Inside Seven
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Students are greeted by a gigantic banner welcoming them to Job Shadow Day.

Mentors Welcome High School Students Into Their Offices
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 04/2009

Forty two students from Franklin and Wilson high schools visit District 7 for the 2009 Job Shadow Day event.

With the economy threatening some of the jobs traditionally obtained by students right out of high school, this year’s annual District 7 Job Shadow Day, held on March 4, was particularly relevant.

The event brings local high school students to the District 7 offices to observe, or “shadow,” Caltrans employees at their jobs and to see firsthand the type of work performed by the Department.

Previous such events, part of the district’s Mentoring Program, have only involved Franklin High School. This year, 12 students from Wilson High School participated, bringing the total number of students attending to 42.

At the welcoming ceremony, District Director Doug Failing joked that “I can tell whatever training you’ve gotten already, you’re ready to hit the professional ranks of the organization, because you all sat in the back, just like our own employees.” Stepping out into the audience, he told the students that the day marked an important point for them. “You are so far ahead of so many people your age just by being here today,” Failing said, adding that many new jobs resulting from the federal stimulus program would be created in the transportation field.

External Affairs Deputy Deborah Roberson, under whose leadership the program was developed, commented on the “healthy rivalry” between the two schools. “I would love to keep track over the years of which of you two sends the most graduates to Caltrans, Franklin or Wilson,” she said. Robertson also informed the students about the upcoming Construction Careers Day on May 7, in which the district is partnering with the construction industry, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and various other organizations to highlight the range of jobs available in the construction and transportation industries.

The students also heard from Reneta Tyson, Development Director for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The organization administers many scholarships that are open to all races and ethnicities, she said, adding that it is important for students to maintain high grades so they can take advantage of these opportunities. Tyson suggested looking into what historically have been considered Black colleges and universities because they have excellent reputations, relatively low tuition costs and generous scholarships.

Mentors also were invited to speak. Art Salazar, a Wilson alum, is a transportation engineer in the Design Division. “I graduated in 1975, back before your parents were born,” he said. “These opportunities were not available when I was there and I wish they would have been.” He encouraged the students to “hang in there and make your families proud.”

Bahar Bakhtar, a transportation engineer in Project Management, had a few words directed to the female students. “When I was younger, I loved the arts, piano, I was a great dancer, I loved to paint, I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to do all those beautiful things that some of you have in mind.” But because of her father’s influence, she was familiar with engineering and has never regretted pursuing it. “I think you should stay with your dreams but you should also have something concrete.”

Following the opening remarks, students went to look at Adaptive Transportation Management Systems, Adaptive Signals and Survey Equipment before beginning to shadow their mentors.

Iqbal Qazi, with the district’s Local Assistance office, brought his students up to his 12-floor office after the organized activities. “I showed them around, introduced them to my colleagues, and tried to impress upon them the importance of what we do,” Qazi said. He also showed them a picture of three very accomplished young adults, his daughter, a pre-med student at UCSD and two sons, both USC graduates. “I told the students to go to their parents, their peers, their mentors. Aim high.”

Three students shadowed Marcia Graves, of the Public Affairs office. She took them to the Design unit on the 8th floor, to Right of Way mapping and to the Graphics Services office, where Graphic Designer III Monica Murillo showed them some of her projects. They also toured the Public Affairs and Media Relations office and visited District Director Doug Failing, who spoke to them about Caltrans’ goals and vision.

“They (the students) didn’t realize we did so many things, so it was really an eye-opener for them,” Graves said. “They want to see more.” And they will. Planning is currently underway for them to tour the Traffic Management Center (TMC).

After a District-provided lunch of (what else?) pizza, the students returned to their schools, informed and, hopefully, inspired.

Marcia Graves (top row, second from left, of Public Affairs, leads a bunch of students on a tour of the 13th floor offices. United Negro College Fund (UNCF)Development Director Reneta Tyson tells students about scholarship opportunities. James Deno, of the Equal Employment Opportunity )EEO) office, is a Franklin High School alum and head of the district's high school mentoring program. All of the participants group together in the District 7 Museum for a photo.