Op-Ed: Independence High School Career Program Prepares Students for the Digital Future

It’s 10:45am on a Friday and the Zoom meeting is set up, the list of participants ready in front of him. One last check of the lighting and background, and Independence High School English teacher Will Stegeman is all geared up for the biggest event of the school year: the fourth annual Mock Interview Extravaganza.

As the participants trickle in, Stegeman admits them into the Zoom meeting and greets them with a warm “good morning” and “good to see you.”

The participants of this May 8 meeting are Independence High students of varying ages on the one hand, and volunteer interviewers from a wide range of fields on the other. Organizations such as Apple, Comerica Bank, KPMG, Stanford and Santa Clara universities have all sent representatives to lend their support.

Each student has been carefully matched with an interviewer based on their stated career interest prior to the Mock Interview Extravaganza, a demanding process that requires both patience and creativity.

The high school students have had two semesters of preparation leading up to the event. During that time, they learned about resumes, professionalism, interviewing, and other career readiness skills. They collected all of their documents, are sharply dressed, nervous, but ready to digitally meet with a professional for an interview.

One freshman said that after interviewing with her peers, it was “a little nerve-wracking” to speak with an adult, but she was also “excited to see how [she] would do.” A junior in the Academy of Finance, which Stegeman teaches at the East Side high school, said he was glad to learn the process of answering a challenging question.

“It really taught me to think on my feet,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, this mock interview event would be hosted at Independence High. With the majority of Silicon Valley schools now fully transitioned to distance learning, the event was adjusted to a digital format to give the students the opportunity to explore careers, practice job skills and receive advice from a dedicated world-wide network of professionals eager to make a difference.

At 11am on the day of the mock interviews, Stegeman officially began the first of two hour-long meetings. After a short introduction, he played a welcome video in which the process and expectations was explained. This gave time to pair the students and interviewers into their respective breakout rooms. Meanwhile, three other meetings of approximately 11 pairings each, were led by additional teachers and coordinators.

Though the move to a digital medium is necessary due to the current shelter-in-place order, Tim Nguyen, director of career services at East Side Union High School District, said he believes mock interviews are an important part of work-based learning. “Through cooperation with the Silicon Valley Organization and other industry partners, teachers … are still able to provide students with this opportunity digitally,” he explained.

After a few adjustments due to student and interviewer schedule changes, Stegeman discreetly drops in on each of the 14 interviews he moderates with video and sound off. About 40 minutes of questions common in job interviews and a final feedback session—in which the professionals review their students’ performance—conclude the hour.

Following the event, Carolyn Cooper, one of the interviewers, noted that she was impressed with the program and didn’t know what to expect since it was going to be virtual. “It’s difficult enough for adults to interview virtually, and yet this 15-year-old student hit it out of the park,” she said. “It was an easy 45-minute conversation that we could have had for another hour.”

Despite the uncertainty awaiting teachers and students when the first bell of the 2020-21 academic year sounds, Stegeman said he remains “confident in East Side teachers’ ability to meet students’ needs.”

“That’s because public school teachers are nothing if not adaptable,” he added. “I believe we will continue to find creative ways to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our students regardless of any challenges we encounter.”

Francine Sucgang is a German-American linguist who specializes in text-to-speech technology. She has covered cultural and political topics for German publications including radio, TV and print. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

3 Comments

  1. The students today having lived through the clunky digital classroom instruction and with their talent and first hand experience will make a better educational experience leading to a system transformed. Gone will be the 35 pound backpacks.

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