PLEASANT HILL -- KTVU Channel 2 newscaster John Sasaki and 12 other professionals shared insider information with College Park High School students to inspire them to follow their interests into satisfying careers.

"I am here because I haven't made up my mind what to do yet," said College Park senior Salina Trujillo as she took her seat among an audience of like-minded students and their parents at the Cutting Edge Careers event Sept. 27.

Their sense of relief was apparent as they heard how and why panelists became successful professionals. Veterinarian Louisa Asseo was the only panelist who knew from childhood what she wanted to do as her life's work.

Asseo said to expect eight or nine years of college and emphasized the importance of internships. Her first was working at a veterinarian's office at age 15, and she invited students to job-shadow her.

"There are other ways to work with animals," Asseo said.

Military service in care of soldier dogs is a way to cover education costs and earning a certification to become a technical veterinary assistant is another path.

Most panelists used internship opportunities or lower-paying jobs as an entree into future employment.

Bechtel Corp. infrastructure planner Betsy Huigens said she loves her work, adding that job shadowing in high school gave her a glimpse of the kinds of projects she might like to do.

"I love math and science and my experience as an exchange student led to a greater appreciation not just of other countries, but of the United States. I decided to study civil engineering," Huigens said. "Every summer I worked in internships, mostly unpaid."

Panelists Dr. Aaron Grafton and John Marcovici, Jack's Restaurant owner, studied for other careers before returning to a family line of work. Grafton, a dentist, became a master cellist, who said he did not want to play the same thing over and over to make a living at what he loved.

As a college junior, he returned home and began helping in his father's dental office.

"I like working with my hands and technical things, and I finally realized what he did," Grafton said. As a senior, Grafton changed his course of study. "After all, it is like arts and crafts in somebody's mouth."

Marcovici began waiting tables in the family's Concord restaurant at age 11. "I hated it," he recalled.

However, the skills he acquired allowed him to make a comfortable income while in college. After graduating with a master's degree in communications, Marcovici began to teach as a college instructor.

"I was teaching, but they weren't listening," he said.

That and a serious drop in the size of his paycheck was enough to make him answer "yes," when his brother needed help opening a restaurant in Walnut Creek.

"Five years later, I was general manager and I was really enjoying it, Marcovici said.

Pleasant Hill Librarian Patrick Bremer tried teaching too, but an internship at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum made him realize that the library was a better fit for his desire to work with youth.

"There is teaching and there is classroom management," Bremer told students.

And job satisfaction must play into the picture.

"Think how you feel when you get off work at the end of the day," he said.

CEO of Stokley Properties, Joe Stokley Jr., counseled those in the audience to go to a community college. That is where he got serious about real estate, investment and business. He was also the only panelist without a salary.

When students asked about income, he explained that there is no income until you close a sale, but the income potential is limitless.

After graduating with a law degree, Darrin Gross, Oakland Athletics senior director of corporate partnerships, realized that the sports and entertainment business was his calling.

"I had always loved sports. You have to follow your passion," he said.

Lance Gorée, Downtown Berkeley Association did follow his passion, but fate gave him a new one. He was a natural athlete who says he regrets wasting his scholarship while in college because he was focused on playing sports.

"I became a professional baseball player and was hit by a ball. On Tuesday, I was playing ball and on Wednesday, I was on a bus," Gorée recalled.

He built a retail management career at Macy's West and managed the Walnut Creek Rochester Big & Tall store before finding the right position as operations manager for DBA.

"If you get a chance to go to college, take advantage of it," Gorée advised.

Many gravitated to a career and for some, it was nearly random. Sasaki explained how a "serendipitous" college conversation with a friend was the catalyst for his career in TV news.

"He said, 'I was watching Tom Brokaw on the news, and he reminded me of someone. Then I realized it was you.' I thought, 'That's it!' I can do that."

FBI Special Agent David Strange returned from military service with an interest in the world. He earned a B.A. degree in political science and a master's in international police studies.

"I didn't really know for sure what I would do. Then by chance, I remembered seeing a recruiting ad and applied," Strange said, adding that he likes his work and would make the same choice if he had it to do all over again.

Ted Lesinsky, vice president of worldwide sales for ShareSquared, Inc., gravitated his way into marketing and management after work as a paramedic, auto mechanic, realtor and a 15-year career at Microsoft, where the company paid for the balance of his education.

"You have to keep trying," Lesinsky said.

He and Bret Blount, of ALCHEMYcreative, noted that there is an abundance of information technology jobs and not enough people with the right skills to fill them.

Blount, who is a marketing and business strategist, said, "It is less about what you learn in school and more about following your passion. Think, what is your core strength?"

After a career in biotechnology and as and EMT, Wendy Campbell-Parco currently is assistant director of admissions at JFK University.

"I learned that I could complete college by working at the university," she said. She earned a master's degree in holistic health and has plans for a consulting career.

This was the second such program sponsored by the Pleasant Hill Education Commission.

"We want the kids to be inspired," said vice chair Joann Jacobs. "Visit www.pleasant-hill.net.careers to link to the Education Commission Facebook page."

Reach Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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