Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / East Ridge High School student ambassador Kirsten Raines, right, shows Normal Park eighth grader Dedrick Owens how to use a drill at the Institute of Building Construction at East Ridge High School booth during the Get (Future) Ready school choice fair at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The event allowed eighth graders to visit representatives from the different Future Ready Institutes to help plan for their future.

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Getting future ready in schools

Abel Windemuller is interested in astronomy and space.

His dad is a pediatric gastroenterologist and his mom is a medical resident, "perfecting her career," Windemuller said.

The eighth grader at Normal Park Museum Magnet School has thought about being a doctor when he grows up, but he's also thought about being an engineer or exploring a career that has something to do with astronomy.

When he's taken personality or career aptitude assessments at school though, his results don't always line up with his interests.

This year though, Windemuller is among more than 3,000 middle school students in Hamilton County who took a new, targeted career aptitude assessment called "YouScience" and had the opportunity to attend the district's "Get Future Ready" school and career fair this week.

Windemuller said he was already thinking about his future before taking the assessment or attending Tuesday's event at the Chattanooga Convention Center, but he was glad to be there.

"I was thinking, 'I'm near to the end of middle school, I need to figure out my life," Windemuller said.

Eighth graders from every middle school in Hamilton County spent at least an hour this week at the fair, where they had the opportunity to meet with representatives from local employers, higher education institutes such as Chattanooga State Community College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, as well as student ambassadors from the district's nearly 30 Future Ready Institutes, or career academies embedded in local high schools.

Blake Freeman, executive director of the Office of Early Postsecondary Success for Hamilton County Schools, said that it is important not to wait until students are in high school or nearing graduation to start thinking about careers and their futures.

"It's very important that we are taking them in 7th and 8th grade and making students start to think about careers," Freeman said. "When they get to 9th grade, they are going to be wanting to take certain courses or be thinking about what they want to do."

Depending on a student's plans after high school, taking certain courses in high school can prepare them to apply to traditional colleges and universities, or earning credentials or taking part in dual enrollment courses while still in high school can help them land a job right after high school graduation.

The Get Future Ready fair also helps expose students to the district's career-themed Future Ready Institutes, which also help give students a taste of the opportunities in industries such as aviation, advanced manufacturing, health care and medicine, business and information technology.

Exposing students to different opportunities is important, said Casey Jacobs, a school counselor at Normal Park Museum Magnet School.

Jacobs said her students do ask her, "Why are we talking about this in middle school?"

"Because the research shows that if you expose them in middle school to all the opportunities out there, it gets them to think about it," she said.

"We all know someone who thought they wanted to do something, and then they go through a few years of school and realize that wasn't what they wanted to do," Jacob added.

Both she and Freeman said that many kids get ideas for their future careers from their parents or folks around them, and if they haven't been exposed to something they might not think about it as a possibility.

Ella Peterson, one of Windemuller's classmates at Normal Park, is a perfect example of this. Though she's also the daughter of a doctor, Peterson hasn't really considered a career in medicine.

She was "skeptical," she said, of the YouScience assessment because past career inventories haven't given her results that really matched her interests, either.

But after Normal Park's school resource officer visited her class to talk about their job and the same types of job showed up in her career inventory, now Peterson is considering going into the forensic science field.

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce partnered with the school district for this event, which in the past has been called "Career Crunch." This is the first year the district was able to administer the YouScience assessment to all eighth grade students before they attended the event.

The Chamber helped recruit local businesses such as Miller Industries, Volkswagen, EPB, Gestamp and others to be available to students at the fair.

"Local employers tell us how important early exposure to potential career paths is as students and families make plans for their futures. We are thrilled with our partnership with Future Ready Institutes and employers as we build a future-ready workforce in Hamilton County," said Molly Blankenship, vice president of talent initiatives for the Chamber and executive director of Chattanooga 2.0, in a statement.

Employers and recruiters at the event and Freeman agreed: it is better for students to start early when thinking about their futures and their careers.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

The Future Ready Institutes in Hamilton County Schools

Brainerd High

— Institute of Aviation

— Institute of Entrepreneurship

— Institute of Law, First Responders and Forensic Science

Central High

— Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics

— Institute of Architecture and Engineering Design

East Hamilton School

— Bryan College Institute of Leadership, Business, and Marketing

— Institute of Innovate Engineering

East Ridge High

— Institute of Engineering and Design

— Institute of Building Construction

— Institute of Leadership

Hixson High

— Institute of Integrative Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

— CHI Memorial Institute of Healthcare and Medical Careers

— Institute of Business Leaders and Owners

The Howard School

— Erlanger Institute of Healthcare and Innovation

— See Rock City Inc. Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Management

— Institute of Robotics and Welding

— Institute of Architecture and Construction

Lookout Valley Middle/High

— Institute of Technology and Multimedia

— Institute of Automotive Maintenance and Manufacturing

Ooltewah High

— Institute of Architecture and Engineering Design

— Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics

— Institutes of International Baccalaureate Studies

Red Bank High

— BlueCross Technology Academy

Sequoyah High

— Institute of Industrial Manufacturing

Signal Mountain Middle/High

— Institutes of International Baccalaureate Studies

Soddy-Daisy High

— Institute of Media and Entrepreneurship

— BlueCross Technology Academy

Tyner Academy

— EPB Institute of Technology and Networking

— UTC Institute of Teaching and Learning

— Institute of Health Services