Meet PWA alum Ben Franson, a 2021 Grant High School graduate and a first-year student at University of Oregon studying design. 

In high school, Ben regularly attended PWA Career Days as he explored and developed his career interests. He also participated in the first annual cohort of the Youth Impact Council during 2020-2021, an advisory group of high school students across the Portland-metro area that is facilitated by board members Rachelle Thurik of Topo Designs and Jarryd Briggs of Umpqua Bank. 

During their monthly mentoring sessions last school year, Ben and the rest of his YIC cohort helped plan PWA’s first-ever virtual NW Youth Careers Expo, participated in one-on-one career mentoring, and discussed career readiness and leadership topics with guest volunteers. 

We sat down with Ben to learn more about his experience with PWA and find out what he is up to now. 

Why did you get involved with the Youth Impact Council? 

“I was doing a lot of career searching and learning about what I wanted to do in different art fields so I was really involved with the [Grant High School] college and career center coordinator [and PWA Board Committee Member] Madeline Kokes. And she reached out to me with the opportunity. I hadn’t done a lot of volunteer work or just like generally being a part of the community outside of Grant, so I wanted to do something that would be helpful to a wider community and help me get better connections with career-based studies and just generally get to meet some new people and get some more experience and help out among my community.” 

What kind of career exploration did you do before joining YIC? 

“Mostly through my junior year before COVID, from late fall 2019 to early 2020, I did a lot of career days. So I would take little pseudo-field trips to different establishments and institutions – a lot of them were design based – and I would get to tour facilities, talk to faculty, do activities with other groups of students doing the same programs and learn more about how design and art in general operated as a whole and get a sense of what I would be doing in different careers, which definitely helped push me towards a design career. I remember quite a few of them were through PWA.”  

Did you have a favorite career day that you participated in? 

“I did. It was the product design firm that I ended up going to, it’s called Ziba. It's a Portland-based design firm, and it was just incredible seeing the process of how they made different ideas and sketches and pieces of art come to life in a sort of physical product or a physical manifestation of that idea.” 

What was it like getting to be a part of the 2020-2021 Youth Impact Council? 

“It was a handful of meetings, a meeting a month from December to June, mainly helping set up the Careers Expo that PWA headed and a lot of it was, as it was the Youth Council, being a part of figuring out what the youth and surrounding demographics, what they were interested in, because a lot of the career expo is for younger demographics. It was finding out what those demographics wanted and how to cater to them and bringing an extra layer of perspective into the Expo.” 

What skills did you gain from the program? 

“It definitely helped with working with people and working more with adults especially… with the Youth Council, it felt like I was being treated more like an adult than before, and just generally working one on one with people and getting more people skills in that area.” 

What did you learn from the program speakers and facilitators? 

“There were a few different speakers who came in and helped us get a better understanding of how to work in this setting and just in general to get better career insights. It was also helpful because the coordinators of the program – some of them worked in banks, some of them worked in other jobs, so it was interesting, you could get different career perspectives and different career advice because each person had come up from a different path and was in PWA for a different reason, whether it was being the instructor or the guest speakers who would come in.” 

Looking toward the future, what are you hoping to do long-term? 

“Generally, my goal is to in some way use design and creation and my artistic expression to better the communities around me, and if possible, better the world at large, either working for a company that does something eco-friendly or beneficial or creating that outlet myself and going and creating my own company, but hopefully working in a space where what I do helps the lives of somebody else. I don't have a specific goal of a certain company or a certain position but I would like to go into it and gain power, not power in the capitalistic sense of getting a lot of money, but power as in like the widest reach I can get and the most help and benefits that I can spread to other people through my expressions and through my design.” 

PWA’s 2021-22 YIC cohort is gearing up for their next council meeting, which will feature a presentation on job search readiness with special guest Corbin C of Boly Welch. To learn more about one of our current YIC students, Fia Leatham, check out February’s student spotlight here

These remarks have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Student Spotlight: Ben Franson