Jackson County high school students explore colleges, careers

If a Jackson County high school student wants to go to college after graduation, a variety of Indiana colleges and universities were represented during the Career College Transition Fair.

If they want to go into the workforce at a local industry, various manufacturing and distribution facilities were on hand.

If they want to serve their country in the military, different branches were there to offer insight.

If they want to learn a skilled trade, representatives in that field were available.

If they want to go into retail, banking, health care or animal care or be a first responder, people who work in those areas were able to share their expertise and experience.

In its 15th year, the event continues to give students from Brownstown Central, Crothersville, Medora, Seymour and Trinity Lutheran high schools a one-stop shop to learn about careers, colleges and services available locally and beyond.

Mandy Rohdert, workforce partnership coordinator and social media director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said around 50 booths were set up Wednesday in the auxiliary gymnasium and commons.

“I’m really thankful that they took time out of their busy day to come and do this for the students,” she said. “I think it’s really beneficial for the students to see what their life could look like after they graduate high school.”

Formerly known as Industry Possibility and Opportunity Day, the event name changed to Career Exploration Day in 2019. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it returned in 2022 with the current name, combining the Transition Fair that served the special education population with the college and career fair.

“I hope that they have fun today, and I hope that they talk to people from different industries in hopes that they can maybe find something they want to narrow in on after high school,” Rohdert said. “Also, I hope that maybe they find the place they could possibly find a job that they would have during the summer or during the school year or volunteer opportunities.”

For those interested in going to college, they might have talked to Elliott Clark, an admissions counselor at Franklin College, on Wednesday. He graduated from Seymour High School in 2018 and Franklin College in 2022, and he also played soccer in college, so he can share his perspective from the academic and athletic aspects.

He said he encourages students to pursue what they want to do, whether that’s college, military, trades or another track.

“If they don’t know what they want to do, I tell them to be open-minded, look at colleges, look at what majors might be offered, what interests you,” he said. “I tell students that are like, ‘I’m undecided about college,’ ‘What intrigues you? Do you have a favorite subject?’”

Once they share that, he can tell them what Franklin offers.

In choosing a college, Elliott encourages students to visit campuses, where they can meet with professors and students and also coaches and athletes if they want to play sports.

“Pictures don’t relate what the on-campus experience does,” he said. “Just getting on campus lets you experience campus, but it also lets you know ‘Do I see myself here in the next year, in the next two years? Do I like the community? Is there anything around that I can do?’ … Nothing beats just being there personally.”

If going into the workforce interests students, they could have interacted with Heather Keating and Yesenia Otero from Pet Supplies Plus distribution center on Wednesday.

Otero, who works in human resources, said industries offer more than just assembly line jobs. There’s also human resources, information technology, inventory management, accounting and logistics, and there are opportunities to work your way up from team member to team lead or supervisor. Pet Supplies Plus hires people as young as 17.

Keating, a receiving supervisor, said she encourages students to find something they are genuinely interested in and have a lot of passion for because that will make it easier as they start a job.

If skilled trades sounds interesting, students may have talked to representatives from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Local 4 Indiana/Kentucky on Wednesday.

Scott Wooldridge said for union construction trades, you earn while you learn.

“You have no debt. You learn a trade that you can take anywhere in the country,” he said. “Most union construction trades offer an Ivy Tech (Community College) degree that goes along with it, so you’re getting an associate degree when you’re done with your apprenticeship.”

Another benefit to working in trades? Big money.

“You get done with an apprenticeship, most of these kids would be making $50 an hour,” Wooldridge said.

If protecting and serving people is a calling, students may have talked to Indiana State Police Sgt. Seth Rainey at Wednesday’s event.

In Indiana, you have to be 21 to be a police officer, so Rainey shared the steps high school students could take in the meantime.

“We push our ridealong program,” he said. “That’s a good first step for them to get inside an Indiana State Police car and see what the job is like. Now, they start networking, they are connecting with a trooper from their district, so as far as a recruiting goal, it works perfect.”

If they want to go to college, Rainey tells them they could study criminal justice or go with another major, such as business like he did.

While in college, an ISP internship is a possibility, too.

“It’s not for pay. It’s for college credit, but basically all over Indiana, any college, you can connect with our internship program,” Rainey said. “That gives them an even more detailed look at the agency. Whether they are working with investigations, they are doing the ridealongs, they are seeing the lab, they are working in all aspects of our agency through our internship. It has been a great program for us to hire within from.”

BCHS seniors Caleb Cummings and Paxston Allman and sophomore Shane Ratliff were among the students at Wednesday’s fair.

Cummings said he plans to work at Walmart Distribution Center after graduating, but a relative is a bricklayer, so he was able to talk to Wooldridge and his coworkers who do that kind of work.

That’s a possibility for a future job, but as of now, Cummings is unsure what he ultimately wants to do.

“Some of the careers are new to me, so I got to meet some of them, talk to some of them about what to do,” he said.

Allman said his goal is to become a history teacher, so he learned about a few good colleges he could attend to help him accomplish that.

He and Ratliff also talked to representatives from Culver’s restaurant on Wednesday and expressed interest in working there to earn money to put toward their future plans.

“I already have gotten offered at other places to come work, so I’ve got a lot of options,” Allman said.

Ratliff said he would like to become a conservation officer someday, and even though that field wasn’t represented at the career fair, he was able to see what all is out there.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot from really everybody,” he said. “I took into account a lot of things that people were saying.”

Several of the booths offered interactive activities for students to earn prizes or had giveaways.

Also, as they made their way around the gym and commons, they could ask questions and have a passport stamped with a chance to win big prizes, including a bicycle, a television, gift cards and more. That was created by SHS Jobs for America’s Graduates students.

New this year was a photo booth with a drawing to win a $150 wireless earbud voucher.

“Just something fun for them to do, something a little different,” Rohdert said.