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Opening Doors for Students through Career Exploration

By Taylor Mabrey, Content Manager

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a common question for children that leads to aspirational answers like ‘a firefighter,’ ‘a veterinarian,’ ‘an astronaut’ or ‘a cowgirl.’

Leanna Calvin found herself always asking that same question – what do you want to be when you grow up – while working as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in youth development and mental health. Students’ answers constantly revolved around the entertainment or sports industries, and while those are great aspirations, there are so many other opportunities to explore.

Calvin founded Exposure Project in 2019 as a way to introduce students (or Game Changers, as Calvin calls them) to a larger variety of career options.

“I wanted kids to have a personal experience; to be able to explore different careers from a hands-on approach that could potentially change the trajectory of their lives,” Calvin said.

Calvin and her team of volunteers aim to promote positive character development, community service and career interest through Exposure Project, by engaging students in:

  • Weekly Character Development Sessions
  • Shadow Ladder
  • Service Learning Projects
  • Exposure Trips

In the character development sessions, Calvin’s goal is to motivate the students to be the best versions of themselves by helping them define what makes them unique, holding them accountable and pushing them to learn and create new things.

Shadow Ladder exposes students to a variety of careers by shadowing professionals to hear about their personal journeys to their roles and learn about diverse industries. 

Throughout the year, students participate in group-led service projects to address concerns or challenges they have encountered in their communities.

The final piece of Exposure Project Inc. is exposure trips, which are one-day trips that introduce a small group of students to opportunities outside of their immediate environment. An exposure trip could be anything from visiting the local theater for a show or taking a tour of a nonprofit to learn how it operates.

Students in Exposure Project with Leanna Calvin and Jessica Foster after touring United Way.
Leanna Calvin and a group of students with Unite Charlotte Manager Jessica Foster on an ‘exposure trip’ to United Way of Greater Charlotte in April 2023.

Exposure Project is a First Year grantee in Unite Charlotte, an initiative founded in 2016 to provide funding and capacity-building programs to local grassroots organizations advancing racial equity and addressing economic mobility.

“With United Way investing in the organization, it feels like now we can cross the threshold, we can actually apply for larger amounts of funding. And people know that United Way holds weight in the nonprofit community. So when applying for funding, it’s like ‘well, United Way believes in you, so we should too,’” said Calvin. 

Calvin’s short-term goal for Exposure Project is to hire more staff to expand her small team and improve all aspects of her organization. As for her long-term goals, Calvin dreams big, and would love to branch out with Exposure Project in surrounding areas of Charlotte then eventually extend the programming outside of North Carolina. Calvin also aspires to have a space to call their own.

“I would love to be able to take trips with the kids out of the state or out of the country, because none of them or not many of them have been able to travel to places,” said Calvin.

“Being able to travel, being able to expand, and having our own space – those are some of the longtime dreams I have.”