Portfolio Day inspires Scarlett eighth graders to plan for college, career

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By Tara Cavanaugh 

Ann Arbor City Councilman Stephen Kunselman sits down with a Scarlett Middle School eighth grader, looks him in the eyes, and shakes his hand.

“So, where do you see yourself in four years?” he asks.

“That’s a good question,” the boy answers nervously as he opens his portfolio and begins talking about where he might like to go to college.

Conversations like this took place throughout the school on May 15 during the 19th annual Portfolio Day. Business professionals from the community volunteered to conduct one-on-one mock interviews with eighth graders, and the students showed off their new portfolios and best professional demeanors.

The event is an opportunity for local professionals from a variety of fields –– finance, medicine, media, technology and more –– to pass on their wisdom, and for the students to begin shaping their careers. 

Elyse Guilfoyle from Google interviews a student on Portfolio Day.
Elyse Guilfoyle from Google interviews a student on Portfolio Day.

See list of all professionals here (PDF) 

Josalyn Harris aspires to be an obstetrician, so she was thrilled to talk with Kelly Parent, a social worker at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

“She was very passionate about helping women and children, just like I am,” Josalyn said.

English teacher Ellen Daniel, who coordinates Portfolio Day along with the support of Annette Ferguson in the AAPS Business Partnerships Office, said it’s important that students are paired with professionals who match their interests. They even try to accommodate student requests, this year bringing in a tattoo artist after one student asked.

The eighth graders were schooled in appropriate dress and professional behavior.
The eighth graders were schooled in appropriate dress and professional behavior.

Another important aspect of the event: helping students through their very first interview.

“At first I was really nervous,” Josalyn said about her interview with Parent. “And my friends all said they were terrified at first, but as soon as they got to the second question they were getting more comfortable, more used to it.”

Preparing the students was a school-wide effort, said Daniel, who worked with students for weeks putting together all the necessary items in their portfolios: a resume, cover letter, a recommendation letter and awards.

On the day of the event, Scarlett teachers dressed in their most professional clothing, and some even supplied students with items like ties and belts. Earlier in the week, teacher Sal Barrientes taught students about appropriate dress and demeanor for their interviews. “The whole building really helps out,” Daniel said.

The efforts didn’t pass unnoticed by the professionals.

“Every student I talked to today was spot-on, really well-organized,” said John Kelly, who works at Google’s Ann Arbor office. “This is a very impressive group.”

Kelly advised the students to keep adding to their portfolios. “Think of it as a chance to tell your story,” he said to an auditorium full of eighth graders at the end of the day. “So that someone like me can look at that in 30 seconds and say, Ah-ha, this is what you’re about.”

Former Scarlett student Elyssa Daniel (and daughter of Ellen Daniels) also advised the students to keep adding to their portfolios. “I can honestly say, without a doubt, this is one of the most crucial aspects of my education that I didn’t really expect to get out of school,” she said.

Daniel remembers being interviewed as a student during Portfolio Day. “I was so incredibly nervous,” she said. “What’s so funny is some of the questions I got asked back then as an eighth grader are some of the same questions that I get asked now.” Now 23, Daniels has graduated from U-M and works for Michigan Radio.

Daniel isn’t the only one for whom Portfolio Day had a lasting effect. Moses Lee was inspired to start a business after participating in the event as an interviewer a few years ago.

It’s called Seelio, and it’s a website portfolio platform for college students. “They can actually apply to jobs using the platform and showing the wealth of their experiences in work,” Lee said.

Lee was leaving Portfolio Day to do an interview with the New York Times about Seelio, which is now used on over 1,000 college campuses.

“The process of building a portfolio is very helpful –– to be reflective, to be thoughtful about where you want to go, why you’re doing the work that you’re doing,” Lee said. “Then by the time you’re getting ready for college or your job, you don’t just have a resume or bullet points, but a body of work to show.”

Lee hopes Seelio can eventually be used by high school students too, because the earlier students start, the better.

Scarlett guidance counselor Madeline Micou reflected on the importance of an early start as she watched three dozen students be interviewed in the school’s upstairs lobby.

“This is such a real, tangible way to experience preparation for the future,” she said. “We’ve been talking with them about career options, career paths, and it doesn’t get any more real than this: to be able to sit down with individuals who are actually in the work force, in the careers that these students are interested in, to experience an interview, and to get real, immediate feedback.”

Micou watched as the students pointed to items in their portfolios, shook hands, and adjusted their ties.

“We’re proud of them today. We really are.”

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