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In roundtable discussions, PUSD alumni share their paths to fulfilling careers

By Cary Dingel

Special to Plumas News

[email protected]


Plumas Unified School District recently hosted three Young Alumni roundtables attended by former PUSD graduates who have chosen careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

Hosted by PUSD instructional coach and project coordinator Susan Frediani, these 30-minute sessions present an opportunity for students, teachers, and families to learn about our graduates’ unique paths to these fulfilling careers.

Frediani says, “We chose to focus on alumni in STEM careers because there is high need for workers in those fields. These are challenging, interesting, well paid jobs that can provide fulfilling lifestyles.”  Code.org (a nonprofit advocate of increased computer science education) states currently in California there are 55,637 open computer science jobs with an average salary of $115,754.

Learn how these former students found their passions both during high school and after graduation, and hear the advice they have for current students as they prepare themselves for a changing world filled with lifelong learning opportunities.

Lifelong learning was a common thread running through the conversations. From environmental planner Kendal Hicks to medical student Garrett Hagwood – both graduates of Quincy Jr/Sr High School (QJSHS) – being curious and exploring new skills and ideas was deemed an important career perk, and a practice that started in high school.

Rachel Hanna, a 2016 graduate of QJSHS, said that the efforts in high school to build time management skills helped her successfully gain a degree in computer science, and has been crucial during Covid in her position as a computer programmer as she works from home.

QJSHS alumnus Andrew Murphy said learning to build relationships with a diverse group of people while in high school has been key to his success as a registered nurse working in critical care transport. Ian Mahaffey, graduate of Chester Jr/Sr High School, agreed that much of his work as a civil engineer in land development hinges on successful teamwork, which he said he learned early on in high school.

Teachers who encouraged students to push themselves academically were remembered as strong influences on our graduates. Portola Jr/Sr High (PJSHS) alumni Damien Whittemore and Kelsey Michael Nelson both credited long-time PJSHS math teacher Mr. Womack with providing them with the strong math background needed to pursue careers in engineering. Anthony Braddick and Justin Sipe, QJSHS alumni, pointed to their high school math classes with Mr. Hintz as first steps on their career paths, Braddick in computer programming and Sipe in mechanical engineering.

All agreed that while in high school, it was the struggle to overcome obstacles that provided some of the most long-term lessons on how to succeed. Learning early how to persist in a difficult class teaches problem solving skills that translate to college success, and a fulfilling career.

The panelists discussed how students may be successful in any of these career paths as long as they have a passion for the field and a strong work ethic. Some panelists described how they had to retake a challenging class or learn a new way to study. Others talked about overcoming the cost of education by leveraging the multiple scholarships available to help pay for their schooling. All agreed that the perceived barriers can be overcome with focus and determination.

Are you (or do you know) a recent PUSD graduate in a STEM career? We want to hear from you! Please contact Susan Frediani at [email protected] to learn more about being a part of the Young Alumni Roundtable project. It’s a great opportunity to be a positive role model for students, and share your career path with the community.

To watch the Young Alumni Roundtable episodes, visit Plumas Unified School District’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIJqbrKzUOT1eEeUoLXkKGve7S_d7RX5z

PUSD alumni in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields Rachel Hanna (computer programmer), Ian Mahffey (civil engineer), and Andrew Murphy (critical care transport registered nurse) describe the different paths they each took to a fulfilling career.
Episode 1 of the Young Alumni Roundtables features medical student Garrett Hagwood, environmental planner Kendal Hicks, and engineer Damian Whittemore. The panelists met over video conference with PUSD Instructional Coach and Project Coordinator Susan Frediani.
In Episode 3 of the Young Alumni Roundtables, panelists share what they do in their jobs. Justin Sipe, a mechanical engineer, designs gym equipment structures. Anthony Braddick is a programmer at Facebook working to mitigate malicious activity, and Kelsey Michael Nelson works with medical robots in her job as an engineer.



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