Careers come to life at Tuttle

A private pilot. A graphic designer. A dog groomer.

They are all employed in Catawba County, and they all came to Tuttle Elementary School's annual career day.

Representatives from about 20 different local careers arrived in Maiden on Friday to educate students about the skills, education and character it takes to be part of the workforce.

"Kids don't get exposed to a lot of these careers that are out there," said school counselor Rebecca Romeo, who coordinated the event. "Kids need directions, and they need to have some thoughts about what they want to do planted in their minds."

Romeo starts planning for career day at the start of the school year.

It takes her that long to coordinate her presenters and organize the event. Each career representative stays in one location in the school while students rotate from room to room with their classmates.

Students in third through sixth grade selected certain career presenters. Students in younger grades saw a pre-selected group of presenters, which included visits from Catawba County EMS and the Maiden High School ROTC.

"I really wanted to get each presenter to talk about character and how it relates to your position in life," Romeo said.

After each career demonstration, students had the opportunity to ask questions.

Chris Owen and Dennis Smith, from the Catawba County Sheriff's Office, brought Belgian Malinois named Verik to show students what it takes to be a K-9 officer.

"These dogs don't know how to be pets," Smith told students, who wanted to know the difference between Verik and their dogs at home.

Verik sat calmly as Owen and Smith talked with students about their duties, but the officers warned students not to be deceived by appearances. Verik knows his job as a K-9 at the sheriff's office.

"These dogs just love to work," Owen said.

In a nearby classroom, other students learned from the county's Special Tactics and Response Team (STAR).

"I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement when I was in high school," said STAR member Michael Bumgarner.

Bumgarner and another STAR member, Anthony Stafford, explained to students that being part of the team isn't as glamourous as it sometimes appears. They said you have to be willing to put yourself in danger to help others.

Other professionals who attended Tuttle's Career Day included representatives from Penske Racing, Technibilt and Catawba Valley Community College.

For Romeo, it's important students see diversity in their career options.

"There are so many opportunities that these kids don't even know exist," Romeo said.

Tuttle assistant principal Nichole Ijames agreed.

"You don't realize that all these careers are already here," she said.

Students gathered in Tuttle's gymnasium to meet Newton businessman Michael Neely, who works with something many young people are interested in — video games.

Neely owns Blind Squirrel Digital, which specializes in digital media, 3-D animation and other graphic design projects.

Blind Squirrel Digital developed a computer racing game for a Saudi Arabia ketchup company that will be released on Facebook in about a month.

"Game development is more complex than people realize, but it's also a lot of fun," Neely said.