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First Men’s Career Experience at Herkimer BOCES
provides students valuable advice from local professionals

Nov. 5, 2015

A video slideshow with highlights from the 2015 Men's Career Experience is shown above.

HERKIMER – During a breakout session at the first ever Men’s Career Experience on Thursday, Nov. 5, at Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES, local electrician Pat Costello told students why his sick grandfather once made him pull over several times on the way to the hospital.

Costello, who has been a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers since 1976 and is president of the AFL-CIO Central New York Labor Council, told the story of when his grandfather insisted Costello drive through downtown Utica even though it was the longer way to get to the hospital.

On Genesee Street, Costello’s grandfather asked him to pull over and talked about installing a boiler in a building there. Then they stopped again for a building where his grandfather installed a sprinkler system.
As this continued, Costello became emotional because he realized his grandfather knew he was going to die a couple days later and was taking the opportunity to first show his grandson what he had accomplished in his life.

“He did something for 60 years that he loved to do; that he was proud of,” Costello said, before later encouraging students to do the same. “Do something you love. Do something you can be proud of at the end of the day.”

That message was one of the many themes of advice that the Men’s Career Experience speakers shared throughout the event. Ray Durso Jr., executive director of The Genesis Group of the Mohawk Valley region, served as the keynote speaker and one of the speakers. The other speakers were Costello, WKTV NewsChannel 2 General Manager Steve McMurray and Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner owner Scott Tranter.

Organized by the School to Careers program, the Men’s Career Experience at Herkimer BOCES was for male students in grades 10-12 in the Herkimer BOCES region. Close to 75 students from Central Valley Academy, Dolgeville, Herkimer, Little Falls, Mount Markham, Owen D. Young, Valley Pathways in Technology Early College High School (VP-TECH) and Herkimer BOCES career and technical education classes attended the event.

‘A response’

On April 5, 2014, the first Women’s Career Experience took place at Herkimer BOCES as a way to get local female students thinking about their career paths and let them talk with successful women working in the Mohawk Valley. A second Women’s Career Experience took place on May 19, 2015, and a third is being planned for 2016.

After obtaining feedback following the 2015 Women’s Career Experience from students, school officials, guidance counselors and parents, it was determined that people thought the event was great but also wished there was a similar opportunity for male students to have a focused event, STC Director Christopher Groves said.

“This was a response to what we were hearing regionally,” he said.

The Men’s Career Experience served an important role of allowing students to hear from people such as Durso, Costello, McMurray and Tranter who have found success working right in the Mohawk Valley, Groves said.

“This morning is truly about continuing to create experiences for students in our region – giving them the opportunity to connect with and hear from some very passionate and exceptional leaders in our own communities,” Groves said.

School to Careers

STC also participated in the SUNY Polytechnic Institute Manufacturing Expo and Mohawk Valley Construction Career Day this fall – providing welding simulators for each event and helping arrange for local students to attend them.

Additionally, letters are coming in daily from local businesses willing to work with STC to do guest speaking and connect students to job shadowing, business tours and internships, Groves said.

“School to Careers is certainly dedicated in expanding its reach and supporting the connection between education and employment, and this event is a great example of just that,” Groves said, referencing the Men’s Career Experience.

‘Rocky’ motivation

Durso opened his keynote speech at the Men’s Career Experience by showing a clip from the “Rocky” movies of Rocky Balboa running across Philadelphia with children chasing behind him as he goes all the way up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art – celebrating when he reaches the top.

After the clip, Durso called up three students to share a word that the video made them think of. The students said, “determination,” “inspiration” and “perseverance.”

Durso said he is a big fan of all of the “Rocky” movies.

“Whenever I watch them, I walk away feeling strong, positive and knowing I can do anything I want when I put my mind to it,” he said.

Durso’s speech then covered various other advice for students such as overcoming distractions such as cell phones and social media to focus on their studies.

“There is value in each and every one of those subjects that you’re learning today,” he said.

Durso also encouraged students to make as many friendships as possible and to talk to their guidance counselors.

“You are not alone,” he said.

At the end of the speech, Durso brought it back to “Rocky” – saying that when students are going through their career decisions, he wants them to make sure they know how they feel. He said he wants the students to feel like they’re on top of the world the way Rocky did when he reached the top of the steps.

“I want you to feel strong,” he said. “I want you to feel confident.”

Breakout sessions

After the speech, the students in attendance split into four groups and went around to breakout sessions with Durso, Costello, McMurray and Tranter.

During his session, Durso expanded on the themes from his speech and told students about how an initial interest in criminal justice took him on a path that eventually led to The Genesis Group.

If the students set their mind to something, they can accomplish it and find a job they enjoy, he said.

“My message to each and every one of you today is I want you to be happy in your lives,” Durso said.

In addition to the moving story about his grandfather, Costello’s session included information about apprenticeship opportunities, and he offered to sit down with students and their parents if they’re interested in that career path.

Costello advised students to ask for advice from others but not to let them make career decisions for them. He also said to concentrate in school because the apprenticeship program requires a high-school diploma, and electricians use math every day.

‘Your options’

McMurray told students how starting off wanting to become a professional basketball or baseball player shifted to a desire to become a sports broadcaster. He was working toward his goals for calling play-by-play for baseball, when the chance to join the news side of things arrived, and he decided to take the opportunity, later taking another chance by becoming WKTV NewsChannel 2 general manager.

McMurray recalled that people used to say you have to move out of this area after high school, and that some people still say that now, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

“There are plenty of opportunities right in your backyard,” he said.

McMurray provided advice such as for the students to talk to their guidance counselors and parents about their career decisions and to not lock in on only one potential career path. For example, college can be a great way to go, but there also are excellent jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there that you don’t have to go to college for and can be just as successful,” he said. “It’s all about keeping your options open.”

‘Wanted to cook’

Tranter, who also is a member of the Herkimer BOCES Board of Education, told students about growing up on welfare in the Boston projects. He had an early interest in culinary and remembers his parents arguing about whether to get him an Easy Bake Oven or not when he was 12.

His mother won the argument, and it helped him on his path to attending a four-year culinary program and later launching a very successful restaurant business in California.

Tranter, however, warned students that he had to a lot of catching up to do academically because at first he was too focused on his career interest without building an educational foundation.

“I just wanted to cook,” he said.

Tranter also told students how he left his restaurant business in California behind and went into an early semi-retirement in a home in the Adirondacks, until the economic downturn and other issues caused him to look into going back to work. That led to him buying and operating Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner in Herkimer since 2007. He still loves to cook, he said, noting that he was up at 2 a.m. preparing fresh biscuits and gravy.

“It’s like I’m not working,” he said.

Tranter provided advice to students to find work that makes them happy, to be prepared for things to always change and to give 100 percent.

‘Opportunities are endless’

Following the breakout sessions, everyone gathered back in the Herkimer BOCES lobby. STC liaison MaryBeth Napolitano thanked everyone for coming, provided certificates to each school that participated and provided some advice of her own for the students.

“Keep in mind, you are in control of two things: You are in control of your attitude, and you are in control of your effort,” Napolitano said. “If you give it your all and have a positive attitude, your opportunities are endless – you can reach and fulfill your goals.”

The four featured guests also provided parting comments for the students.

Tranter caught everyone off guard when he suddenly held up some cash and asked who wanted it. Almost all of the students raised their hands, but Tranter kept standing on the stage asking who wanted it.

A few students then caught on and started running toward the stage, with a student up front getting their first and accepting the money from Tranter’s hand.

The message, Tranter said, was that if you want something, you have to get up, go after it and take it.

“That was the perfect example of education right there,” he said.

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