Sometimes the light bulb literally goes off.

For hundreds of Portland high school students, Wednesday, Oct. 11, was a day set aside for Career Exploration with an array of field trips, school assemblies, classroom speakers, mock interviews and more.

Madison High freshmen enjoyed building a light-bulb circuit during a visit to PCC’s Swan Island Trade Center.

At Portland Community College’s Swan Island Trades Center, about 50 Madison High freshmen teamed up in groups of three and learned how to wire a light bulb circuit with the help of an instructor and currently enrolled PCC students.

“It was so much fun to make a light bulb turn on,” one girl said afterward.

“I loved the hands-on electricity work,” a boy said.  

Another student said he had learned “about a new possible career.”

Seeing the light bulb go off, figuratively as well as literally, is the payoff for adult volunteers. Local employers and educators collaborate throughout the school year to introduce students to career options they might not know about otherwise.

Instructor Enrique Maldonado high-fives students after a successful light-bulb circuitry project.

Portland Workforce Alliance helps facilitate these career-learning experiences in fast-growing, high-paying sectors such as healthcare, technology, construction and design. More than 30 Career Days are planned this school year, along with the annual NW Youth Careers Expo on March 13, 2018.


Cleveland, Franklin, Grant and Madison all had on-campus career exploration events, organized by their career coordinators with support from PPS’ Office of College and Career Readiness. PWA assisted by recruiting about 30 volunteers to serve as career speakers, mock interview volunteers and career workshop leaders. 

“It was a pleasure to speak to those young people and their thoughtful questions were heartwarming,” said Dr. Esther Choo from Oregon Health & Science University, who was the keynote career speaker at Cleveland High. 

Dr. Esther Choo of Oregon Health & Sciences University urges Cleveland High seniors to develop their career aspirations.

In addition, some schools did off-campus career exploration. PWA organized Class Career Exploration visits for Madison and Franklin. About 50 Franklin students went to the Port of Portland to learn about careers in airport operations and emergency services. A similar number from Madison toured the PCC Swan Island Trades Center to learn about apprenticeships and do hands-on learning.

Salvador Castañeda, outreach coordinator at the Trades Center, told the Madison 9th graders that skilled workers are in great demand and can earn a good income, but they also need to be good at math so they can work in carpentry and other construction trades.

Enrique Maldonado, a licensed electrician who supervised the light-bulb activity, pointed to his student helpers as having just started on that career pathway themselves.

“In four to five years, these students will become electricians themselves,” he said.

Franklin High students take part in an emergency simulation with escalating scenarios at the Port of Portland’s Emergency Operations Center.

At the Port of Portland, more than 50 students from Franklin High School received a behind-the-scenes look at the Port’s many properties and functions at the Portland International Airport. They saw the airport’s fire department full of engines that can spray water high in the air as they approach a fire. They also saw the gigantic outdoor soundproof booth where large jets can rev their engines in the middle of the night for maintenance testing without bothering nearby neighborhoods.

One highlight was a visit to the Port’s Emergency Operations Center. With help from EOC staff from several different departments, groups of students were led through an emergency simulation with escalating scenarios. Students had to deal with a crisis that began with unusual snow levels and led to flight cancellations, thousands of travelers stranded, misinformation in the media about the airport’s closure and even coyotes on a runway. 

Students worked in teams to dispatch responsibilities and decide how to manage the crisis with the resources and equipment and staff available on site.

“I learned that the airport has many different types of jobs,” one Franklin student said. Another student said, “I learned how important each employee is to make PDX run smoothly.”


PPS high school students explore careers on Oct. 11, on campus and off