From Student to Mentor: Promoting Career Education Through Industry Involvement

by Brittany Woltering, Marketing Manager

Jared Thompson, a project engineer for the modernization of Sam Barlow High School (SBHS) in Gresham, Oregon, has a unique connection to his work. Jared is an alumnus of SBHS and a life-long Gresham resident. His entire immediate family including his parents and older sister are alumni as well and still call Gresham home today.

We recently visited Jared on-site to learn more about how his connection to SBHS has affected his approach to the work and reflected on how he’s using it as an opportunity to give back to the school, and the community that helped frame his love for learning and construction.

The Sam Barlow Campus was abuzz with activity as crews poured the concrete forms for the future football stadium adjacent to Lewis’ jobsite offices. Stepping into the trailer, Project Engineer Jared Thompson sat at his desk, situated along a row of cubicles at back wall of the jobsite trailer.

Reviewing the scope details and drawings for the civil elements of the campus modernization, Jared had his head down and was focused. His desk, like everyone’s in the trailer, is special, constructed from salvaged flooring materials recycled from the gymnasium renovation that was completed early in the project.

Now in his third year as an engineer, it was not long ago that Jared was a student himself with his desk situated within the walls of Sam Barlow.

As a student at SBHS, Jared was drawn to technical, hands-on learning and took classes like metal shop, architectural and engineering drafting, AutoCAD and other career technical education (CTE) courses. While his teachers provided learning opportunities and CTE exposure for students, industry involvement wasn’t as prevalent during his high school career as it is today.The ability to see and experience his work first-hand is ultimately what clicked for Jared when deciding to pursue a career in construction. Early in college, after graduating from SBHS, Jared started down the mechanical engineering path, but quickly realized that it wouldn’t provide him with a fulfilling long-term career. Mechanical engineering was missing what he calls the “implementation component”—that physical example and clear result of your efforts. Jared also wanted to interact with people and disliked the idea of being tied to a desk all day. A career in construction offered him more of what he was looking for as a professional in the workforce, plus he grew up around the industry—his dad also works for a general contractor.

As a project engineer, Jared likes being able to connect the dots and enjoys problem solving. “Sometimes my contributions are a small component of the larger project, but I enjoy knowing that I played a key role in supporting the team and the delivery of the final product,” he said. “Project engineers are the dot connectors on-site, sometimes working behind the scenes—like coordinating electrical outlet locations to accommodate furniture layouts—to make sure the end users are happy and that their space is functional in the end.”Today, CTE is taking that “implementation component” a step further for the students on-site at Sam Barlow. “It’s enabled us to show students how Lewis implements the programs they’re learning in class in the field to produce a physical example of their idea. We’re helping the students connect the dots at a level that’s applicable to them while also exposing them to career opportunities where they’d get to use those skills,” said Jared.

Lewis found ways to engage with students in an academic setting from the onset of construction at SBHS and participated in the school’s CTE program by helping bridge the gap between the classroom and viable career opportunities.

Members of the jobsite team hosted Construction Luncheons, gave classroom presentations and toured students through the active jobsite, answering their questions about the project and the industry at large.

Then in early spring of 2019, our team was approached by Gresham-Barlow School District and the Associated General Contractors Association to participate in a new pilot program aimed at partnering industry professionals with teachers to develop hands-on learning and career exposure for students from kindergarten through post-secondary. The pilot program, which concluded in May, had two primary goals: provide a way for teachers and industry professionals to thoughtfully integrate CTE exposure into regular academic programming, and to establish mutually beneficial partnerships between education and industry, resulting in workforce development opportunities.

Read more about the pilot program here.

Jared Thompson and Carpenter Maya Burns-Janousek give a presentation to a class at Sam Barlow High School

During his senior year of college, Jared participated in the Oregon State University Reno Mixed-Use Competition team, coached by Lewis. He experienced first-hand how industry involvement could benefit students by expanding their exposure to career opportunities and providing connections to industry professionals.

As graduation neared, Jared was interviewing with several general contractors, including Lewis. The OSU Competition team first introduced Jared to the company and had laid the foundation for the genuine interactions he experienced with employees later during career fairs and job interviews. He ultimately chose a career with Lewis because it felt “real.” Jared explains, “Firms will sometimes send a recruiter or marketing employee to career fairs. With Lewis, I got to talk to superintendents, project managers and other project engineers—the actual people I’d be working with on-site.” His decision was solidified upon interviewing in the Portland office following his senior year of college. He reflected, “Several people I’d met on campus and during the Reno Competition Team experience popped in and said hello. The fact that they remembered me, I felt like they truly cared.”

Today you can find Jared on-site at Sam Barlow, working with the project team to plan and execute daily activities. Beyond his day-to-day role as a project engineer, he also gives presentations in classroom settings—from general education to metals, woodshop, drafting and manufacturing. Jared also leads site tours and supports career days, continually trying to demonstrate the real-world application of what students are learning.

Having been on both sides of the equation, he now appreciates how valuable industry involvement is and wants to give current students opportunities beyond what he had. He recalls always being appreciative of being treated like an adult during his adolescence and now applies that mentality to the classes he presents in and students he works with.

While the heavily occupied nature of SBHS presents its own set of challenges, it’s providing Jared with an added level of fulfillment. “I still know teachers and current students who are younger siblings of the friends I went to high school with,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to bring my first-hand experience and relate to them and say, ‘I was you; I’ve sat in your seat.’”

The depth of involvement from Jared, and the broader Lewis team has helped engage students and reveal cross overs—from metal shop to marketing—for students who are beginning to see how the work they’ve watched progress on campus is all interconnected, and how they could play a role in a similar setting.

For Jared, the opportunity provided the chance to give back to his alma mater in unique ways. “It’s important to give back to the Sam Barlow community,” Jared said. “The students deserve something in return for their patience during this renovation. In the end, it’s all for them.”