Last month we highlighted the Technology Center of DuPage experience of a young woman representing high school students who discover their career passion in childhood. They zero in on TCD for a great head start on their postsecondary education and well-planned career trajectory.
Most students do career exploration and decision-making much later in high school. This month, I would like to introduce one such outstanding student: Joseph "Joe" Egan, a senior at Willowbrook High School enrolled in the Fire Science/Emergency Medical Technician program. As a sports-minded youngster, Joe never thought about emergency medical services for a future career.
Joe candidly shared with me that during his freshman and sophomore years he was primarily an average C student. He's a bright young man who was more motivated by athletics than academics.
Joe worked two summers as a lifeguard at a community pool, where he performed 12 saves, including a swimmer experiencing a seizure. The adrenaline rush of saving someone's life had a huge impact on him. For the first time, he considered a medical career, perhaps nursing.
One of Joe's gymnastics teammates was Colton Bach. Bach, a year older, told Joe of the great experience he was having at Technology Center of DuPage in the Fire Science/EMT Program. Completely unfamiliar with TCD, Joe decided to attend the winter open house during his junior year to check out the medical-related electives.
He stopped by the fire science program just to see why his friend was so enthusiastic. There, he witnessed EMT students participating in a vehicle extraction demonstration. Joe was immediately impressed.
After one of the instructors explained the program and told visitors about his own career experience, Joe decided to apply for the EMT program. Willowbrook requires an interview as part of its TCD enrollment process, so Joe prepared himself and earned a spot in Greg Leston's EMT class for his senior year.
Lifeguard Joe found he had definitely dived into the deep end of the pool, but the challenge was exciting, not intimidating.
"Mr. Leston said this would be the hardest class we'd ever have in high school and it's true," he told me, "but, at the same time, it seems simple because I love it."
Joe explained that Leston's instructional approach makes the difference. The class features hands-on skill demos, followed by theory, followed by tests vs. the traditional theory-lab-test sequence. Joe found this far more engaging.
"I actually can't wait to do my homework," he said.
Joe works on his EMT coursework about an hour every night and that encouraged him to hit the books in his other courses as well. As a result, his overall grades went up, surprising Joe with an unexpected bonus.
"I found out I made Willowbrook's honor roll for the first time this year," he said with a big smile.
Joe is also on TCD's A-Team Honor Roll, and in a couple weeks will be inducted into the TCD chapter of the National Technical Honor Society.
Another honor came in March at the 2016 Illinois Health Occupations Student Association State Leadership Conference. Joe and EMT classmate Matt Slonoff of Hinsdale Central teamed up in the EMT competition and pulled off a first-place win.
"I thought we had done pretty well," Joe recalled. "I overheard another team say, 'Those guys really know what they're doing.'"
This second semester Joe is taking honors anatomy at Willowbrook and often finds the things he is learning in this course playing out in his EMT class. Each class makes the other easier to understand.
Coming up for Joe are several more chapters and some ambulance ride-along experiences. He is earning 13 college credits through this high school EMT program (i.e. "dual credit"). He feels confident in his skills and well-prepared for the national EMT examination, which he will take soon after graduation.
Joe's immediate future plan is to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard, as this will allow him to go to paramedic school, and possibly nursing school, while on active duty. He also wants to train in tactical water rescue, preferably on the East Coast. His long-range plans are to become a firefighter/paramedic, trauma nurse or even a SWAT medic.
I spoke with Joe as his high school experiences are coming to a close. He shared this reflection:
"TCD is the best possible way for high school students to begin their career because it's like real life," he said. "You will be tested to see how you'd actually measure up on the job."
• Alf Logan is the interim director of the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, the governing body for Technology Center of DuPage and other CTE delivery sites in the region. Learn more about the Fire Science-EMT Program at tcdupage.org. A personal visit or group tour of TCD may be arranged through Kathy Rosenwinkel at (630) 691-7572.