WARREN, NJ – Graduating seniors at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) had the opportunity to meet and learn from more than a dozen working professionals at a Career Exploration Day, Tuesday, June 13 at the school.

Among the professionals were keynote speakers Michael Beneduce, Class of 2004, and his sister,Justen Beneduce, Class of 2006, owners of Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown.

Other guests with experience in health sciences, entrepreneurship, marketing, filmmaking, technology, arts, included: From the world of finance and financial planning, WHRHS Board of Education Member Chris Collins of Long Hill Township; from technology, Jonathan Rochelle  and Shannon Bradshaw; from medicine, Dr. Robert Yang and Lauren Pincus; entrepreneur and former quarterback Chad Henry; from photography and pottery, Brianna Lee Johnson and Anthony Urango; from law, Lucille J. Karp, and Robert F. Simon; andfrom culinary arts: Tina Cappello and Lisa Martins.

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Strategic Planning Initiative

Career Exploration Day is one of several new programs that have been worked into the WHRHS student experience that grew out of the ongoing 2015-2020 Strategic Planning Initiative, A Warrior Vision.

The three goals adopted by the Board of Education as part of the initiative are:

Create and expand programs and services that enhance the social and emotional wellness of all students within a compassionate learning community.

Build and strengthen support structures that engage students in developing their individual potential, enable students to experience success in high school, and empower students to plan and prepare well for post-secondary learning.

Integrate creative, innovative, and interdisciplinary learning throughout the district to empower and inspire students to succeed in a changing global community.

“As part of the district strategic plan initiative, I along with WHRHS Social Studies Teacher Greg Krueger were co-chairs of the Senior Experience Committee,” said WHRHS Supervisor of Science, Instructional Technology and Assessment Michael D’Alessio. “During the school year we had several meetings with teachers, parents, and community members in order to develop ways for our students to learn about career exploration and gain contacts within the business community.”

The group decided to have a day in which a keynote speaker, specifically a WHRHS graduate, would visit school and share their experiences with WHRHS students, he said.

“Additionally other professionals served on panels in break-out sessions allowing students to have in-depth discussions with career experts,” D’Alessio said. “Over the past few months,panelists were chosen from the fields of technology, medicine, professional artistry, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The Beneduce family have been long standing supporters of WHRHS, and were excited to bring their story back to our senior class.”

Michael and Justen Beneduce said their parents had been lifelong business owners of the popular Great Swamp Greenhouse on New Vernon Road, Gillette, a full service nursery and florist. They are also active volunteers and supporters of WHRHS, and in the community. 

Early on, they advised their children, all WHRHS graduates, to think seriously about continuing in the family business, and/or expanding that business by developing their family’s farm property in Pittstown, Hunterdon County.  They held meetings to strategize how to pursue a college education and career training to best prepare them to develop the skills of not just farming, but of starting, running, adapting, and building a business.

Michael studied at Cornell University, which among its other assets, has a rich history in agriculture, and is situated right in the heart of the Wine Producing country of the Finger Lakes, in upstate New York. Likewise, Justen, who studied at Rutgers University, had access to a university as noted as Cornell in the varied fields of Agriculture, along with all the other areas of expertise available to students at Rutgers.

Both colleges also offered state of the art expectations for learning and using the latest technological tools to make better decisions, even in farming, and in starting and keeping businesses up-to-date and leading edge.

The Beneduce siblings advised the students to work at something you really love, for which they have a real passion.That energy and drive will be essential, because it will most likely be hard work. 

They advised the students to develop the skills required to excel at the work, and to pay attention to how to master not just the business side of the business, but also and as importantly, the human side of the business, such as: The customers and general public; the employees, fellow workers, and trainees; and family.Having a plan about how to manage family and work will also be essential.

They advised the students to have fall-back positions, and to allow the necessary time for the business to germinate and build. In their case, for instance, a newly-planted grape plant will take more than three years to yield the fruit necessary to make wine. Student would need to have a plan on how to make downtimes such as this still productive.

Justen Beneduce said paying attention to detail and establishing opportunities for good first impressions can never be underestimated. For instance, the public bathrooms at their winery’s public spaces are kept immaculate as a “standard operating procedure” at the Beneduce Winery, because they want even casual visitors to walk away with positive impressions that help grow the reputation of the business.

They also recommended that students strongly include in their business plan and career planning this mantra: Give back to the community. Both have taken on community roles in their related business associations or as founders and developers of non-profit organizations. Among their causes are mechanisms to turn their passion and expertise in farming into growing food to be donated to food banks, and donating to charities. 

Michael Beneduce told a story of looking at a small parcel of land near his home one day which was not suitable for growing grapes, and deciding he’d rather not have to mow it to no productive end as grass. Instead, he researched what would grow well on that parcel, discovered that popular Lavender flowers was just such a crop, and started growing a crop of there. He starting selling the Lavender flowers, and donated half of all profits to a charity selected every year by a vote of his employees. 

Among the various messages and quotable quotes Michael and Justen Beneduce included on their power point presentation, was this quote from tennis legend, activist and humanitarian, the late Arthur Ashe: “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Many of the other guest speakers shared with the WHRHS students similar words of wisdom and vignettes about their training for, and successes, in their careers during breakout sessions all morning at Career Exploration Day.

D’Alessio said he was pleased by the way this first Career Exploration Day turned out.

“I feel the day was very successful based on feedback from attending seniors,” he said. “It showed them that students who attended WHRHS (the Beneduces) developed a work ethic during their teenage years that has led to a successful adult life. Personally, as an educator, I felt a great deal of satisfaction to see graduates share experiences with our graduating class. Giving back to the community is one of the hallmarks of WHRHS.”

WHRHS PHOTOS Career Guests

Graduating seniors at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) had the opportunity to meet and learn from more than a dozen working professionals at a Career Exploration Day, Tuesday, June 13, at the school. Among the professionals who met with students are: From left, Robert Simon, Lisa Martins, Shannon Bradshaw Michael Beneduce, Lauren Pincu, Justen Beneduce, Chris Collins, Chad Henry, Lucille Karp, Jonathan Rochelle. Not in the photo, guests Brianna Johnson, Anthony Urango, Will Ambling and Dr. Robert Yang.