Mariah Valenzuela

After exploring different jobs through a variety of Junior Achievement programs, 14-year-old Mariah Valenzuela now has her heart set on becoming a lawyer.

Valenzuela graduated from eighth grade last year at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis and is attending South High School this fall. While at Sanford, Valenzuela and her fellow students had the opportunity to participate in JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, programs that introduced them to a wide variety of potential careers.

Valenzuela, who is Native American and a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, says one of her most memorable JA experiences was JA BizTown.

After spending time in the classroom learning about various aspects of business and different careers, students apply for a specific job. Volunteers interviewed the students, giving them experience both in the interview process and introducing them to the traits and skills different career paths require. Their classroom learning culminates in an on-site visit to Junior Achievement’s St. Paul Experiential Learning Center.

“I was a construction worker,” Valenzuela says. “In that job you need to be able to work well with others and I felt like I’d be good at that. We built a bench during the day and that was really fun. I never thought I’d be interested in a construction job, but I am.”

Valenzuela says JA BizTown provided a broad overview of potential careers through its 18 businesses, including a city hall and philanthropy center. She also met other students throughout the day-long simulation and learned about their jobs.

Valenzuela later had an opportunity to experience JA Finance Park, another hands-on simulation that shows students the connection between their career choices and income and teaches them skills to manage their money. She says this experience reinforced her desire to attend college—she will be a first-generation college student in her family—and to use her education as a springboard to getting a good, well-paying job.

“JA Finance Park was really eye-opening for me because I didn’t know exactly what things cost,” she explains. “I got a chance to learn that and then I thought, ‘Oh, I should start saving up because stuff is really expensive here in the real world!’”

Valenzuela says both JA BizTown and JA Finance Park taught her many valuable lessons she’ll carry with her. She recognizes education is an important factor in finding the job she wants. “I want to do things with my life and college will lead me one step further.”