There was no clearer message about Tom Osborn’s summer plans after high school graduation than the gift of cardboard boxes.

He got a dozen of them from his parents, the mechanical engineer told a small cluster of students at Dayton High School on Friday.

“I couldn’t live in my pickup,” he said. “I had to have a plan to get out of the house by fall.”

With a little more planning, discussion and mentorship that doesn’t have to be the students coming through Dayton High School.

On Friday about 30 professionals from 23 organizations were divided in about seven sectors throughout the school to offer their insight on working life after school to a students between eighth and 12th grades.

The Dayton High School Career Day was a response to a survey last December on students’ career interests. What the results also uncovered was that many of the students wanted more interaction with adults but don’t feel confident in communicating with them and don’t know how to seek mentorship.

So a team of seven professionals, including school staff, worked about two months to put the event together.

Those included from Dayton High School, Librarian Valerie Kerr, Principal Kristina Brown, and teachers Renee Slaybaugh, and Tracy Pearson; from GEAR UP, Heather Clarys and Monica Chapman; and from the Port of Columbia, Economic Development Coordinator Kathryn Witherington.

In Osborn’s late morning session with just four students, the Bonneville Power Administration employee emphasized exploring areas of interest to help find a pathway to a profession. If you’re interested in a career in music, learn an instrument, he said.

Dayton senior Logan Literal said he plans to pursue graphic design and is spending time working with a local company on silk screening.

“If I decide I don’t like college, I’m going to join the Air Force and do cyber security,” he said.

Without missing a beat, Osborn pulled out his cellphone and asked if Literal could start by stopping the pop-up ads that plague Osborn’s phone.

Relationship-building was an essential component to the day.

Librarian Valerie Kerr, whose work was the catalyst for the whole event, said the ultimate goal is to lay the groundwork for what could ultimately become internships or work study partnerships.

Kerr and her daughter, Juniper, were part of a Sherwood Trust Community Leadership group with a goal toward developing a mentorship program. It started with a survey that helped bring to light the student needs.

Ultimately, the Sherwood class chose to pursue a different project, but Kerr and her daughter stayed the course. They connected with the Port of Columbia, which was already working on a Career Connected Learning program. With teachers, counselors and administrators, the idea for Career Day was born.

Students who had already indicated their interests in various fields and sectors — health care, IT, trades, entrepreneurship, government and law, and more — were placed based on survey results into various groups throughout the school to learn more Friday.

For Shania Johnson, an eighth-grader, a vision for the future hasn’t been a hard one. The band member and drum major said she’s guided by her love of performing and fine arts.

“Art and literature fascinate me,” she said.

Thus she ended up midway through the morning in the school’s auditorium in a session with Charlie Oribio, a Dayton High graduate who post-college became Columbia County Rural Library District librarian assistant.

For his part, Oribio returns to the community where he remembers as a student being desperately bored with not enough to do and is now in a position to help the library become a hub of activity with books, of course, but also activities from laser tag to movie nights and Trivia Tuesdays to a Beat Saber virtual reality tournament.

“They’re things people don’t realize are happening in the community,” Oribio said.

Karen Hedine, Walla Walla YMCA CEO, is among those who traveled from Walla Walla for the event.

Before returning to the community for the Y’s top administrative position, Hedine had a career in the global life sciences industry.

She was among the group mentors for the technology sector in Dayton.

Ways to pursue interests and goals, the importance of networking being considerate and prepared were among the topics she planned to address Friday.

Rusty Figgins, master distiller and founder/owner of craft distillery XO Alambic in Dayton, was at first a little uncertain about whether the nature of his business was the right fit for underage students. But the passion for craftsmanship fits the same whether it’s in making alcohol or other products.

“I want them to get a sense of dedication to one’s chosen profession, as in loving your work and making your profession a part of your identity,” he said. “Keep on that path toward feeling professionally fulfilled.”

If he could go back and give his younger self advice, he said it would be that it’s OK to veer into new territory.

“I would reassure myself that making changes in one’s career path is not only quite possible but also quite permissible. If you choose an unrewarding path, choose again and go in the direction that best suits your abilities and interests,” Figgins said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, or on Twitter at

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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