Technology has permeated the lives of young people since birth. But while high-tech is important for their futures, so, too, is the personal touch.
Both were on display the evening of July 31, as AHC Inc. hosted more than 80 students living in its apartment communities for a technology-centric career night.
In a round-robin format – think of it as speed-dating meets networking – the students (from middle-schoolers through college-age) had the chance to interact with those in a wide array of high-tech fields.
The event drew two to three times the number of participants than had been expected when it was first announced. And they came prepared.
“We get to meet a lot of people,” said Ju Lin, a rising junior at Washington-Liberty High School who lives at the Woodbury Park garden-style apartment community in Courthouse. She was there to learn how technology plays into her plan to study pre-med in college.
“It’s a chance to learn more about the area I want to get into,” Lin said.
Fellow Washington-Liberty student Michelle Rojas, whose family lives in the Harvey Hall community and who plans to study psychology, also was ready to “network and make connections.”
Angel Lopez, who lives at Woodbury Park and is studying special education at Marymount University, said technology had permeated all career fields, and is being used by teachers to find ways to connect with special-needs students.
Given just five-minute sessions at each table, Lopez had come with a plan of attack to make the most of the allotted face-to-face time with professionals.
“I’m going to let them introduce themselves first, learn from them – then ask questions,” he said.
Waiting at the various tables were representatives of a host of businesses and government agencies, from Amazon and MasterCard Services to the federal Department of Homeland Security and Punch Digital Strategies.
While some of those waiting to speak with students looked like prototypical “techies,” others showed just how vast the technology explosion had reached across the workforce.
“I set out to be the black Walt Disney, but I had to play the bills,” said Mandla “Kosi” Dunn, who parlayed his various interests into a self-created major (transmedia storytelling) at the University of Maryland College Park and works as a freelance arts educator and at Artlab, an art studio for teens run by the Smithsonian Institution.
(Dunn was not the only mentor of the night who heard the phrase “How much do you earn?” from the students. It was not a shy group.)
One table over from Dunn was B.K. Gogia, president of Affirm Logic Corp., who had careers with Lockheed Martin and SAIC before launching a number of his own tech firms.
Gogia told the participants that while he had made his way in the tech industry, he didn’t push his children in any specific direction.
“I want them to do whatever they want to make them happy,” he said.
Playing the role of timekeeper at the event (held at the Gates of Ballston apartment community) was Laura Jackson, AHC’s volunteer coordinator. Like clockwork, she would ring-a-ding the bell every five minutes and prod participants to move to the next table.
“I’m really excited. We’ve got a lot to cover,” she said at the start of the event.
The career night was just one of a number of programs in AHC’s expanding resident-services program. Many of them are geared toward students.
The night’s format – interspersed with pizza from Paisano’s and chocolate-chip cookies – was a chance for students like Felipe Caceres to reach out to those they soon will join in the professional world.
“It’s a lot of networking, a lot of contact,” said Caceres, a Virginia Gardens resident and Wakefield High School graduate who is pursuing criminal-justice studies at Northern Virginia Community College. “I think it’s good.”
For those with a few years to go before heading out into the workaday world, the goals were much the same.
A year ago, Sosan Marshet was living in Ethiopia. Now, she is a bubbly rising senior at Washington-Liberty who plans to study computer science.
“I’m open to knowing everything,” the Harvey Hall resident said of the opportunities moving to the United States offered.