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Working professionals credit high school co-op for career paths

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By Meaghan Downs

Students need not look any further for a taste of the working world than their high school co-op program.
And for a few Anderson County high school graduates, they need only to look back on their co-op experience to figure out where their careers began.
Glen Drury, who has advised the Anderson County high school co-op program for about eight years, estimated that about 20 percent of students remain in the same career field they chose to shadow as high school students.  
“As a young person, discovering what you don’t want to do can be just as helpful,” he said.
Former co-op student Amanda Warford, for instance, thought she wanted to be an English teacher.
She told employer and attorney Thomas Jones as much when she began her year at his law office through the co-op program in Fall 2005.
“He told me he was going to make a lawyer out of me, and I actually laughed at him,” Warford said.
Warford started as an administrative assistant, but as she stayed on to work over breaks and summer vacations, she took on more responsibilities such as drafting documents and discussing courtroom strategies.  
Now in her final year of law school at the University of Louisville with a two-year clerkship with a federal judge lined up, Warford said she has no regrets about the path she’s chosen.
“It’s kind of put my life where I think it needs to be,” she said of the co-op program.
She said she understands the emphasis put on taking Advanced Placement courses, but the co-op program offers experience, which is equally valuable.
“While I think that’s really good, I think that a lot of employers now, particularly in the market, are looking for skills and experience and I think the co-op program provides for that,” Warford said.
Tyler Smith, a credit risk assistant at Century Bank in Lawrenceburg, started working in a co-op partnership back in middle school.
He knew he was good at math, and liked it. Smith said he figured he was going to be a math teacher and basketball coach.
Then in high school he learned about a friend doing the co-op program with Century Bank, and submitted his resume.
Now Smith, who graduated from the University of Kentucky with an economics degree, has been with the bank for about six years, moving up from bank teller to a loan assistant training to be a loan officer. He still gets to coach basketball as an assistant coach for the middle school girls’ team.
He said he enjoys seeing the other side of the loan process, “just breaking down the numbers and finding percentages,” Smith said.
Another co-op alumna, Hannah Sutherland, enjoys the challenge that comes with selling insurance at State Farm.
At first, she said, she only joined the co-op program to get out of taking classes she didn’t need.
Now, she loves the satisfaction of helping and interacting with customers, as well as knowing that selling insurance is something she’d like to make into a career.
“I’m lucky to have a job,” Sutherland said, “much less one that I love.”
Sutherland, a junior at the University of Kentucky, currently works at the State Farm office part-time while living and attending college classes in Lexington.  
She said without participating in the co-op program, she wouldn’t have known that insurance was something she wanted to do.
“I would still be searching for what I wanted to do with my life after college,” she said.  
And that’s exactly what Drury was aiming for.
“Work’s going to be sometimes hard, but it won’t be unbearable,” Drury said. “I’d like young people to look at work not as a dirty word for them.”