MFL MarMac seniors share thoughts on future as graduation nears

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MFL MarMac seniors Kelliea Walz (left), Katrina Ruff, Nathan McGlaughlin and Stephanie Bries recently shared their thoughts on graduation and moving on to college. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

With graduation a week and a half away, MFL MarMac seniors, along with high school seniors everywhere, are preparing for one of the biggest milestones in their lives.

Some of their major focuses now are combating senioritis, finishing up homework and preparing for finals.

“It’s hard,” shared Kellie Walz of getting through the final days of high school, “but you keep reminding yourself you’re working for something.”

In the fall, many will head to a four-year college, while others have opted for two-year community colleges or technical schools. Some will embark on military careers or head right into the workforce. High school counselor Amy Hanson said the class of 2015 contains a “balanced mix” of students pursuing different levels of education and career interests.

Walz plans to attend Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo in the fall. There, she’ll get her health science general education requirements, then transfer to Allen College for radiology. Walz said beginning at a community college offers her a sense of comfort. She wants to make sure she’s on the right career path.

Fellow classmate Katrina Ruff, who will also begin her post-secondary education at a community college, Kirkwood, said she feels much the same.

“I applied to a couple of four years, but my uncertainty led me to Kirkwood,” she explained. “They’re good about transferring.”

After one year there, Ruff said she plans to transfer to Iowa State University. She hasn’t officially settled on a career path but is leaning toward dietetics, a profession she became interested in through her stepsister.

Iowa State is also in Nathan McGlaughlin’s plans. He’ll start there in the fall and intends to pursue engineering. A self-proclaimed “math guy,” McGlaughlin said he gravitated toward the career because “people have always told me I have an engineer’s personality. ISU is the best place for that.”

Stephanie Bries has her lengthy college career at the University of Iowa planned out. She’ll pursue a bachelor’s degree with a major in biology or chemistry and a minor in business. After that, it will be on to Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine for her medical degree.

“My childhood dream was to fix people,” Bries said of her choice. “Iowa is a top 10 medical school and I know I’m going to major in something in that field, so I might as well start big.”

For a stereotypically rural, agricultural area, Hanson said, surprisingly, only one 2015 graduate will pursue an agricultural-related career. Last year, she added, there were just two. Instead, many students have shown an interest in engineering and the health fields.

“Students are looking at a lot of different things,” she said, noting that it’s up to the district to take note of those signals, possibly infusing more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into the curriculum. “We have to evaluate the direction students wish to go.”

Hanson said pursuing other fields of study doesn’t mean students can’t return to the area following college, or even further down the road.

“They’ll just bring a different skill set,” she said. “With the global economy and technology, you can create a small cottage business anywhere. It begins to level the playing field. If you have a graphic design business, you can work out of Monona, but access anybody.”

With the anticipation of new places and experiences on the horizon, Ruff and Bries don’t expect to move back to the area after college.

“We live in a small town and I’m ready to meet new people and see what the world has to offer,” Bries said, adding that her eventual occupation will likely place her farther away geographically.

“I’ll probably follow the jobs,” McGlaughlin said, whether the openings are local or hours away.

While location and educational interests lead students to attend one college over others, finances also play a role.

“Finances are the number one driving factor,” Hanson said. “I’m a huge believer in the academic rigor of a four-year university, but if the cost at a two-year is half that, it’s huge.”

“There are great jobs out there if you have two-year or technical degrees,” she added. As a result, Hanson said, the understanding some students have that they need to get a four-year degree in order to get a good job doesn’t necessarily hold up.

Hanson said students have become savvy about realizing the financial impact of post-secondary schooling.

“I’m at the point now where I don’t want to spend any money,” Walz admitted.

Bries said it’s important to apply for as many scholarships as possible.

“You can never have enough money,” she said. “I think budgeting will be the biggest thing for kids from this school.”

“Don’t get more loans than you need to,” added McGlaughlin.

Walz suggested one way high school students can save on college is by taking dual-credit courses online through Northeast Iowa Community College.

“Take as many as possible,” she said.

While finances weigh heavily on the students’ minds, they’re also worried about some of the other things the real world has to offer, including more freedom.

“I’m excited to meet new people and have more freedom,” Ruff said, “but I’m worried about having too much freedom and not getting stuff done.”

While she’s excited to experience different cultures and meet new people, Bries agreed more freedom could have its drawbacks. Like many people, she’s also afraid of failure.

“I’m worried I’ve dreamed too high,” she admitted.

She wasn’t alone with the insecurities.

“I’m excited about going to a new situation, but I’m worried about how I’ll fit in,” McGlaughlin shared.

Walz said she’s nervous about living on her own and making her own choices. However, according to the students, senior year is a good time to start cutting the cord and becoming more self-reliant.

“At least learn how to do laundry,” Ruff joked.

Ruff said another suggestion she has for younger students is to “try as many things as you can” in order to figure out what you want to do. “Have a back-up plan,” she added.

Bries recommended selecting a school and sticking with it, noting that the first choice is usually the best choice.

“Go on a lot of college visits,” Walz said. Most importantly, though, she mentioned, “Make the most of high school because it goes by fast.”

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