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Teacher’s networking connects students past and present

WHS Teacher connects students past and present to spotlight career options

While District 214 routinely employs countless means of preparing students for success, Wheeling High School Orchesis instructor Diane Rawlinson recently added another powerful tool to the mix.

What better way of helping students envision success than by connecting them with alumni who have walked the same school hallways and moved on to build success in an amazing variety of ways?

That’s the invaluable connection that Rawlinson provided by bringing back 21 alumni to speak with 250 students by way of online panels.   

Rawlinson used her penchant for building and nurturing relationships with students even after graduation to bring back one-time Orchesis dancers to discuss their careers, including positions in human resources, the medical field, business and marketing and architecture. She worked with Wheeling teachers to match students with alumni whose careers matched the students’ interests.

The timing was perfect, as the panels brought alumni in to speak with students virtually at a time when many students were feeling discouraged about the pandemic restricting opportunities for in-person experiences in Career Pathways.

“The project definitely supports the Career Pathway program because it introduces people to various careers and the different types of skills that are needed and developed in school and how they are used and utilized in their careers,” Rawlinson said. 

Overall, the alumni talked to about 250 Wheeling students about their careers, the challenges they overcame and their personal stories. They also discussed how Wheeling’s Orchesis program impacted their lives by helping them work collaboratively, believe in themselves, take risks and think outside the box.

“They got to meet others who have done so many things, yet the alumni were from Wheeling, know some of the challenges and have walked the same halls the current students do so there is an inherent connection between them,” Rawlinson said.

For example, Samantha Victor, a 2010 Wheeling graduate who participated in the Orchesis program, talked to the students about her career in human resources. “I wanted to explain to the students to follow your passion,” Victor said. “It doesn’t have to be what it was going to be in high school.”

Victor, who said she didn’t know in high school that she would go into human resources, encouraged students to follow their passion even if it’s different from what they thought they wanted to do.

While Victor was in Orchesis, she participated in a dance that included Bollywood and Hispanic styles of dance, allowing her to explore both cultures. She said Orchesis also helped her learn the importance of teamwork.

As for students, they came away with exposure to a remarkably wide array of career options. A publishing and broadcasting panel included a nationally known children’s author and radio personality. Students heard from a molecular neurobiologist as part of a Science panel. The founder and CEO of an interior design studio as part of an Applied Arts panel. Other panels focused on Entrepreneurship and on PR, Marketing and Human Resources.

The students said they found the alumni’s stories and advice inspiring. “The experience of meeting past alumni was eye-opening,” said Kristina Sakayeva, a freshman at Wheeling who plans to join Orchesis next year. “I appreciated seeing people succeed in their careers, and it was inspirational.”

Sakayeva said that through the alumni panels she realized that no matter what career path she chooses, she does not have to give up dance to get there. In fact, yet another panel - called “Where Can Dance Take You” - featured yoga instructors, a physical therapist, a therapist in Latin Dance and dance movement and the owner of a fitness studio.. 

Victoria Lypka, a Wheeling senior, agreed, saying, “It makes my dreams seem more attainable to talk to people who went to the same school,” said Victoria Lypka, a Wheeling senior who has been involved with Orchesis for three years, also said she appreciated the alumni’s offer to talk to students who wanted a mentor. Lypka said she was glad the alumni also told students to contact them if they wanted mentoring.

For Rawlinson, the experience represented her coming full circle. She said she was fortunate enough to have mentors in her life who supported her decisions to challenge the status quo, and she wanted to provide students at Wheeling with an inspiring mentor experience as well.

Overall, she said, her goal was to help students realize there are several paths their future could hold.

“To be able to introduce current students to former students or other supportive adults who followed their ambitions, were willing to change course, persevered and continued to evolve in their lives can lay the seed for current students to know it’s OK to do just that in their future,” added Rawlinson said.