By Dana Guzzetti
"I found out that I can take college classes in high school, so I will not have to take them in college," said Reshma Potluri. The middle school student was one of about 200 students her age that came with their parents to the fourth annual Cool Nite to get a jump on college and career options and strategies.
Unlike most of the students, Reshma already knows she wants to become a physician so she focused on finding the best academic path, strategies for college acceptance and financing.
At the event at Cal State East Bay-Concord, students perused tables laden with brochures and pamphlets, filling immense Contra Costa County Office of Education bags with information. Families conversed with current college students, counselors and career professionals or attended some of the 13 workshop presentations.
"Kids are getting into this global thing," said Candace Morton, a Center for Cultural Interchange representative. "They see that to be a leader, they need to learn a foreign language."
A noticeable number of students with their families already spoke a foreign language, as well as English.
There was a strong emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-oriented careers and one of the most popular exhibits was a series of chemistry experiments conducted by current Diablo Valley College students for the curious middle schoolers.
Kids walked out of Damon Tighe's DNA Scientist Workshop wearing a DNA necklace around their necks. Each collected their own DNA and placed it in a small tube while Tighe informed them that anyone interested in where DNA research will lead is incredibly lucky to live in the Bay Area, where the genome code was first broken.
Naming cutting- edge DNA-related business locations such as Foster City and Emeryville in the Bay Area, he said, "You are at ground zero. Right now, DNA is being used for research in biofuels and so many other kinds of research."
Tighe's enthusiasm for work on the code and his current research at Bio-Rad Labs in Hercules was obviously infectious, as students cautiously used a stem tube to remove their separated DNA from a larger tube, insert it into the tiny amulet, install a cork and put it around their necks with pride.
Information about careers with Sunpower, Chevron, John Muir Health, trade unions and other companies gave kids an idea about well-paid professions to which their STEM class studies could lead.
Physical therapist Chris Stieger-Maguire told students about her 27-year career, explained what education is needed, and answered questions about more than 30 other career choices in the medical field, many of which do not require more than a two-year associate degree.
There was information on the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) "Career Technical Education," featuring career paths that start in high school and lead to entry-level employment in the Bay Area.
These courses of study are offered at various high schools and include preparation for work in the arts and media, engineering and design, finance and business, information technology, marketing and sales, transportation and more. (www.cocoschools.org/rop).
UC scientist Tiffany Ho said, "A lot of people are inquiring about a career in science at a younger age, even sixth- and seventh-graders. Kids are doing the work, getting the grades and then their parents lose their jobs and they can't go."
Dan Evertsz told his workshop audience how advanced planning can help deal with financial limitations and how to get into a good college.
"You have to know what schools have to offer and what they require," he said. "You need three things: 200-300 hours of community service, a high GPA and high test scores."
Evertsz elaborated on the importance of matching student strengths to what particular colleges are looking for in a student applicant.
"You also need to be able to write a good essay," he said.
Evertsz works for The College Money Pro, which charges a fee for matching students with schools and financial aid sources. Students and families can do that on their own, however it requires serious research because conditions in the higher education marketplace are constantly changing.
College-age Laura Ziegler was there talking to girls about self-leadership and assertiveness at the Girls Leadership Institute exhibit. She was representing her father, Jeff Zeigler, who she said founded the camp based on his experience raising girls.
"In a nonjudgmental camp setting, a girl can step away from the goal models we see in the media. 'Girlie' girls and tomboys will be equally comfortable," Laura said.
There was information available about the 2012 Science Olympiad, Holy Names College, greenheart travel's student Travel Abroad program, Contra Costa Building & Construction Trades Career Pathways and more.