Business and community leaders have some important advice for Utica Community Schools (UCS) sixth graders who will shortly be leaving their elementary years behind for junior high school.
“Never stop learning—ever,” says Patrica Lopez, president of Michigan manufacturing company Rose-A-Lee Technologies (RAL).
Lopez, a winner of business and manufacturing awards, is the keynote speaker for the 26th annual Career Focus luncheon at Shelby Township's Palazzo Grande yesterday and today. The collaborative community program sets the stage for students transitioning into secondary schools by encouraging them to pursue innovation, explore career options and interests, and create a plan that ensures post-secondary education and success.
More than 2000 students have worked with teachers to research their interests, create a digital resume, develop an iMovie on their college and career choice, and an electronic business card—which is presented through a VR Code to a business representative at the luncheon. Business representatives share their personal stories about their careers to the eight to 10 students at their table.
Throughout the session yesterday, leaders stressed to students the importance of continuing education to reach their dream career.
“You must persist. You must be determined,”UCS superintendent Dr Christine Johns says. “We know that if you continue learning, you change the quality of life for you and your family and you impact a community at large.”
Prior to their graduation in 2025, Dr. Johns encouraged sixth-graders to take advantage of a wide array of secondary course options and extracurricular activities available to UCS junior and high school students.
The Career Focus Luncheon has been sponsored annually for 26 years by UCS Foundation for Educational Excellence. Foundation president Michael Nowicki says the event is a unique partnership of UCS administrators and teachers, community leaders, elective officials, families, and business leaders.
"This event brings together everything we love about Utica Community Schools," he says. "It demonstrates how our community is focused on our students and that their future remains a priority."
Over the past 26 years, speakers with different backgrounds have shared their career stories. Speakers have included defense industry engineer Angela Bradley, United Shore Professional Baseball League owner Andy Appleby and Emagine Theatre CEO Paul Glantz.
For this year's group of sixth graders, keynote speaker Lopez shared her story as a female engineer who worked at the Chrysler Corp. She left Chrysler to start her own manufacturing business and has worked to empower young women to seek careers in manufacturing.
She has been honored with multiple awards: 100 Successful Women in Business 2019; Notable Woman in Manufacturing 2018; Macomb's Business to Watch 2018; Corp! Most Valuable Millennial 2018 and Manufacturing Marvel 2017.
In addition to continuing their education, Lopez told students their only limit in life is their imagination.
“You will find challenges in your future,” she says. “Challenges are meant to make you better. As you come to those challenges, make sure you conquer them. But If you fail, that’s ok, because you are going to learn from that.”