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X. The letter “x” is commonly used as the name for an independent variable or unknown value. It is a variable that stands alone and isn't changed by the other variables you are trying to measure.

Nothing is more unknown, uncertain, and undetermined than the path of our own individual lives. And at no point is that path more malleable than middle school.

Amidst the hormonal hurricane of adolescence and the distractions of the modern age, teens are supposed to start choosing directions for their life before even seeing the choices. With no genuine exposure to the day to day tasks of different vocations or knowledge of the rewarding accomplishments possible in promising fields such as construction, manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and energy, many youth are left feeling lost. All the while, there are massive workforce skill gaps industries like construction which also faces the stark reality that only 3 percent of young people who have a career in mind are interested in the construction trades.

There are opportunities out there for young people to develop skills and explore talents, especially in an accessible field like Construction, but few middle school students get to them without exposure and direction. Pathway |x| Events (PxE) takes on the challenge of pulling everything together and making the connections to bring exciting, empowering events to communities where career pathways have not been presented enough by over burdened guidance counselors and administrators in schools.

Middle school is an appropriate time to present these pathways because the Association for Career and Technical Education finds "middle-grades students want to explore topics they find interesting and relevant, including careers, and they want to do so in active, hands-on ways." Bill Nye "the Science Guy," a mechanical engineer, found his pathway through hands on tinkering exposure when he worked at a bike shop in his teens. Nye said he never considered becoming a full time scientist or engineer until his coworker in the shop, an engineer, inspired his interest in the field by talking continually about strength of materials, and the alloys that make up different parts of the bicycles and how those components all came together.

In Nye's time it was more common to see youth engaging in something hands on that way but these days students have their eyes glued to screens and their hands clasped to pencils filling in bubbles on standardized tests. John White, a retired middle school principal who is now an education consultant and sits on the board of the California League of Middle Schools says in an article on EdSource that "We’re trying to make (middle school students) all Einsteins so they can go to college, but we don’t offer enough career stuff … nothing that students can really go out and do."

Too many young people who are unaware of avenues they can take and their self discovery is delayed by years because no one has connected the professional pathway development resources and opportunities available. There are many wonderful options - Career Technical Educational programs (CTE)s, workforce development, etc. out there to help reach these students- but they are isolated and scattered like pieces of a bicycle. PxE puts the pieces together and engages you to explore all options at an event near you. It hopes to let youth see the full potential they have and the full breadth of what they can accomplish by letting them try exciting things with professionals and trainers in the industries that are facing the biggest talent gaps in our state and the nation.

I have to hypothesize, that far, far more than 3% of teens would consider construction trades, if exposed to the many options for exciting, fulfilling work in those fields. On March 20th, 2018, PxE will put this to the test with an experiment - a pilot even that will convene approximately 200 Ferndale Middle School 8th graders to experience a variety of hands-on activity stations showcasing different types of work in the construction industry. Other themed series, after this, will follow and illuminate the options for work in fields including manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and energy. Based off of hundreds events I have had with volunteers at STEM education events, I venture PxE events are going to prove popular and fulfill a niche that meets the needs of parents, industries, and students who have waited years for something like this to exist.

Melissa and Sarah, the founders of PxE, are what I like to call event engineers, and I've had the privilege of seeing the incredible interactive experiences they create up close in my time working with them at a Science Museum in Detroit. They've reinvented their own careers by founding Pathway |x| Events and they know it can take years to really know what you want your path to be. Melissa and Sarah are going to do everything they can to make sure the generations coming of age have more opportunities to try hands on experience than any generation before. They’re going to ignite some creative sparks in Ferndale and I look forward to volunteering my time to lead a very interactive activity at the event on March 20!

A young person's future is theirs to tweak and assemble, like one of young Bill Nye's bikes, and PxE will be there, invariably, to provide a detailed map and blueprint for whatever path they want to choose. As an early advocate of PxE’s mission, I am excited to participate at the event, write and just be along for the ride!

-Steve Zoski, Blog Manager, writer, and event volunteer for PxE

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