The day Ignite College and Career Academy put the skids on a family business

Published 4:24 pm Monday, March 14, 2022

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I have been Paul V. Hall’s daughter for 50 years. Most of the days making up those 50 years I have heard from Paul V. the same career advice: be an engineer. He is a civil engineer. It is so ingrained, when he talks in his sleep, he is giving engineering lectures. At one point he looked at my head full of hot rollers and gave advice on the perfect positioning as to give the most curl for my efforts. He chose wisely for himself and has provided for his family by using this engineer-wired brain. From cutting the grass to determining the most efficient use of the air conditioning, this brain has served him well. Perhaps it should not be surprising he had grand aspirations his oldest would share this talent and, in his dreams, he saw us becoming a consulting firm together. It would have been a grand idea, except for one very important fact. I proclaimed math my nemesis long ago.

I can even tell you when my anti-affair with math began. I brought home a less than stellar progress report from Mrs. Harpe’s third grade class. There was a very weak C in the spot next to math and it did not go well for me when I got home. I am sure the actuality of the response I received was much less dramatic than my perception, but in my mind, math had single handedly mocked and ruined me. Long division was a cruel enemy. Things didn’t change too much as the years progressed. I got out of senior algebra with a 69.5, I flunked the remedial math test my university administered my freshman year. I couldn’t get the grade needed at GSW to transfer to my home university and finally, having put the remedial test off till my last quarter of university, I passed it. I couldn’t tell you my score, I don’t even care. After living with a man who believed every problem could be solved with math and a slide rule, I was completely enthralled with human science. Paul V.’s superpower is rational and concrete logic. My superpower is getting messy and knowing people. It should not be surprising I set my mind on becoming a therapist in middle school. It should not be surprising my daddy could never understand this choice, much like I couldn’t understand why in the world a slide rule, scientific calculators, graft paper and super-duper compasses are a thing in real life. Time marched on. As did the lingering talks about how life could have been so good, if I were but an engineer.

I graduated undergrad, went on to graduate school and now own a master’s degree in family therapy. I’ve used that knowledge well, both personally and professionally, and not once has a family’s health depended upon me knowing the way rainwater would pool if an incline wasn’t the correct angle. Perhaps I had proven myself okay in my professional choices. Except there came a time when therapy jobs where hard to find, so much so I put myself aside and picked up another career. Personally, knowing how to create and maintain healthy relationships is the stuff of life. Professionally, it wasn’t paying the water bill, much less the mortgage. So, I began to question my career choices. I found myself in a midlife crisis of such. I replayed the occupational counseling I had received from Paul V. as job after engineering job was hiring. I became stuck.

In November of last year, Paul V. and I went to tour Ignite College and Career Academy (CCA). In introducing us to the workings of the CCA, Don Gilman, the CCA’s CEO told of this mysterious test which once taken would flat out tell me what I should consider as a career path. It would also let me know what wasn’t such a good match for someone like me. Rene Smith, the CCA board chair was there, and he remarked he had taken it and it had confirmed he chose correctly. Rene is an engineer. They are everywhere. Don told me they use the test in helping a student find the most satisfying and well-fitting jobs. Being I was swimming in my mid-life crisis, I immediately took to begging for a chance to take it.  The begging didn’t stop that day. The idea of such a gold mine lingered with me for months. Did I miss the boat with engineering? Should I tune pianos for a living? Could I make it as a farmer? In my mind these questions are reserved for students. Except aren’t we always a student in one way or another? After enough poking, Don finally sent over a link to get me started on this test, which is called YouScience. Isn’t that precious? It was going to tell me the science which made me, me.

I put aside a couple of hours to take this test. The first thing it did was throw numbers at me. The first thing I did was cuss Don Gilman. Next it tapped into another part of my brain which is particularly weak. It had something to do with punching holes in a uniquely folded piece of paper. When I unfolded the paper where would my holes be? My brain revolted. At this point in the test, I knew it was going to tell me it hoped I was independently wealthy because I didn’t have a skill which anyone would find worthy of exchanging dollars for. Don sent over a random text which had nothing to do with the torture I was enduring. I didn’t care. I told him he could go to and stay put. He called at this point. I told him YouScience made me realize I didn’t have the intellectual nor emotional fortitude to walk about in the world. He walked me though it. Don is such a good teacher. He had me step back and take a breath, he encouraged me to keep going. He was just passionate enough about it that I did keep going, but only because I believed he believed.

