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Desert Ridge Junior High inspires students to explore future careers

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A Mesa police officer speaks to a group of Desert Ridge Junior High students in the gym.Do you remember when you first started dreaming about your future career? Were you inspired by someone else, or set on pursuing your passion? School is one of the many places where students begin to learn about the career options available to them. They are opened to a whole new world of careers that they might not have considered before, and they gain an understanding of what education and skills are needed to achieve their goals. 

“What I didn’t realize is this… where you sit right now, every opportunity is available to you. Your choices will either keep those opportunities open or shut them forever,” said Mesa Police Sergeant Matt Harris while speaking to a group of students at Desert Ridge Junior High.

Sgt. Harris was in the eighth grade when he started talking to people in the military about their careers. It inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement. Now years later, he’s hoping to inspire the next generation to chase after their dreams. Sgt. Harris and members of the SWAT team participated in Career Day at Desert Ridge Junior High. 

“We work together, and we are good teammates. We champion each other’s successes. We’re constantly holding each other to very, very high standards,” he said.

Mesa is the third largest city in the state of Arizona and among the top 40 largest cities in the United States. It is larger than Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. The Mesa Police Department responds to roughly 400,000 emergency calls a year, and the SWAT team responds to a percentage of those calls. 

“We’re there to do a specific function within the police department,” Sgt. Harris said.

The SWAT team shared with students the extensive training, qualifications and testing that they have to undergo before officers are cleared for the field. Within the police department, there are numerous job opportunities and areas of specialty.

“The choices you make right now matter. Don’t take them lightly,” Sgt. Harris said, “It will help you when you get to our age, because you’ll get to do the cool stuff.”

During the Career Day event, students were able to hear from a different industry professional in each of their classes. Some of the careers are more commonly sought after, like being a police officer or a doctor, while others present more unusual experiences. Scott Levy is the co-owner of ‘Immersive Machine,’ an escape room in Phoenix. He got inspired to open the business after years of hosting live events for video game companies. 

“It’s kind of an exciting industry to be part of, because we get to innovate and make new stuff happen,” he said.

Levy and his business partner were able to merge their areas of expertise to build the escape room themselves from scratch. His experience in technology and game design worked well with her ability to construct and design sets. 

“We opened ‘Immersive Machine’ in January,” he said.

Scott Levy gives a presentation to a small group of students in the Desert Ridge Junior High library.Levy told the students that there are 30,000 escape rooms around the world operated by 5,000 companies. In the Phoenix area alone, there are 64 escape room companies with nearly 200 individual rooms. Escape rooms began gaining popularity around 2014, so the industry is still fairly new. 

“There are a lot of ways to get into the escape room business. You don’t need to know all of these skills, but all of these skills are useful,” Levy said.

He shared with the students that most escape room businesses need people with skills in woodworking, metal working, electrical, interior design, set design, prop and costume design, graphic design, computer programming, electronics, audio/visual, editing and special effects, animatronics, 3D printing, game theory and design, business management, customer service, communications and more. Those interested in learning more about the industry can gain experience by applying to become a game master. Levy described it as a great entry-level position.

“A game master is someone who sits in the backroom and runs the game for the players in the room,” Levy said, “In our game, we try to make it more immersive, so we have a microphone and a voice changer, and we have a talking toaster in the room. The talking toaster is actually the one who helps you through the games, so you have to bring him a piece of bread to get a clue.”

After Levy finished his presentation, he had student volunteers work through a series of games, riddles and puzzles to find a missing key. The experience is very similar to what his customers have to accomplish inside his escape room. 

“You got it! You got the key. You have solved the puzzle. Congratulations,” he said. 

About two dozen professionals participated in the Career Day festivities, meeting with students and discussing their experiences in the areas of law enforcement, entrepreneurship, health, education, corporate business, geosciences, engineering, finance, fire and rescue, and operations. 

To learn more about Desert Ridge Junior High,  schedule a school tour or enroll today!

Story and Photos by Kailey Latham