Dylan Wolfe thought he had a plan. Now he knows he has a plan.
Wolfe, a Smith-Cotton High junior who will graduate a year early in May, already serves in the Missouri National Guard and has been accepted into the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. Although he is still a rather young man, Wolfe said he has experienced “quite a few deaths in my family.”
“I have always wanted to do some kind of human service, to help people,” he told me. “I have been interested in the funeral industry. … I know what it is like to be in that situation and need someone to help you and I want to be there for those families.”
Wolfe spent the past week working at Rea Funeral Chapel as part of the Sedalia FIT (Forty-hour Internship Tryout) Program, which gives local high school students real-life experience in their fields of interest.
“I was kind of conflicted about where I wanted to go,” said Wolfe, who was considering studying criminal justice or pre-medical. “Doing this internship has made me think about doing what other people haven’t done. … I have already helped some families this week; that has really opened up my mind to going somewhere other than UCM.”
Smith-Cotton senior Elix Simon had a similar revelation during her internship this week at Bryant Motors.
“I want to go into sales but I never would have expected to go into car sales,” Simon said. “But after this week, seeing how everything is run, it is a really fun thing to do. … You can learn stuff from a book all you want, but to really get to know things you have to have a hands-on experience, you have to see it in person.”
Business teacher Amanda Harvey coordinates Smith-Cotton’s participation in Sedalia FIT, which also serves Sacred Heart School students. Interested students submit applications, participate in an interview day and complete a left brain-right brain survey devised by FIT creator Ed Watkins to match their talents and interests with corresponding occupations.
“We want to make sure that the career they have in mind is actually a good fit for them,” Harvey said. The students are then paired with one of the more than 150 area businesses that have agreed to provide internship opportunities. Since last spring, 75 Smith-Cotton students have gone on FIT internships and most have had their career choices validated.
“We have had students experience it both ways,” Harvey said. “They find out ‘this career is exactly what I want to do’ then they are excited to further their education on that path. Or they get a realization that that career is not what they thought it was and they need to look into something else. It is so valuable that they find that out now before they pursue that career path.”
Sedalia FIT is a pilot program, and what is happening here has drawn interest from school districts and communities across the state, as well as from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We think that every community in the country should do what we are doing here for every high school student,” Watkins said. “The great thing about it is the employers are so receptive to this.”
The students are, as well. Tyler Thompson aspires to be a history professor, so he spent the week at State Fair Community College with Prof. Michael Davis. Thompson said the experience “reinforced what I thought about what a college teacher is, about how there is less interaction with the students themselves and more providing in-depth knowledge.” He also learned how time-consuming grading papers can be.
Rachael Meyer hopes to own her own bakery. She has been accepted at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where she will study baking and pastry along with restaurant and business management. Her time this week at Smallcakes gave her insights into aspects of the business that she had not considered, including inventory needs and how much time and effort the business requires. It also drove home that, “This is exactly what I want to do.”
Meyer is considering doing another internship during the final quarter of the school year to see if there is any other field she might have more interest in. The opportunity to test those waters is what makes the FIT program so valuable for our community.
“It really does open your eyes to what you need for your future,” Meyer said.
Simon was a bit intimidated when she started her week at Bryant Motors, but she got past that quickly thanks to the helpful staff.
“I am using what I have learned today and seeing how people are successful here,” she said. “I can use that every day to transition into my future.”
Wolfe is scouting out funeral director and mortuary science programs in Missouri and elsewhere. Because he is a member of the Missouri National Guard, his tuition will be covered at schools within state boundaries. Once he has his degree, he will face a couple of state-level exams and a year’s apprenticeship. Thanks to his internship, he is confident he is on the right path.
“I didn’t know which way I wanted to go,” Wolfe said. “The FIT internship program … allows you to actually work in the field that you want to be in for that week. It gives you a taste of what it is like. (My internship) helped finalize my decision of what I want to do with my life.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.