Peek at the future

OSCODA – Four hundred Alcona County middle and high school students went on a first-ever Alcona Community Schools Career Days and Talent Tour, and the experience could change a few lives.

Organizer Bernadette Schuelke of the Michigan Works Northeast Consortium said the event was designed to help the teens understand why their school studies are important, and become familiar with the kinds of jobs that are available to them in the region.

“Getting middle school students exposed now will help them to understand why English is important, why math is important, so they can get on track to get these jobs,” said Schuelke, who is business services professional with the Alpena office. “It helps them to connect the dots.”

The morning began with presentations by industry professionals during an assembly in the school auditorium. Afterward, the students stopped by career fair booths in the gym to meet face-to-face with each speaker. Then after lunch, they were loaded onto five buses to visit select job sites – a massive effort organized in less than six weeks, Schuelke said.

“We did one in March in Alpena with 42 students who went to two metal technologies manufacturing systems,” Schuelke said.

Some of the buses headed to Alpena, where students sampled broadcasting at WBKB-TV, journalism at The Alpena News or medicine at the Alpena Regional Medical Center.

Others interested in hospitality stopped by Lost Lake Woods, a private resort club outside Lincoln. More went to Ossineke Industries, Decorative Panels and Alpena Biorefinery.

Alpena Community College also offered a variety of career directions to middle school students, including marine technology, concrete technology, criminal justice, CAD/CAM technology, auto service/auto body training and nursing.

Several dozen students interested in math and science were bused to Kalitta Air in Oscoda, where they got a chance to sit in the cockpit of a 747 cargo jet being overhauled in a massive hangar.

“Can we touch it?” one student asked as his group approached the 230-foot-long air craft by walking under one of its enormous wings.

Several were later able to reach up over their heads to touch the belly of the plane, giving them an idea of its human scale.

The Boeing jet was built in 1983, and has hauled everything from giraffes and killer whales to mail for the military, Maintenance Manager Ken Appel said. It’s even been in the movies.

After climbing several stories up a portable metal staircase, the students found themselves in the cargo hold.

Kat Bennette, a 15-year-old freshman, was the first in her group to slip into the pilot’s seat after climbing up a ladder to the cockpit and passenger area.

Was she intimidated?

“No. Intrigued,” she replied. “I’m only 15 and to me the pilots sitting up there – the memory they have to have is intriguing.”

Before the tour, Bennette said she was interested in food management. But when told that a cargo pilot earns around $100,000, depending on experience, she paused.

“You could give half the money to me,” her friend, Sheryl Goodemoot, said.

Zac Ayers looked up at the jet from the hangar floor and admitted that he was trying to maintain a cool demeanor. He rated the field trip at 8.5 on a scale of 10, but agreed that it would give him bragging rights later.

“I’ve been around airplanes before, but I’ve never been in a building this big before,” the 15-year-old said. “It’s a new experience.”

Standing outside the hangar, Kara Gonyea, 16, said the visit was a surprise to her. She was most impressed with Kalitta’s engine building facility at the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

“I like how the parts go together to build a giant engine,” said Gonyea, who is interested in science. “I just didn’t know it was like this. I just though Kalitta was about flying.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.