Visit to UI exposes students to job opportunities

Visit to UI exposes students to job opportunities

CHAMPAIGN – Fourth-grader Virtuous Thomas pulled a lever on a machine about a half-dozen times and soon had a new key made.

She and 20 classmates from Washington Elementary School made their own keys Thursday morning in the locksmith shop at the University of Illinois Division of Facilities & Services. Then they tried them in a lock to see if they worked.

"I know all this stuff and how to do it because I came here last year," Virtuous said. "It's funner because they've got new gadgets."

The students were at Facilities & Services for its Take Our Kids to Work Day. The school and the UI department have a partnership, and this is the second year students have visited the division.

"Many of our kids have limited ability to go and see other jobs, to open their personal horizons," Washington Principal Sherry Alimi said. "If they don't have any ideas of what there is to be, they are limited by personal experience. They need to have experiences to know what's ahead, and that education is the key."

Maureen Banks, director of the division of safety and compliance at Facilities & Services, said part of the UI's strategic plan is partnering with local schools.

"We also want to focus on vocational education, and education and careers," she said, adding that Take Our Kids to Work Day lets the Washington students see some of the jobs at the UI and expose them to the trades.

Fifth-grader Raeshun Williams-Chatman thinks he might want to work on cars someday.

"I like fixing stuff," he said, adding that he was hoping to see some cars or tractors Thursday.

After making their keys, the students checked out the inner workings of an elevator.

"What do you see?" asked art teacher Shauna Carey, who was chaperoning the students.

"Hydraulics and electricity," fourth-grader Steven Lee answered.

"Hydraulics and electricity making the elevator work. Excellent!" she replied.

Carey said she hopes both the children and their families can learn about potential job opportunities. She said it's helpful for children to see the work done on-site and see the tools used for various jobs, but in the future she'd also like for Facilities & Services employees to come to the school to talk to kids and parents about their jobs.

"They have all the way from groundskeepers to people with Ph.D's here," she said.

Walter Graham, a UI construction worker, volunteered to help usher the students around on their visit.

"I think it really opened their eyes to how to apply math that teachers are teaching. It gives them a chance to see this is where they apply geometry and other skills," he said.

Facilities & Services will work with Washington Elementary School in other ways as well. The school is creating an outdoor classroom, and the UI department will offer advice on landscaping techniques, brickwork and other aspects of establishing a garden – and maybe giving demonstrations, as well.

"The kids can see how many processes are involved in something that seems so simple as putting an outdoor garden in," Carey said.

Facilities & Services will be starting a mentoring program at Washington school, Banks said. She hopes to have 10 mentors to start with.