Learning The Ropes: Area Professionals Push Local Students To Think Big

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About 70 students from Hamilton County high schools met with 40 business professionals at a speed-networking event last Thursday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
High school students work the room at a speed-networking event last Thursday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Students from Hamilton County high schools mingled and passed out business cards during a speed-networking event last Thursday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

By Charlie Reed

Katreya Lewis professes to be shy.

But you wouldn’t know it watching the high school sophomore work the room at a speed-networking event last Thursday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

A student at Tyner Academy and president of her class, Lewis has career plans and wants to go to college.

She moved closer to accomplishing both goals at the high-energy mixer that paired about 70 students from Hamilton County high schools with 40 business professionals from Chattanooga, including faculty and staff from UTC.

“I surround myself with people who are outgoing and that help me talk to people more,” said Lewis, who aspires to become a speech pathologist or recreational therapist.

Dressed to impress, the students mingled and passed out business cards before entering the musical chairs-esque networking line. The teens moved from one seat to the next for three-minute sessions with each of the stationary professionals.

The students had to shoulder the bulk of the conversation by talking about themselves and asking career-oriented questions for two-and-a-half minutes, with the last 30 seconds reserved for feedback from the professional at hand.

“Students, you are sitting next to business professionals who are working at some of the most prominent companies across our city,” Stacy Lightfoot, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement, told the crowd in the Tennessee Room at the University Center.

“So as you experience this and engage with our community leaders and our UTC faculty, we hope that you all see yourselves as part of the fabric of this institution and the economic fabric of Chattanooga.”

The event was co-sponsored by the UTC Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Education Equal Opportunity Group, a nonprofit based in Nashville. EEOG developed the Career Speed Networking Program and works with school districts and companies around the state to create meaningful and positive experiences for students.

The goal, said George Thomas, CEO of the group, is to inspire students and expand their vision of what’s possible for their education, their careers and their future in general.

“EEOG is deliberate and intentional about forging unlikely relationships between successful business leaders from the public sector and the private sector and young people,” Thomas said.

“You cannot be what you cannot see,” he said. “Talent is everywhere. Opportunity is not.”