The next parts of the test were good. Could I see commonalities between random objects? I could! Could I list out ideas simply based on different pictures? Absolutely. Could I pass a vocabulary test? All day long. So, this was the part of my brain I was working out of. I had found my way home. Then it asked me what I would be interested in doing. Creating programs and helping people overcome? Yes! Sign me up for that. Working on computers or keeping up with statistics? I rather go to brunch with the devil himself and feast on tenpenny nails. I closed out my afternoon on a high note. After I answered my last question, YouScience told me to hold tight while they gathered my answers and came back with my very personal recommendations. It was a long night; I checked my email several times to see what I should be when I grow up. My life was on hold until this mysterious test came back with the secrets to unlock all the potential I had. I had become used to online quizzes determining which Disney princess I was. One minute I didn’t know, the next minute I am claiming my likeness to Cinderella. YouScience wasn’t instant and in reality, I didn’t want it to be. Cinderella I could dismiss quickly and move on, being told life satisfaction and financial security rested in my ability to clean kangaroo pouches was entirely different. The results arrived. It was then I realized I was nervous. All the what ifs, every single one of them, came crashing down. The good ones, the bad ones, the weird ones, they were here. For the first time since hearing about YouScience I was apprehensive. What if, by chance, in this bizarro world, that test looked me dead in the eye and said I should be an engineer? Horror among horrors.

I opened it up, if assessments can be excited, this one was. It told me I “crushed it!” Liar. I know human behavior; I knew it was breaking it to me slowly. I knew as sure as I breathe air that a hole punch and a piece of paper could make me say ugly things to my friends. Then it gave me a name. YouScience called me a “brainstormer”! I’m listening, tell me more. My results blossomed in front of me. I knew I didn’t need to camp out in professions where the skills in the first part of the test were needed. What I didn’t expect was for YouScience to be so excited to tell me what I was good at. Remember, I am taking this in a crisis, the cheerleader was very much needed and appreciated. As I began to read my assessment, I began to think, the person this test is describing is really cool, I want to sit down and eat barbeque with her (which is my litmus test for everybody, you either are or are not someone I want to eat BBQ with.) As I continued to read about the person YouScience was describing, I could see where she would be strong in lots of areas. But here’s the gold. She would be strong in areas I have actually pictured myself investing in.

The first suggestion, broadcast news analyst. I don’t really know what that means, but I love to analyze, and I love to spout off my analysis to anybody who would listen. But next up is when it got good. All the counseling options came up. Addictions and marriage and family therapy being some of the first suggestions. I am a family therapist with a strong addiction specialty. I love you YouScience. And it didn’t stop with what I have been proven in, it gave me other options which I thought really neat, but hadn’t allowed myself to indulge. And then there were some really weird ones, which frankly mesmerized me. A drama professor! How cool is that? The options were many. As I scrolled along, YouScience would tell me which ones were not as good a fit. As I read them, I agreed, and by the end of the list I was saying, “eeecchhh” at them.  I don’t even know what a business intelligence analyst is, but it sounds horrible. I’m also not going to be the first one at work if I am an atmospheric and space scientist. But here is where it gets interesting. As I get deeper and deeper into the “weak fits,” guess what shows up? Every precious type of engineer God ever made. My third-grade self high-fived me as she said, “Girl, I told you so!”

So, what does it all mean, and why is the CCA hawking this? It gave me the same thing it will give a student.  It means I am where I belong. It means there are many houses in my professional neighborhood which I can confidently look into as options if I want a new one. It means what skills I have are worthy, it is just a matter of being where they are valued. Vitally, it confirms I am uniquely qualified to bring myself to the table of certain professions, more than I imagined, which allows me to dream. But just as important, it confirms I can be friends with just about anybody, but I don’t have to substitute for them at work. It gave me a dead-end sign. That sounds harsh, but dead-end signs are needed to keep forward moving progress, to not get stuck in the weeds. It frightened me to think I had missed the mark with my investments into my profession. I would love if that fear never presented itself to a younger student. It clears a path, and it makes my feet confident on this path. At 50, I still need that. At 16, it is imperative. The CCA is doing some awesome stuff. They are putting tools in a student’s toolbox. They are growing resumes with jobs designed to do more than bring home a paycheck. They are giving Sumter County a ready workforce. They are putting up friendly dead-end signs. And on really good days, they are ordaining young therapists to go about their healing work, never having to purchase a super-duper engineering compass.