Job-Shadow Program Points Rural Youths on Path to Technology Careers

Victor Ramos (right), associate operations analyst for Enterprise Application Services, works with Andy Babcock, a Wapato High School student during a job-shadow program designed to expose rural kids to the technology field.

REDMOND, Wash, Dec. 23, 2002 —
Wapato is a Native American word for potato. And while it’s a staple crop of the small farming community of Wapato, Wash., located in the Yakima Valley, it’s not the only crop being harvested this year. A group of students who participated in an e-mail mentor program driven by Microsoft employees will be graduating from high school in the spring, armed with first-hand exposure to a variety of technology careers otherwise hard to come by in the rural areas of Eastern Washington.

“Wapato has a large agricultural community,”
says Andy Babcock, one of the graduating Wapato High School students. “Most of the population is involved with farming or the orchards.

But like many students, Babcock is interested in exploring professions other than agriculture. Thanks to the e-mail mentoring program, he and many of his peers have developed an interest in technology professions.

“The program really turned my interests toward technology and computers,” Babcock says. “Up until recently, I really wasn’t sure what specifically I wanted to focus on.”

Because most of the Wapato community is involved in agriculture, youths in Wapato aren’t often exposed to fields such as technology.

The program began after Franc Camara, founder of the Microsoft employee-mentor program and director of Small and Medium Business Competitive Strategies, visited the Wapato high school to talk about technology careers. Camara volunteers his services with a pair of non-profit agencies, Consejo and the Maana Coalition, which work to provide opportunities and services to Hispanic communities around Washington state. Camara himself grew up in Mexico and overcame hardships to develop a career in technology with Microsoft.

“When we first got involved, many of the kids from Wapato never would have thought that college was for them,”
Camara says.
“They needed to see that there are people out there with similar backgrounds who have made it.”

After the talk, students like Babcock kept in touch with Camera, and that persistent contact led Camara, along with the teacher Robyn Farup and members of Microsoft’s Hispanic community, to start the five-week e-mail mentoring program to expose the students to technology and offer advice on their education and career direction.

“Andy was one of the many students from Wapato who kept in touch with their Microsoft mentors,”
Camara says.
“He’s very interested in technology. Every few months, he’d check in. Along the way, he’s asked about classes to take and colleges he should look at. I sent him an e-mail detailing 15 different career options for someone with his interests.”

That e-mail and his experience in the program has prompted Babcock to seriously consider pursuing a career in networking and infrastructure. Through Camara’s help, Babcock was able to shadow Victor Ramos, associate operations analyst for Enterprise Application Services.

“You can read up on a job, or research it on the Internet, but you never know what it’s really about until you can experience it for yourself,”
Ramos says.
“With job shadowing, you just have to be a sponge and absorb everything. Andy’s a good example. When I was a kid, I didn’t have this type of opportunity. But I wish I did. I think it’s a wonderful program, especially for kids who are not exposed to this kind of work.”

With youths such as Babcock hungry to learn more, the job-shadow program became a natural progression.

“This is what I call building the pipeline — reaching out and touching young people one at a time,”
Camara says.
“It shows that there are many students out there, given time and mentoring, who can be on right path to success.”

You don’t have to look far to see whether this program works.

“I’ve really enjoyed this opportunity,” Babcock says. “Now’s the time where I have to make some decisions in life, and this helps clarify the choices.”

“We’re always looking for additional people to offer their names,”
Camara says.
“It’s a small sacrifice in time and energy, but the impact on someone else’s life is so big.”

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