Local program to help students
explore careers goes international

BENTON HARBOR — A mentoring program started by the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor is getting international attention.

The Rotary Student Program, which was piloted in 2007 by the club, will be featured in an upcoming Rotary International magazine, said Jackie Huie, a club member who helped start the program.

“It was really an experiment,” she said. “For years, we had been hosting students for lunch at Rotary.”

One day, she said, she and another Rotary Club member talked about doing more to help the students make connections.

“Most people aren’t fortunate enough to sit across from the person who does their dream, and everybody has a different dream,” she said.

Thus, the Rotary Student Program started in 2007 with 10 students from St. Joseph High School, she said.

“We lined up those 10 kids with 10 different professional Rotarians,” she said. “... It was always the profession the student proclaimed they had an interest in.”

She said the students are able to ask the professionals they are paired with anything they want. Huie said that during those interviews, the students are able to gain information they can’t get out of books.

“Then, they come back to Rotary and they have to report out what they learned,” she said.

Huie said that over time, the program was expanded to several local school districts. She said she met with the Rotary International president during the 2012 Rotary International Convention in Bangkok, Thailand, to talk about how to spread the program to other clubs.

She said the program received more exposure when it was chosen to be the topic of a breakout session during the 2013 and 2015 Rotary International Conventions in Lisbon, Portugal, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, respectively.

She said a reporter from the Rotary International magazine is visiting Southwest Michigan in June to put together the story, which will feature several local mentoring success stories, including one about Amber Thomas, a 2010 graduate of Benton Harbor High School. “She had a dream to become a lawyer, and she did not have the resources or the contacts to get started,” Huie said. “... at least five or six people came together to help her.”

Thomas said she participated in the program in her junior and senior years. She graduated magna cum laude from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a minor in criminal justice. She is now in her second year at Michigan State University Law School in East Lansing, with plans to graduate in 2018.

Thomas was recently given the Academic Excellence and Achievement Recognition Award by the Benton Harbor City Commission.

She said she is the oldest of nine children and is the first person in her family to go to college.

Thomas said she lives by two mottos – “I don’t believe in the impossible because I’m possible” and “Actions need to prove your words.”

She said the Rotary Student Program gave her hands-on experience and helped her create a professional network. This summer, she is working as an associate at Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids. In the fall, she will work as a clinician at the Chance at Childhood Clinic for abused and neglected children at Michigan State University College of Law.