Astronauts, authors and judges, oh my!

by Town Reminder

Astronauts, authors and judges, oh my!
Local professionals offer advice to MESMS students during career day

By Jason Cook
Turley Publications Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – A number of successful businessmen and women residing in South Hadley and the surrounding area came to speak to students at Michael E. Smith Middle School on March 11.
One would be hard pressed to find a more diverse cast of characters speaking in various classrooms throughout the day. It reads like the start of a bad joke: a scientist, an author, three engineers, an astronaut and judge walk into a middle school … and that’s just a few examples of those kind enough to offer some words of wisdom to these burgeoning minds.
It was difficult to see Dan Barry’s name on the list of expected speakers and not be intrigued – the man has been in space, after all. And who didn’t dream of walking on the moon when they were younger? Barry told his story – which was one of constant rejection. He applied to NASA nearly every year for 14 years before finally being accepted, at age 38. His message was a clear one: don’t give up on your dreams. “I was embarrassed to tell people,” Barry admitted of his desire to go into space. “I dreamed about it for as long as I can remember. It’s not enough to have a dream – you have to force it to come true.”
He described what it feels like to be in space as “just like training, only you have magic powers.” Barry chronicled the hijinks he and the crew partook in when gravity was not an issue, including playing Quidditch – the not-so-fictional game from the Harry Potter book series. He detailed drinking orange juice as it formed in a globe in front of him and his floating hands hitting himself in the face as he slept.
And while these stories surely delighted the children, Barry’s speech featured as much advice as it did whimsy. He said many children his age wanted to be astronauts in grade school, so it was acceptable. But as he entered high school, he was told to be more realistic. “It’s easy to believe those people,” he said, referring to those who told him he couldn’t get into NASA for any number of reasons. “But I’ve found those are the ones whose dreams didn’t come true.”
Barry asked the students what their professional hopes were and tried to give as much help as he could. “Do you know any police officers?” he asked a student who aspired to become one. “If you want to be something, go find someone who does that. Talk with them, spend time with them.”
Whether they aspired to become athletes, movie stars or doctors, Barry encouraged the students to chase their dreams. “You can’t just sit around and wait for it,” he said.
And while Barry knew his dream from a young age and caught it, the road to one’s career is not always clear. Jill Hambley, vice president of marketing at Hasbro Games – the company behind Monopoly, Life, Battleship, Pictionary and dozens of other popular board games – did not originally go to school for her career. “I went to school to be an accountant,” she said.
Hambley offered insight into advertising, stressing that it is just as important consumers know about a product as the product itself. “When you walk into a store, we want to make sure you see [our games],” she said. She also explained “consumer insight,” a process her company used to improve a popular game of theirs. “Who’s heard of Connect Four?” she asked, followed by many hands shooting up. Hambley explained that while the game is great – simple, easy, but strategic – it was not being played by families, as it is only for two people. “So we made a four-player version.”
She left these words for the students: “What you decide you want to do in high school [or] college may not be what you end up doing.”
Retail manager may not be a job an 11-year-old could explain, but David King, a JCPenny manager, managed to describe it well. He spoke about people skills, “which you guys practice every day at lunch, in group projects” and organization. “You guys just had a science project. Who here started it during the last two weeks?” he asked. Of course, reluctant hands went up, and King explained planning and foresight were a part of his job.
The creative fields were also represented during career day. Sandra Costello is a professional photographer who specializes in weddings and portraiture. Her love affair with photographs started in high school, where she took a photo and had it published in a local newspaper. “I was 16,” she said, an age not too far away for these South Hadley youngsters.
Costello explained that she works mostly out of her home, maintaining a website, processing her photos digitally and working on her portfolios. When asked by a student how many pictures she’s taken in her professional life, guesses of one hundred or one thousand were yelled out. “Maybe a million,” Costello corrected, to the shock of the students. Her advice for budding photographers: “Try to look up – it’s amazing what you’ll find.”
Michael E. Smith Middle School Principal Erica Faginski-Stark was pleased with the day’s event and grateful local professionals could come and share some insight. “It was a fabulous experience, for both the students and staff,” said Faginski-Stark. She feels like middle school is the perfect age for kids to at least start thinking about careers, about what they may want to do.
“There was a wide range of information for the kids,” she said. “Our job is to foster who they want to become.”