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A CLOSE LOOK AT CAREERS

Fourteen-year-old Betsy Hansen thinks being an interpreter for the deaf would be a pretty neat job.

Katie Cassidy, 13, is eyeing a career as a veterinary technician.

Betsy and Katie learned about these and other careers as members of Choices: Career Institute for Young Women, a summer program designed to expose them to high-paying or non-traditional career paths for women.

"I definitely have a better understanding of what I want to do when I grow up," Katie said.

The Choices program was created four years ago when federal grants became available to help correct gender inequality in the workplace. Local organizers decided the best way to do that is to expose girls to many careers at an early age. That way, they have time to tailor their remaining education to their career pursuits.

"We hope the girls will be more focused in the high school courses they take rather than just taking electives that fit into their schedules or the ones their friends are taking," said Carol Hanson, a Choices teacher from Tarpon Springs High School. "We want them to take (classes) that can apply later."

Hanson teaches a group of Choices students in a classroom at the Pinellas Technical Education Center near Largo. Beth Gerber, a teacher from Dixie Hollins High School, works with another group in southern Pinellas County at St. Petersburg Junior College. While in the classroom, the Choices students learn about self-sufficiency, self-esteem and decision-making. The students are entering ninth or 10th grade.

The 16 girls in the program take field trips to educational facilities and career conferences during the three-week program. At PTEC, they were told about occupations in marine mechanics, commercial art and precision machine making. At Lockheed Martin Specialty Components in Largo, the girls were exposed to chemistry, computer and engineering careers. And at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, they talked to marine biologists.

"These places have donated time and sometimes even lunch. They've been very generous," said Jen Day Shaw, special populations coordinator with the junior college. She also heads up Choices.

At SPJC's Health Education Center in Pinellas Park last week, the girls learned about becoming paramedics, dental assistants and physical therapists.

A consensus developed when they were exposed to the curriculum of the funeral director's program _ none was interested in a career as an embalmer.

"I couldn't do that. I just couldn't work with dead people," said Lori Jones, 14, who is entering ninth grade at Osceola High School in Seminole.

Lori said she is more interested in being a registered nurse.

The group also took part in an SPJC career day, talking to recruiters about becoming qualified for the jobs they want.

"The problem a lot of women have out of high school is going into traditional jobs with low wages," said Day Shaw. "We want to get them into careers they can actually make a living at."

This summer was the last time the $10,000 federal grant will be available to pay for Choices. Shaw said she hopes SPJC will be able to absorb the costs in future years to keep the program going.

"We want to pick it up at SPJC, but that definitely is not set in stone," she said. "We really want to put the program on. It's such a good thing for the girls."

Up next:CLASS NOTES

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