No time like the present for plotting a future

Research and exploratory steps onto a career path can position students for education, career success

By Gwen Soderberg-Chase

Choice. It’s something we as humans all want. Americans in particular regard choice as our birthright, given that this nation came about because of the limits imposed on choices offered here and abroad.

Parents naturally want to present their children paths to the future that are wide with opportunity, leading to a horizon filled with promise. Smart parents realize that the path isn’t a default route. They know that planning is the greatest vehicle to reach any destination. And that plans may change, so flexibility is required. The result? More choice.

The Douglas County Partners for Student Success would love to issue passports to all families with a student looking ahead to a life beyond high school. We can’t do that, exactly, but we can help families preparing for those journeys.

Let’s start with a simple question: What can you do now to get ready?

It’s true that it is the rare child who can say, “My life work will be (this.)” But all children have interests and “sparks” – those activities and interests that truly engage kids to be their best. It is from those passions that we can build on and begin supporting our youth in the planning for their future.

Now, nobody is suggesting that we take all of our preteens to chimney sweeps or bricklayers or blacksmiths and apprentice them in a sort of Dickensian indentured servitude. Picking a potential career path or area of interest does not have to be an irrevocable decision.

What we can do, though, is provide our youth with opportunities to explore. Ask questions. Have conversations. If an eighth-grader is a whiz with numbers, find out now what college math courses are available to her in high school. If a 14-year-old lives for excursions to the woods, take him to the nearest forestry service office and find out what experiences might be available for which he can apply by the time he’s in ninth or 10th grade.

If I make a list before going into the grocery store, I’m far more likely to come out with what I need for my pantry. If my neighbor’s son is thinking about a career in early childhood education, I would hope his school counselor is pointing him toward classes such as math for elementary school teachers. But if I were that student, I’d do more than hope. I’d be researching now what courses, skills and requirements are needed later for the path that leads to my choices.

In “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, a young woman imagines her future as if she were perched on the branches of a fig tree. Each possibility appears before her as a fat, purple fig, beckoning and winking. Yet because she is stymied into inaction, “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose … and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

While this metaphor may seem a bit extreme, the truth is, our Douglas County kids have many ripe figs before them. Helping them explore all the ways to expand their choices will ensure a fine harvest for each and every one.


Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the Project Coordinator for the Douglas County Partners for Student Success. She grew up in Douglas County and graduated from South Umpqua High School. She attended the University of Oregon for post-secondary education. She returned to Douglas County and worked as a teacher and Director of Educational Services for the Roseburg Public Schools until 2011 and has worked at UCC and with the nonprofit sector since. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley, Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center and SMART.