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Jobs and dreams: Career Discovery Week is life changing for Brooklyn high schoolers

February 13, 2020 Mary Frost
Laura Madden, events & customer success manager at Farmshelf, a start-up at New Labs, explains how the “smart” indoor farm system works. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

From Steiner Studios’ sound stages, to JetBlue’s command center and PwC’s robot-creation facilities, thousands of New York City high school students visited hundreds of workplaces in the city’s first Career Discovery Week.

This week’s event allowed students to hear directly from some of the city’s heaviest hitters, and learn about career paths that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago.

They discovered that some of the most successful people in the city have overcome the same challenges they have.

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“When I was building the studio, other people said no one will ever come to Brooklyn,” Douglas Steiner, chairman of Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, told students at a panel discussion on Wednesday. The only way to succeed “is just keep at it,” he said. “Also, question everything.”

Steiner said he was “painfully shy” until he was 45 years old. “I realize everyone is. That first sentence is hard, but don’t keep to yourself. Be honest and open.”

The city’s Department of Education joined the business group Partnership for New York City to put on the event, which took place across the city Monday through Thursday.

Mario Mercado describes the jobs involved in his helmet company, Bats-toi, at the Career Discovery Week event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
Mario Mercado describes the jobs involved in his helmet company, Bats-toi, at the Career Discovery Week event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Joining Steiner on Wednesday’s panel were Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, Diedre Quinn, co-founder and CEO of fashion house Lafayette 148; Shaun Stewart, CEO of start-up incubator New Lab; and Kayon Pryce, principal of STEAM Center (an innovative career and technical training hub). The panel was moderated by Seung Yu, senior executive director of DOE’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness.

Speakers described how they built their businesses and what job opportunities are out there, and gave students tips for success.


Everybody should learn how to code, STEAM Center’s Pryce said. He credited Hakeem Jeffries as saying, “In the future you’ll either be told by a machine what to do, or you’ll tell a machine what to do.”

Education is paramount, but “soft skills,” such as relating to your colleagues, showing up on time and being dependable are also in high demand, students heard.

Quinn emphasized “protecting and keeping” your integrity. “Your reputation stays with you throughout the years.”

It’s important to “be comfortable speaking human language,” New Lab’s Stewart said. “Speaking, email — I write more than 200 emails a day.” Business is all about developing relationships, he said.

The more successful people are, the more they want to help the next generation,” he added. “They send the elevator back down.”

Panelists Richard A. Carranza, NYC Schools Chancellor; Seung Yu, senior executive director, Office of Postsecondary Readiness, NYC Department of Education; Deirdre Quinn, co-founder & CEO, Lafayette 148 New York; Kayon Pryce, principal, STEAM Center; Shaun Stewart, CEO, New Lab; and Douglas Steiner, chairman, Steiner Studios. Photo: Kait Ebinger
Panelists Richard A. Carranza, NYC Schools Chancellor; Seung Yu, senior executive director, Office of Postsecondary Readiness, NYC Department of Education; Deirdre Quinn, co-founder & CEO, Lafayette 148 New York; Kayon Pryce, principal, STEAM Center; Shaun Stewart, CEO, New Lab; and Douglas Steiner, chairman, Steiner Studios. Photo: Kait Ebinger

Bring what you have

Also speaking were Owen Thomas, CEO of Boston Properties, which developed Dock 72; Phil Thompson, deputy mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives; and David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“If I grew up today, I would be diagnosed with real significant learning disabilities,” Ehrenberg said. Because of this, he had to put in 14 hour days, six or seven days a week when starting his career. “I had to work so much harder — it was a good thing for me.”

David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Thomas was peppered with questions from students wanting concrete details about building tall buildings in big cities, such as how long it takes to put one up. From three to four years, Thomas said — and a big proportion of that time is spent on the foundation.

Deputy Mayor Thompson, a former professor at MIT, said his cousin almost dropped out of high school to become a basketball player. “He almost flunked math.”

But he fell in love with computer science and quit basketball instead, Thompson said. “We said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

Now his cousin is engineer-in-charge at aerial camera company Skycam, which makes the flying cameras that zoom over football fields during games.

Because of his love of the game, “He brought something he had,” Thomas said. “All of you have something you can bring to the table that other people don’t have.”

Hannah Max, product manager at New Lab, demonstrates an autonomous micro-cafe made by start-up Truebird. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle
Hannah Max, product manager at New Lab, demonstrates an autonomous micro-cafe made by start-up Truebird. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Sabiha Kabir, a junior at Westinghouse High School who attends Brooklyn STEAM Center, was inspired by the story.

“It really shows how you can change your passion and you can make a lot out of it,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Her fellow STEAM Center student Alexis Nicholson, a senior, said, “I heard a lot of stories from people. It made me feel like I can do something like they’re doing. I can change something in some way.”

Shanice Vasseoo, a junior who also attends STEAM Center, said she is interested in computer science and psychology. One of her goals is “helping people get better, mentally,” she said.

For more about Career Discovery Week, visit pfnyc.org.


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