Leadership Class Connects Worker with City's Youth
March 21, 2008
Cedric Pollard's recent venture into local leadership training tasked him with a volunteer job he found both inspirational and challenging - connecting with high school students and talking to them about future career opportunities.
That volunteer job took Pollard to Columbia High School, where he and other professionals created a "Career Carousel" program that allowed students to talk to professionals about job opportunities and qualifications in a variety of fields.
And, talking to students about their future and educating them about the possibilities is a task that happens to be "dear to my heart," Pollard said.
Pollard is a logistics management specialist/inventory manager on the Apache attack helicopter for PEO Aviation who mentors young black men in his spare time. Recently he participated in Connect Huntsville/Madison County, a leadership program sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce for young professionals who want to serve their community.
Pollard, 38, applied to Connect Huntsville/Madison County last summer, hoping to gain the skills and connections needed to be a future community leader.
"The program intrigued me," he said. "I believe in supporting the community at large and volunteering. I saw Connect as a way to enhance my life personally and professionally."
Pollard's Connect class ran September through January, with a retreat both opening and closing the class experience. In between the retreats, the class of about 40 young professionals met three times to learn about the community's growth, employment and quality of life.
Class members were also divided into six groups to work on community projects. Pollard was assigned to the Education group.
"Education is very important to me," Pollard said. "I think education is very fundamental to life as a whole and to society. I have a lot of educators in my family - a sister, aunts, cousins, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. I believe in the whole educational system."
In their group meetings, one member who worked at Columbia told the group that the high school didn't have a career day where students could learn about the requirements of different career fields. The group quickly picked up on the need.
"There was a real need to better inform students at Columbia High School about their future career options," Pollard said. "But we didn't want to just have a traditional career day. We wanted more like a recruitment day where we could interact with students one-on-one and share our knowledge. We wanted to give them personal information that would help them make decisions that would affect their careers, like the books we've read and the classes we took in college, how the people we encountered helped shape our careers and the mistakes we've made."
The group's Career Carousel involved setting up professionals at their own stations in the school's gym. Small groups of students were assigned to each station based on their interests. They were given about five minutes to talk with the professional and then they were rotated to a different station. The event lasted about four hours and involved about 150 students.
"The students were engaged," Pollard said. "Everything we said they absorbed like a sponge.
"They asked a lot of questions, like 'Did college prepare you for what you are doing in the workplace'', 'Do you enjoy your work'' and 'What other kinds of jobs have you done''"
The students were given information on what careers are available to them, what different careers require in terms of education, experience, abilities and interests, a list of resources they can use to further investigate a career choice and a step-by-step guide on how to get the job of their choice.
"The Career Carousel gave me the opportunity to share with the students what is really going on in my day-to-day operations at work," Pollard said. "I was able to share how I got to where I am today, some of the mistakes I made in preparing for my career, and what I would do differently if I had the opportunity."
Pollard said not only did the students learn from the experience, but, so, too, did the professionals.
"It was fun and interesting," he said. "It gave us an opportunity to see and talk to today's students. Some have goals already set up. One student was already an entrepreneur. I can't begin to explain the type of reward I experienced from talking to those students."
The Career Carousel isn't Pollard's first volunteer venture in Huntsville. A disabled veteran and former Alabama Army National Guard Soldier, Pollard is a member of the local alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and works with the group's Guide Right Program for young men. He is also a member of the fraternity's Political Action Committee and Scholarship Ball Committee. Pollard is a member of the Athletic Booster Club of Huntsville and the E.D. White Men's Fellowship at Church Street Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He also mentors male college students.
And now Pollard plans to continue his experience with Connect as a volunteer, working on the employment program for the next class.
"I participated in Connect because I wanted to develop lifelong collaborative and meaningful relationships with other young professionals in the area," he said. "Also, I desired to learn more about this beautiful community in which I live and have hopes of making my own impact ... Now, it's my turn to help other young professionals with those same goals."
Editor's note: For more information on Connect Huntsville/Madison County, visit its web site at http://www.leadershiphsv.org or call 535-2017.