After talking about his wood supply business -- about the 120 species of wood and their uses -- Conrad Solberg started to offer young Nathanael Anderson a key to career success.
"It's important," he said, "in whatever you do that you. ... "
A chime told the mentor and mentee that their five minutes were up. It was time for Anderson, 18, to slide to the next seat and meet the next business leader down the line.
"Nice to meet you," Solberg said with a smile. "Good luck!"
Speed dating events have been popular on the singles scene, so the White Bear Lake Rotary Club figured it might be an effective way to introduce teens to business leaders and careers. Surveys have found that many teens -- even seniors on the cusp of graduation -- don't have well-developed career plans, said Janet Newberg, an attorney who organized Wednesday's event.
"These kids can have a short exposure to a whole bunch of careers" at this event, she said. "Maybe it will get them thinking more concretely about what they want to do with their lives."
Over the lunch hour at White Bear Lake High School's library, 25 students met in five-minute bursts with local business leaders. At one long table were 11 leaders in math and science. At the other were nine employed in business, social services, education and law.
Anderson knew the table for him. He has long wanted to study law. It's an interest born of family tragedy -- the disappearance and presumed kidnapping of a brother 21 years ago that brought his parents very close to the legal system.
"Ever since I was old enough to learn about it, my dad has been teaching me it," he said.
Next down the line of professionals was Andrea Raths, who runs an adult day center for the Salvation Army. Raths started training in college to be a police officer, but realized she could never fire a gun at someone.
It made Anderson think. Raths wanted to help people, and still found a way to do it when she realized she couldn't be a cop. What would he end up doing with a law degree?
Newberg said it is important to help teens form career goals, because they can build their résumés with internships, classes and work experience that match those goals.
The speed dating event was part of the Rotary's STRIVE program, which provides career guidance and mentoring to students who don't have top grades but are committed to their educations. The program, which began in White Bear Lake but has spread nationally, also awards scholarships.
Anderson envisions a year at Century College to acclimate to life after high school, followed by a transfer to the University of Minnesota. Then he hopes to pursue law school.
Two seats down from Raths was Heidi Murphy, the school police officer. Minnesota requires a two-year degree to become a police officer, she said, but many departments weed out applicants who lack four-year degrees.
"It's a much more competitive field now," she said.
A chime halted their talk.
"Now you know where to find me," Murphy said, pointing to her office, "since I've never had to call you down here."
Choosing career paths
Anderson then met Kenneth Galloway, a chef turned manager of Dellwood Hills Golf Course, and Eric Hendrickson, who owns two liquor stores.
Coming from a small Iron Range town, Hendrickson understood Anderson's desire to move gradually into college. He also understood the challenges of finding work in a tough economy.
Hendrickson said he was just glad years ago to find work as a wine distributor -- even though he didn't drink wine. By age 28, his credit was solid enough to obtain financing to buy his bosses' store.
"The thing I've been telling people is to build their credit," he told Anderson, just ahead of the five-minute bell.
Anderson's last visit was much anticipated. Newberg, the organizer, was a criminal prosecutor before switching to the defense side. Did prosecuting criminals teach her how to defend them? Did she take special training for the bar exam? Anderson rattled off questions and Newberg answered until the final bell.
With that, the students stood, thanked their visitors and tucked stacks of business cards into their backpacks. Lunch hour was over. It was time, again, to move quickly to the next thing.
Newberg said she enjoyed the speed mentoring event, now in its third year. Unlike career fairs -- where they are often sucked into the booths of FBI agents or other glamour jobs -- the event gives students a broad outlook.
"They do find out -- not a whole bunch -- but a little bit," she said, "of what people in their communities are doing for a living."
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744