High school students benefit from Career College Transition Fair

Walking into a career fair in the Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium early Tuesday afternoon, Leo Peregrina had considered someday landing a job in the automotive field.

In the past, though, he talked to police officers and firefighters and even got to visit a volunteer fire department to check it all out.

“I thought that was pretty neat,” he said. “It’s making sure our community is safe. Whether it be the fire department, police department or EMS, they are always making sure to do their best to keep our community safe.”

While attending the Career College Transition Fair, the Seymour High School senior first visited the Seymour Police Department booth and learned what it takes to be a police officer.

Then he stepped over to the Seymour Fire Department’s table, where he found out about the salary, hours and more of being a firefighter. Inspector Mark Gillaspy even let him try on some of the equipment.

That helped Peregrina get a good feel for those types of careers.

“I think working in these types of fields, like the police department and fire department, wouldn’t be too bad of an idea,” he said. “There are some people that would rather go work at a factory because it’s more money, but helping the community isn’t that bad of an idea, either. There are a lot of options.”

Those two booths were among more than 50 set up inside the large gymnasium for students from five Jackson County high schools — Brownstown Central, Crothersville, Medora, Seymour and Trinity Lutheran — to learn more about various careers, colleges and services available locally and beyond the county’s borders.

Formerly known as Industry Possibility and Opportunity Day, the event’s name changed to Career Exploration Day in 2019 and was held in the SHS auxiliary gym.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in it being canceled the past two years, but it returned for the 14th year with a new name after combining with what was known as the Transition Fair that served the special education population. Marykate Helmsing had helped organize that fair in the past.

“In talking to her, we had a lot of crossover, and so (they decided) to just combine resources and move it here,” said Jackie Hill, workforce partnership director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. “She had a few extras that I typically don’t have at mine, but we have a lot of crossover, especially with industries, so it worked out.”

Colleges, manufacturers, health care, skilled trades, military, retail, tourism, education, social services, banking and more were represented.

“I think it’s introducing students to, first of all, the careers that are available but also just some of the businesses that they don’t know what they do,” Hill said.

A Passport to Career/College created by SHS Jobs for America’s Graduates students helped students feel comfortable going up to the various booths and interacting with professional adults.

As students entered the gym, they walked up to a table, where a JAG student handed them a passport and explained how it worked.

“They go and ask questions to the employers, and if they get 10 or more stamps, they had a ticket on the back of here that they filled out with their name and school email and they get put into our drawing for raffle prizes,” senior Lexi Lynch said.

The prizes included a television, a Chromebook, earbuds, water bottles and gift cards for food and gas.

The JAG students also designed a logo for the event and included that on shirts they wore, handled marketing for the event and assisted the vendors.

“I think we all are enjoying getting to talk to all of the vendors that came in and explaining to our student body and other student bodies how (the passports) work and what to do and just really help them out to see what they want to do with their life,” Lynch said.

Hill said the interactive activity was a good addition.

“It gave them some suggestions and questions to ask,” she said. “For the upperclassmen, it’s definitely an opportunity to talk about jobs, especially for those not going on to college, just a way to interact. I like to see that interaction. I think the icebreaker game, in this case the passport, is huge.”

Several of the vendors came up with ways to interact with students, including spinning a wheel or playing Plinko for prizes, conducting drawings for various items and having equipment or products on their tables.

A few took it a step further, including the Seymour Police Department having a Cool Fire Trainer to shoot at a target and the U.S. Marine Corps bringing a pull-up bar to see if students have what it takes to be in the military.

“A lot of companies brought along hands-on activities to get the kids engaged,” Hill said.

Amy Birk, practice manager for Seymour Animal Hospital, brought along her four-legged friend, Fozzie, a 1½-year-old, 155-pound Newfoundland. The brown furry dog was the perfect draw-in to her booth.

“I always bring a dog for a reason. That’s why I’m the most popular booth,” said Birk, who in the past brought Fozzie’s brother to the event.

“The dog allows the students to open up and ask me questions, so it brings them to me,” she said. “It makes them calmer to start asking questions, and then I just talk to them about ‘These are careers in veterinary medicine.’”

Most students ask about the dog’s breed, how much he weighs and how much he eats, Birk said.

She also has visited classrooms to talk to students about writing résumés and doing interviews.

“I enjoy doing that because part of what we like to do is serve the community, so that’s important,” Birk said. “And if I can do it with a bear (Fozzie), then I can do it with a bear.”

Fozzie even did some career exploring on Tuesday.

“He was sitting in front of the police department (booth) and refused to move,” Birk said. “I think he wants to be a police dog. I don’t know if they are going to hire him.”

Birk said she was glad to see the event return this year, and so was Hill.

“When we first started talking about this, ‘Are we going to come back in full force or gradually?’ Obviously, we came back full force,” Hill said. “We have some companies that have never been here before, first time, so for the first year back, extremely pleased with the turnout we had.”

Her hope was for students to walk away from the event having learned something they didn’t know before. If it helped them figure out a college or career path, even better.

“It’s one of my favorite things that we do,” Hill said. “It’s just good to be back and be able to have this because there’s nothing that beats in person. We’ve got mock interviews coming up in a couple weeks at three different schools, summer robotics camps, educators back out this summer. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do our Manufacturing Day in the fall. We’re so excited to be back in person.”