Students explore career interests through mentorships

Sherando High School senior Ariana Piacquadio presents her project on farm-to-table efforts after a mentorship with One Block West chef Ed Matthews at the Gifted Independent Study showcase. Rachel Mahoney

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando students in the Gifted Independent Study program presented their semester projects alongside other Frederick County students at a student showcase Monday evening.

Before sharing individual experiences over the course of the semester, student representatives from each school talked about the cohorts’ experiences with community service at seminars based on the concept of “Choices.”

Gifted Resources teacher Robin Owens said this was the first year that students put together a video project that addressed the needs they saw in the community during those seminars.

Each of the 38 students in the county’s program this year introduced their project and professional mentor within the community. The students’ chosen fields reflected their interests and ranged from business management and health care to psychology and religion.

Students used their final class period to spend 55 hours of site time with a chosen mentor over the course of the semester and get some hands-on experience and advice.

Sherando senior Katie Schaefer completed her second GIS project this semester after a mentorship with principal attorney Nate Adams III. Despite coming away from the program armed with a lot of knowledge, she said it’s a little overwhelming to see how much she still has to learn.

“If there’s anything that I learned from my mentorship it’s that being a lawyer is very detail oriented, so that’s what I decided to focus on for my project,” she said.

Schaefer said she knew the field was a good fit when she realized she was exited about getting a law book – especially after expressing interest in multiple fields throughout high school.

“My mom, when I was younger, she told me I was really good at arguing – she was like, ‘you should be a lawyer!'” she said. “And I never really took that seriously until I had to start thinking seriously about a career.”

Next semester, she said she wants to continue exploring the legal world by observing more criminal law cases at her mentorship. Further down the road, she hopes to pursue higher education relating to government or politics and eventually get to law school.

Even though senior Ariana Piacquadio said she wants to pursue a major in creative writing, she’s learned about food-related topics from mentors since starting with the program her junior year. While shadowing her mentor Ed Matthews, chef at One Block West in Winchester, she saw him work with farmers in West Virginia and observed the farm-to-table process and relationships firsthand.

“His menu was always changing so it was all seasonal, all local…he used the quality of the local ingredients around him,” she said.

Piacquadio said she hopes to pursue a minor in sustainable agriculture at Warren Wilson College. She said she wants to finish her final semester project on creative writing but may yet incorporate her passion for produce into her career.

“I definitely want to do something with cooking, with food, even if it’s not in my professional career,” she said. “I love to cook, and I really think that cooking with local healthy foods is important.”

For his first semester in the GIS program, senior Grant Breem further explored his interest in psychiatry. He presented his project as a case study in opiate addiction after a mentorship with Dr. Russell McKelway. Breem said he wants to focus on inpatient procedures in a hospital next semester rather than outpatient.

“This definitely showed that I really love the private practice side to psychiatry, but as my mentor and I have talked about, there’s always many branches of all fields out there so it’d be good for me to go and explore the other side of psychiatry,” he said.

Having had a few professional interests on his mind before the program, Breem said the program has helped him narrow his focus for plans post-graduation.

“I wanted to try out psychiatry first because I thought physical therapy would be my main choice, but after this rotation, it’s been very evident that this is my calling,” he said. “It’s a great way to get hands-on experience and really see if it’s something you want to do.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com