Three dozen junior and senior students from Bethel High School attended a five-hour workshop at Naugatuck Valley Community College on Friday, March 27. The workshop was sponsored by the Bethel High School Counseling Department and Naugatuck Valley Community College and focused on providing students with inspiration and educational opportunities after high school.
In welcoming students to campus, Irene Rios-Knauf, Dean of Academic Affairs, and Erin Sullivan, Counselor at Bethel High School, discussed the importance of being prepared for the next opportunity in life. “It is really important to listen to today’s information, not just listen to hear the words, but hear them with your heart, so that you can begin to take time to really figure out what is the next step after high school,” Rios-Knauf said. She encouraged students not to be afraid, but to dive in and determine their skills and career interests.
Keynote speaker, Kathryn M. Tester Luria, Senior Vice President of Community Affairs at Webster Bank, provided students with a very candid discussion of how choices made now—both good and bad—can have a profound effect on one’s future. Luria recounted her sometimes challenging journey in life as a struggling student and single mother, but noted that the turning point occurred when she enrolled in community college and earned her associate’s degree—attaining valuable skills she uses to this day. Earning a degree provided a sense of value and gave her the confidence to secure a job as the secretary to the President of Mattatuck Community College (which would later merge with Waterbury State Technical College to become Naugatuck Valley Community College), she said. While holding down a full-time job, Luria earned her bachelor’s degree at UCONN and M.B.A. at the University of New Haven. She rose through the ranks of NVCC, and became the marketing director, before securing her current role at Webster Bank.
Luria told students that in order to prepare for the demands of each workday, she selects one word of inspiration from her angel box. Noting that, “Today’s word is compassion,” she encouraged students to go forward with love and compassion for themselves and each other as they continue on their journey.
“I always leave here inspired and this reminds me that I can do anything I put my mind to,” said Bethel High School senior Giovanna DeSimone, who came to Kick Start last year. After learning of NVCC’s pending cybersecurity degree program, DeSimone said she plans to pursue that path.
Forrest Pasternack, Executive Chef at Bailey’s Backyard in Ridgefield, provided more inspiration to students by urging them to go where their interests take them. “Find a passion and pursue it or don’t and you’ll find a world without options.” Though Pasternack has earned numerous accolades and awards including being named one of the most innovative chefs by Serendipity magazine, he said he was “an awful student.” It was a long journey, but he finally found his passion in cooking.
Students also participated in two workshops, featuring topics ranging from advanced manufacturing technology and criminal justice to engineering technologies and nursing. One of the takeaways was that there is a positive correlation between the level of one’s education and lifetime earning potential—higher academic achievement results in a higher salary.
The day concluded with a tour of NVCC’s nursing and manufacturing facilities.