The Focus Award Scholarship recognizes high school seniors who exhibit exemplary post-secondary preparation through commendable efforts in Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs. It is the only Eastern Washington scholarship directed to CTE students. These students have distinguished themselves as possessing both exceptional employability qualities and outstanding professional, technical and career skills as evidenced in the development of a personal career portfolio. This is an opportunity to give recognition to deserving students for their achievements in an area that research increasingly shows support for strengthening our economy. The awards support student recipients in their pursuit of the next level of education and training as they exit high school. 

Below is an interview with Shaleesa Mize, a 2009 Focus Scholarship Recipient and STEM student.

What area of study was your focus in high school and what high school did you attend?

I attended Shadle Park High School and graduated in 2009. I was primarily interested in the arts and had a specific focus in design and architecture. STEM classes gave me the independence to explore my own ideas and curiosities in full. My final engineering project was an independent project where I designed my "dream home" through a detailed floor plan and small-scale model. I incorporated this project within my portfolio to apply for numerous scholarships including the regional CTE (Career & Technical Education) Focus Scholarship, all of which supported my post-secondary education.

What college(s) did you attend and what was your major/degree achieved?

I began my college education at Spokane Falls Community College, where I studied interior design. My program allowed me to achieve an A.A. degree and A.A.S. in Interior Design, as well as a 3-year professional certificate in commercial design. I then transferred to Washington State University where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design through the School of Design & Construction.

Upon graduation from college, what employment opportunities did you obtain?

Two months after graduating from college, I received my “dream job” offer in Denver as an Architectural Associate/Interior Designer for a small business specializing in high-end residential design and construction.

Are you currently using your degree and in what ways are you using it?

After a year in Denver, I decided to move back to Spokane to be near my family. I had always wanted to start my own business and I figured it was a good time to do just that. In October 2014, I launched Little Pacific Design Studio, where I offer design services such as drafting, fixture/finish selections, and more. I am currently working with a client renovating her entire home and adding unique spaces like a theater room and an outdoor kitchen. You can see the start of my new business and detailed services at littlepacificdesignstudio.wordpress.com   

What advice would you give to high school and college students about pursuing a dream career?

The most important turning point for finding my career started in high school doing a career research project, where we took a quiz to find careers that matched our interests, and then researched these careers to gather further information about them. I never knew that my passion for art and design could be found in a career. However, the most influential part for determining that it was the "right" career came from exploration through my high school classes and job shadows. Despite being a near straight "A" student, I truly struggled with my desire to stay involved and interest in high school. Career & Technical Education classes, such as the Architectural Drafting classes, kept me from skipping school or dropping out because I was excited about the real-world knowledge I was gaining, led by CTE instructors who were passionate and engaged with their classrooms.

These classes also provide a creative individual the opportunity to explore their interests and find their niche and not be told exactly what to do to fit in with the standard curriculum. I think that is what separates career & technical education classes from a math or English class. Freedom to explore. The teachers always seem to support the students in doing so, and guiding and growing the individual and help create their path, whatever their path may be.