High schoolers question nine panelists about their professions

By Anya Gonzalez

Photo by Mount Madonna School
Michelle Sunga, a senior software engineer, answers questions from a student.

Handcuffs, interrogations, and mystery: Mount Madonna School’s annual career forum takes a thrilling twist, immersing high school students as sleuths in a captivating crime scene investigation case unveiling intrigue while exploring various vocations.

High schoolers think about college and what professions they may want to pursue. Putting a spin on conventional career forums, the students found the March 13 forum made it fun to learn about potential occupations.

One of the foundational pillars at MMS is creative self-expression, which also includes students discovering potential career paths, said parent Kevict Yen who served as the lead organizer.

“For many adults, our jobs are a significant way in which we identify ourselves. MMS feels it’s important to assemble a diverse field of panelists and their respective careers,” he said. “We want to show our students there exist infinite viable options for careers, and that being passionate and proud of what they choose is a key ingredient to personal success and happiness.”

The organizing team also included parent volunteers Nicole Chiala and Abbie Zands.

Nine panelists attended the event, their professions remaining a mystery to the students who attend the private school located on the summit of Mount Madonna west of Gilroy. Roleplaying as detectives, the young people eagerly “interrogated” the suspects who stood in fake handcuffs throughout the Assembly Hall. Equipped with a manila folder and pencil, the gumshoes jotted down notes about each panelist.

They questioned Michelle Sunga, a senior software engineer; Marty Cheek, publisher/reporter at Life Media Group; Sanjeev Radhakrishnan, a software engineering director; Jeremiah Wuenschel, a platform security director; MMS alumnus and board member Daniel Nanas, a Google program manager; Tyler Graham, chef at Craft Roots, an upscale vegan restaurant in Morgan Hill; Adrienne Smith, a program manager for Lululemon guest support; and Pere Monclus, a chief technology officer at VMware.

The students flitted from panelist to panelist in five-minute increments, asking questions ranging from educational backgrounds such as, “What was your major in university?” to inquiries concerning daily work routines like, “Do you adhere to a specific uniform at your workplace?” Some students even touched on artificial intelligence, asking, “ In what ways do you see AI affecting your job?”

“The majority of the adults we interviewed had jobs in tech, which has always been on my list of possibilities for the future,” said 10th grader Rosemary Konviser, “ I hadn’t realized how many options there were within the wide realm of technology, and it was fascinating to learn about each person’s specific job within different companies.”

Mordecai Coleman, an 11th grader, expressed a contrasting viewpoint. “I wish there had been some more diversity in the jobs instead of having more than half of the participants working in some sort of tech,” he said.

Optimistic about future detective-interrogation career forums, he said, “I’m looking forward to what the staff cooks up for us theme-wise next year. I’m hoping we get a bit more diversity of jobs.”

When student Irulan Cockrum, a 12th grader, declared to panelist Daniel Nanas, “You’re the publisher,” he responded, “ I am? If you say so.”

The participants challenged the students by making them ask specific questions and, sometimes, pleaded “the fifth” to questions that would reveal their profession.

“I really liked the ’whodunit’ theme. It was hilarious to walk in and see the fake mug shots of all the adults and then to interrogate each handcuffed ‘suspect,’” Konviser said. “Having the forum be student-driven, in the sense that we were able to learn exactly the information we were curious about through asking direct questions, rather than a classic lecture-style event, made it even easier to engage with the topic.”

Ninth grader Victory Gulizia enjoyed the different perspectives and paths each panelist took to get to their current job. “The career forum was very engaging and it was nice to hear about the different job opportunities,” she said. “I also learned that you don’t necessarily have to go to college to have a career.”

The career forum allowed the students to understand that life experiences and individual circumstances play a significant role in shaping career paths. By showcasing diverse career trajectories, the students were encouraged to embrace their unique paths into the professional world.

From tech to journalism, the forum showcased diverse opportunities with a twist, inspiring students to pursue their passions with confidence. The Mount Madonna students thought the CSI theme captured the attention of students and panelists.

“Overall, I felt like the career forum was a success,” Coleman said. “I enjoyed having people to question about their work lives and the game aspect was interesting.”

Anya Gonzalez is a 12th-grade student at Mount Madonna High School. She wrote this story for Morgan Hill Life.