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Aera in the Community Nov 13, 2020

Helping high school students stay focused on the future through COVID-19

Aera employees continue to provide crucial mentoring support at Bakersfield’s Independence High School

Aera employee Abby Mejia holds up a shirt she received when she was part of Independence High School’s Energy and Utilities Career Academy. Now a mentor herself, she says the program completely changed her career path.

Aera Energy employees have a long history of mentoring local high-school students, and they have continued to step forward even as the coronavirus pandemic forces schools into distance-learning mode.

One school where Aera’s volunteers are shaping future paths is Bakersfield’s Independence High. The school’s Energy and Utilities Career Academy relies on dozens of mentors from local energy and utility industries. Together, they’re opening students’ eyes to workforce skills and STEM opportunities.

Abby Mejia is a former student whose career direction was shaped by the program and Aera’s mentoring.

As a sophomore at Independence High School, Mejia was sure she was going to become a doctor. That was until she joined the Energy and Utilities Career Academy.

“It’s so common with students – you hear about the highest paying jobs, you just decide you are going that route and that’s exactly why I decided I wanted to come a doctor,” Mejia explained. “The academy gave me a completely different outlook into the different types of jobs available in the world, and completely changed my career direction.”

Fast forward more than seven years. Today, Mejia is a Title V compliance assurance specialist at Aera’s Belridge facility. She’s also helping shape futures as a mentor in the same program that changed her life.

Mentoring for future impact

A total of 12 Aera employees and 36 individuals from various companies throughout the energy and utility industry are part of the mentoring program at the academy. They mentor 172 students from grades 10 through 12 and assist with curriculum development, lessons, field trips and even potential internships – all aimed at helping prepare students with lifelong skills in workforce readiness.

“The experience with the mentoring program has been really helpful, especially now as a senior as I am applying for colleges and exploring different programs,” said Shivreet Dhillon, a senior at Independence High School.

“It’s a really great opportunity for students, and I hope it makes a lasting impact for students in the same way it did for me. The things you learn here can be useful and beneficial to you in the future,” Mejia said.

Shivreet Dhillon is a senior at Independence High School and in her third year in the program. A mock-interview session she took part in with her mentors last year had her well-prepared for a real interview that happened a few days later.

“Through the academy, I have had the opportunity to explore the many career options that are available to us in the future,” Dhillon said.

What schools can’t do on their own

Angelina Sasser, a sophomore at the high school, is fairly new to the program and is interested in getting to know working professionals from various industries, so she can improve her own professional-development skills.

“I’m excited to meet new people, hear their stories and fundamentally learn more about what they do,” said Sasser.

These are experiences the school simply can’t provide for students on its own, said Aaron Jacobson, coordinator for the academy.

“We realize our students are successful not because of what we do as teachers,” Jacobson said. “It’s because we get them to work together to solve problems and find community support – and people from our community have come in to help them see how to do it. It’s our students stepping forward, partners in the community stepping forward to support our students – and we really appreciate that.”

“We’re doing online learning, our mentors are still working from home – so it’s been very reassuring that everyone is working under some difficult circumstances,” Dhillon said.

“They’ve taught us if there’s a will there’s a way,” she added. “They’re sharing how they are in a similar position as we are. It’s nice that despite the fact that we’re doing distance learning, we can still maintain our soft skills and virtual communication access. It’s really been helpful.”

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