she is pursuing a career in nursing,” Carpenter-Brockway said.

During the Nov. 2 Mentor Mondays event, there were six virtual breakout sessions, and Zupan spoke with ninth-graders. She said she has always wanted to do mentoring, and she had all of the students introduce themselves, name their career interests and give a fun fact about themselves.

“Hopefully, we can connect my experiences with something you’re trying to do,” she said.

Zupan spoke to students about body language and facial expressions that can make a difference when interviewing for or just starting a job.

At the end of the session, she asked students to name takeaways they had from the discussion. Answers included don’t roll your eyes, don’t act too shy, maintain eye contact, keep positive facial expressions and don’t cross your arms.

“You might come off as a closed-off person, and that’s not something you want,” Zupan said.

Carpenter-Brockway also shared a story about eye contact from his work in real estate that another more experienced broker once pointed out to him that he looked to the side when talking due to a lack of confidence. It initially made him feel a combination of embarrassed, angry and upset, but ultimately proved to be valuable advice, he said.

“However, that helped me so much,” Carpenter-Brockway said. “Try to make good eye contact. It’s very important.”

Zupan also discussed virtual etiquette, which she said is also known as “netiquette,” such as when to mute yourself or not and that you should still look presentable.

Another piece of advice she gave was about learning how to act when first starting a job. If you’re not sure what to do, you can be an observer and see what your co-workers do, she said.

“That can kind of guide your actions too and what’s appropriate or inappropriate,” she said.

Zupan also advised that when you meet someone new, you should repeat the person’s name out loud when responding. “That repetition will help you remember that person’s name,” she said.

Edited screenshot of a Zoom call with Paige Zupan and VP-TECH students