DREAM BIG Career Camp 2020 Culmination

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Featuring everything from banking and healthcare to dog shows and delectable chocolate, week two of Starkloff Disability Institute’s DREAM BIG Career Camp 2020 wrapped up July 17 with a flurry of virtual tours and activities.

This year’s Career Camp was condensed from three weeks to two because of the pandemic, so squeezing all of the presentations and educational material into five days posed a challenge to the program staff.

Katie Fields, College Outreach Coordinator at SDI, says the team opted for starting the second week of camp a couple of days early, a decision that made sense on multiple levels.

“Because we had more companies involved, we ended up extending camp by two days so that we had additional time to work on our curriculum,” Katie describes. “We thought that by teaching about goal setting, self-advocacy and disability pride, and taking career assessments on Thursday and Friday before camp, our campers could get to know one another and understand themselves a bit better before engaging with our partner companies.”

Camp Coordinator Danielle Giuffrida agrees that the early start ensured the most informative camp experience. “I noticed we were a bit rushed during the curriculum sessions in week one, so this gave us more time to go over material more thoroughly and not skip anything.”

The week of career exploration officially kicked off with a panel discussion and facility tour led by Chef Casey Shiller of St. Louis Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Campers glimpsed a vast array of skillets, fryers, mixers, ovens, freezers and kitchen equipment used by STLCC chefs and their culinary students.

Katie says campers and staff alike were delighted with the presentation. “I loved STLCC Culinary Arts and I know our students loved it, too,” Katie raves. “Chef Casey did an incredible job at showing that there is a place in hospitality for anyone who is interested, showcased his kitchen and the culinary tools he uses as a chef, and even sent our campers home with homemade chocolate bars!”

John LaRocca, president of the Missouri Restaurant Association and coordinator of ProStart, a hospitality and culinary program for high school students, left campers with an encouraging message about his profession. “A good thing about our business is that if you’re willing to work hard and have common sense, and you’re willing to take some direction, there will be a place for you in the hospitality industry.”

Monday afternoon included a virtual tour of the construction facilities at Clayco, the full-service real estate development, design and construction firm. An employee panel, Q & A and an introduction to the Construction Career Development Initiative, which strives to create opportunities for minorities and underrepresented groups in construction, were all incorporated. Day one concluded with a discussion of college readiness and what campers can expect from life on campus.

Tuesday morning featured an overview of careers in healthcare, an employee panel and healthcare trivia with Mercy. DREAM BIG team building activities as well as a visit with Boeing HorizonX at the Cambridge Innovation Center occupied the afternoon.

Boeing HorizonX applies its momentum to new business ventures by leveraging its power as the world’s largest aerospace company to unlock the next generation of game-changing ideas, products and markets. From investment capital to technology commercialization and market access, Boeing HorizonX turns new ideas and businesses into reality.

Nestle Purina took center stage on Wednesday, offering campers a virtual tour along with tips on personal branding and taking advantage of career resources. The Purina dog show was the main attraction, however, proving that our four-legged friends are just as adorable in a virtual setting. Once campers and staff members were able to return their focus to the curriculum, the rest of the day was devoted to interview skills and elevator pitches.

Sasha Psujek, a camper who will soon be entering her senior year at Bishop DuBourg High School, was impressed with the application Purina uses for matching pets with the proper food. “It was really interesting,” she recalls. “There were questions at first to determine what type of pet you have and what they do. Are they hyper? Are they lazy? They would know what type of food to give the animals based on those characteristics.”

Centene joined the camp on Thursday with employees from the main corporate campus and the CIC leading discussions and activities involving jobs in the healthcare industry, data systems in the HR realm, as well as agile and human-centered approaches to product design. Members of ABILITY, Centene’s employee inclusion group for people with disabilities, also shared their experiences and wisdom with campers.

Dan Roth, Director of HRIS Projects at Centene, imparted his own message of positivity. “Be passionate about what you do. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” he promises. “Bringing that passion with you on a daily basis will really make you stand out as an individual.”

The week culminated with a virtual tour, employee-camper networking sessions and hands-on banking activities facilitated by Wells Fargo. Campers also gave their final presentations, describing what they learned from DREAM BIG and sharing their future ambitions with one another.

A total of 18 students participated in week two of DREAM BIG Career Camp, with four camp counselors accompanying them along the way.  Ben Crowner, Olivia Apollo and Gavin Barrett-Hayes are current college students who served as counselors during week one and returned for the second half of camp. Another current college student, Michaela Okosi, joined for the second week.

Danielle was thrilled with the counselors and their contributions. “Our camp counselors did an excellent job sharing their stories and helping to keep our students engaged because they are in the very position our DREAM BIG students will be in shortly,” she explains.

Sasha’s mother, Suzanne Psujek, believes the DREAM BIG curriculum, its corporate partners and role models with disabilities have instilled a sense of confidence and optimism in her daughter.

“She really enjoyed it. She feels like there are options that she wasn’t previously aware of,” Suzanne observes. “I personally think that the combination of doing things to help her in terms of being able to stand up for herself, how to deal with interviews and presenting information about herself, in addition to seeing what’s going on with these different companies — it’s all of great assistance.”

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