Almost 100,000 New Jersey public high school seniors will graduate this month. For many of these young adults, their future plans are unclear at this point: They’ll go to college or work, but beyond that, they’re not really sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
But the majority of county vocational-technical school graduates are focused and ready, with clearly thought-out pathways for the next steps in their careers.
Meet Maggie, Justin, Preethi, Jesse, Sydney and Christopher – six seniors from throughout the state whose dreams and aspirations have received a head start thanks to their county vocational-technical school experiences.
Maggie Rice, of Lacey Township, is a 2013 graduate of Ocean County Vocational Technical School’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES).
“I had never heard of MATES until I saw a video presentation in 8th grade,” Maggie said. “I was always a good student, involved in sports and activities, but I was shy and quiet, and never put myself at the forefront of anything. I thought MATES was the challenge that I needed.
“At first my parents were hesitant because like many people, they had a misconception that vocational schools and college plans did not go together. But after doing some research, we decided it was a good choice for me,” she said.
For Maggie, the research component of the MATES curriculum has been the greatest aspect of her high school education.
“My freshman project involved how humans influence lake environments and water quality. That evolved into four years of extensive independent research that helped me grow academically and personally. I’ve presented projects at competitions and have had opportunities to work with the state Department of Environmental Protection and local environmental groups,” she said.
Maggie has received an appointment to the US Coast Guard Academy, where she will study Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and receive a commission as a Coast Guard officer upon graduation.
“Military service has been a tradition in my family and the opportunity to go to college and serve my country seems to be the perfect choice for me,” she said.
Justin Bryant, of Paterson, is a 2013 graduate of the Passaic County Technical Institute School of Business Careers, who dreams of designing and opening his own business one day, while continuing to give back to his community.
Justin has received an academic scholarship to Seton Hall University, where he will major in Economics and Finance.
“I’ve grown so much since my freshman year and it is in large part thanks to the wonderful teachers and opportunities at PCTI,” Justin said.
An honor roll student, he earned six college credits in Accounting while in high school. He was also a member of PCTI’s SLICE organization, a student club that focuses on leadership and community involvement and engagement.
Outside of school, Justin volunteers his time and efforts reconstructing homes and churches, and actively participates in the annual church event, “Angel’s Food Drive.”
“Through all of the diverse activities at PCTI, I’ve learned to communicate more effectively with other people and to understand other cultures, while at the same time learning a lot more about myself. This jump start on my career in business has helped prepare me for college and beyond,” Justin said.
Preethi Govindarajan, of Bridgewater, is a 2013 graduate of Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School’s Academy for Health and Medical Sciences.
She also recently graduated from Raritan Valley Community College with an Associate’s degree in General Science, an option available to high-performing students in the Academy.
“It’s an academically rigorous program, which has been very rewarding for me,” Preethi said. “And all the core courses I’ve already taken and the other credits I’ve earned will give me the flexibility to pursue other areas that interest me when I start college in the fall.”
As part of the Academy program, she also earned her Emergency Medical Technician certification. “Working as an EMT and volunteering at the local hospital really confirmed my desire to become a doctor,” she said.
In the fall, Preethi will begin a seven-year combined Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program at The College of New Jersey. Her bachelor’s degree major will be Biology, with a research focus on molecular biology.
Her goal is to become a surgeon, and after she receives her medical degree, she would like to serve people in need by joining an organization such as Doctors Without Borders.
Jesse Neeson, of Alloway, is a 2013 graduate of Salem County Vocational Technical Schools (SCVTS). He was enrolled in the Automotive Technology Program as a full-time student throughout his four years of high school.
“I wanted to go to SCVTS and take Automotive Technology because I’ve always had a passion for cars,” Jesse said. “I really enjoy working hard to solve a problem with a car’s engine.”
Jesse has decided not to pursue post-secondary education right now because he prefers the hands-on experience gained by on-the-job training.
He began his cooperative education experience in March, working for Dan’s Auto Center in Pennsville.
Dan Bestwick, the owner of the shop, is a 1976 graduate of Salem County Vocational Technical Schools and the school’s 2002 Alumnus of the Year. He has hired Jesse as a full-time employee after graduation.
At SCVTS, Jesse was one of the top students in the automotive program, and understands the importance of staying current with new technology and new vehicle makes and models.
He worked closely with instructor Al Roeske, served as a mentor to the first year students, and is now a member of the school’s Automotive Technology Advisory Committee.
“Whatever I can do to help future mechanics coming out of the program, I’m pleased to do that,” Jesse said. “I appreciate what I’ve learned and will never forget the education I received here at Salem County Vo-Tech.”
Sydney Ince, of Lawrenceville, is a 2013 graduate of Mercer County Technical Schools (MCTS) and Lawrence High School. She was enrolled in the Cosmetology program at the MCTS Assunpink Center.
“I chose cosmetology because ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to own a chain of salons,” Sydney said.
“But after spending time with my grandmother, who is a nurse, I decided to become a physician assistant instead. I plan to use my cosmetology skills, while I’m in college, so I can earn money to pay for school,” she said.
Sydney sat for and passed the highly-rigorous New Jersey state cosmetology licensing exam as part of her high school curriculum. All of Sydney’s classmates also passed the written part of the exam.
Sydney will begin her studies at Howard University’s Physician Assistant program in the fall.
She said that when she started the MCTS cosmetology program, “I thought I would just be learning about hair and makeup and those kinds of things, and I came out learning so much more.
“The program taught me so many things about the body, diseases, disorders and electricity. Everything I learned will help me become a physician assistant,” she said.
Sydney is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars and was the president of her cosmetology class. She is a recipient of a $1,000 Comcast Leaders Award.
Christopher Cabral, of Lindenwold, is a 2013 graduate of Camden County Technical Schools (CCTS). He was enrolled in the Performing Arts Academy at the district’s Gloucester Township Campus for his high school education.
“When I auditioned in eighth grade, I didn’t have any prior experience. I just had a dream of working in theater someday,” Christopher said.
Now, after four years of studying theater history, taking acting, voice and dance lessons, learning about technical equipment and stage and costume design, and acquiring a host of other skills, he has decided to pursue a career major in theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy’s College of the Performing Arts, a world-renowned conservatory in New York.
“My high school education gave me the skills and experience I needed to explore the many facets of working as an actor, dancer and vocalist, and also being part of the crew and technical department,” he said
“I’m very excited about living in New York and pursing my passion at the college level,” Christopher said. “I hope to concentrate on dance so that I may open my own dance studio one day.”
Christopher excelled academically at CCTS. He was also in the after school Drama Club and served as the emcee for several high-profile district events.
His lead roles in student productions included Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Simon Stimson in Our Town, and Moonface Martin in Anything Goes.
Congratulations to Maggie, Justin, Preethi, Jesse, Sydney and Christopher, and all of the 2013 New Jersey county vocational-technical school graduates.
Interested in hearing more from our students? Check out these two excellent videos:
Mercer County Technical Schools: See You at the Tech School, produced by a former MCTS student who now owns his own video company.
Perth Amboy Wins the Blue Ribbon Award, produced by Middlesex County Vocational & Technical Schools’ students and staff. (Note – In case you find yourself wondering at the end of the film: Jose was accepted at the University of Maryland.)