2011-06-09 / Schools

‘What will I be when I grow up?’

By Angela Randazzo
Special to the Acorn


DOCTOR’S ADVICE—Dr. Donnelly Wilkes, a Newbury Park physician and an Iraq War veteran, addresses Banyan Elementary School students during Career Day on June 3. Career Day is a long-held tradition at Banyan in which students hear from professionals in a variety of fields. DOCTOR’S ADVICE—Dr. Donnelly Wilkes, a Newbury Park physician and an Iraq War veteran, addresses Banyan Elementary School students during Career Day on June 3. Career Day is a long-held tradition at Banyan in which students hear from professionals in a variety of fields. K.J. Koo, 10, is considering a career as a chef. Not because he loves to cook, he said, but because “I like to eat a lot.”

K.J. was among the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders participating in Career Day at Banyan Elementary School in Newbury Park last Friday.

“I think it would be fun to be a chef,” K.J. said.

Then again, the fifth-grader’s interest might have been sparked by the omelets personal chef Michele Wurst was whipping up for the students in her sessions. The Newbury Park resident brought cheeses, meats and vegetable for her made-toorder dishes.

Wurst, who has her own business, studied at the Westlake Culinary Institute and the Academy of Culinary Education in Woodland Hills. She then taught at both schools.

“You have a desire to put a smile on someone’s face because they love what you make,” Wurst told Banyan students.

The 240 students participating in the day’s activity selected three fields of interest from a roster of 15 occupations. Each guest speaker made a 20-minute presentation, then the students asked questions.

“When the guest speakers come, the students get firsthand knowledge of occupations and vocations,” said Raymond Moccia, a fourth-grade teacher and coordinator of the event. “Otherwise, they might not get that knowledge until they get to high school.”

Career Day has been a tradition at the elementary school for more than 20 years.

“I’ve been teaching here for 19 years, and it was going on before that,” Moccia said. “It’s great because the students need to start thinking about the future and what kind of careers are out there.”

This year ’s speakers included a fire captain and fire crew from the Ventura County Fire Department, a commercial airline pilot, a biology professor and a voice-over actor.

Many of the speakers brought along visual aids. An X- ray technician brought X-rays of various parts of the body; an orthopedic surgeon brought a full-size model skeleton; and the firefighters brought all their gear—and a fire truck.

The day’s keynote speaker was Dr. Donnelly Wilkes, a physician with a practice in Newbury Park. Wilkes talked to the students not only about a career in medicine but also about his experience as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy.

Wilkes fought alongside Marines in two combat tours in Iraq, in 2004 and 2008. Under harrowing conditions, he administered to soldiers injured by bombs and mortar shells. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with valorous distinction.

Wilkes wanted to give the students an idea of why he chose his profession.

“I wanted to put seeds in their minds thinking about what they enjoy in life and what they want out of their careers,” Wilkes said. “The kids don’t have to figure it out now. They should just have fun and do well in school.”

The students asked Wilkes what he liked most about his job, what he considered his job’s greatest challenges and what he liked best in his day.

He attested to the many years of study it takes to become a doctor and the long hours on the job. Helping wounded soldiers was the most satisfying part of his job during his military service, Wilkes said.

“ I’m considering being a doctor,” said fifth- grader Marlena Tomlinson, 11. “I like watching ‘ER.’”

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