Paths to the Future: Career Forum Inspires Students

“Education can take many forms,” commented guest panelist and physical chemist Tycho Speaker, during Mount Madonna School’s 3rd annual Career Forum last week. “What’s important is to find your passion, and work as hard as you have to toward realizing it. Then the education will come on its own, whether that takes the form of a degree or just life experience.”

The event was attended by 9th through 12th graders and featured guest presenters drawn from the School’s parent and alumni body spotlighting an array of professions. Participants talked with the gathered students about their chosen professions, about how they arrived at their career path, and the importance of finding something you enjoy doing and through which they can earn a living.

Speaker, a senior scientist at TransDerm, Inc, and President of Capsulent, shared with the assembled students that the technology around which he started his microencapsulation business began with experiments using a blender in his home kitchen. “Sometimes, if your facilities are limited, you have to come up with a creative solution,” he said. “And sometimes that solution turns out to be better than the ‘normal’ way to do things. In this case the improvised process resulted in a patent.”

Kate Connor, a parent of a current MMS student and two alumni, explains the motivation for parents who come together each year to organize, produce and present this event.

“As our children began to face the difficult challenge of choosing colleges based upon potential career opportunities,” explains Connor, “a group of MMS parents came together to expose them to the varied and extensive career options that are available. Career paths are rarely lineal. Utilizing a fun and engaging format, and drawing upon our talented and experienced parent and alumni community, students have an opportunity to identify interests, occupations and discover their passions. As parents, our goal is to provide as much information for our kids as we can, as they prepare to embark on their college path and future.”

Student quickly immersed themselves in the fun format of the event – beginning with a mini ‘quiz show’ where teams – divided by grade level – competed to answer questions about the guest panelists.

“Many people who love the capabilities of digital, computer-based recording really miss the warm sound of older analog equipment,” commented guest panelist Matt Ward, a musician and president of Universal Audio. “People are often surprised to learn that in the software emulations of analog recording equipment we’re best known for, a great amount of algebra is used.”

“I work in health care, and being able to speak Spanish is the reason I got my first two jobs outside of graduate school,” said Anne Hawkins, a genetic counselor who works with the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “My Spanish has come into great utility.”

Guest Cindi Busenhart, CEO of an action wear retailer Sessions, agrees that speaking other languages in addition to English can be an invaluable skill, regardless of profession. She shared that she is learning Japanese to allow her to better network with her company’s Japanese client base. Busenhart was recently named by the San Jose Business Journal as one of Silicon Valley’s “100 Most Influential Women of 2012”.

Following the ‘quiz show’ introductions, students were divided into mixed-grade groups for a segment of ‘speed dating’: rotating around the room in five-minute intervals to ask questions and talk one-on-one with each additional guest presenter. Participants shared an array of advice and experience:

“The more you get involved in an organization and are passionate about what you do, the more exposure you get to other parts of the company, and it can really open up what you get to do,” presenter Monica Nascimento told the students. “Don’t think that what you’re going to start out doing is what you’re going to end up doing.” Nascimento is Director of Marketing Communications working with Government ID Solutions for HID Global.

“I feel like college – especially the initial four years – is a period of life meant for getting as much experience as you can, so you can create the foundation for ‘who’ you’re going to be,” said Alicia [Weston-Miles] Carlson (MMS class of ’01), responding to a student question about ‘what she got out of college.’ Carlson is a vice president at Trinitas Partners, a privately held investment company.

Each year the event features different guest presenters. In addition to those mentioned above, this year’s participants were: UCSC Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Giacomo Bernardi; Santa Cruz family physician Karen Harrington; Joe Viglizzo, a fireman with the San Francisco Fire Department; Craig Diskowski, owner and graphic designer, Edge Design; private practice endodontist John Jimenez; Vikram Duvvoori, executive vice president at HCL Technologies; and organic farmer Julia Wiley, owner of Mariquita Farms

Up until the event’s conclusion, students continue asking questions of the guest presenters:

“Did you always want to be a dentist?” senior Lulu Morell-Haltom asked endodontist and root canal specialist John Jimenez.

“When I was a 20-year-old immigrant,” replied Jimenez, “an Organic Chemistry teacher in college took time to mentor me and encourage me to take the exam in dentistry. I didn’t know I was going to become a dentist, but today I love my profession!”

“What advice do you have for us as we prepare to head off into college?” asked senior Palak Bhatnagar.

“Go into a profession that you like,” Jimenez advised. “If you have a hobby that you like, you can do it on the side, too, but you have to be practical. College is a huge investment that goes by so fast.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.