Washington State Community College's on-campus population swelled by more than 700 Friday as sophomores from all six of the county's school districts gathered to learn about their options after high school.
The second annual Washington County College and Career Exploration Fair was held on the campus, with 20 colleges, universities and military organizations and more than 50 speakers from local businesses and agencies participating.
"The support from the community is just phenomenal," said Andy Brooks, chairman of the committee that organized the event on behalf of local school districts and the Teen Career Awareness Initiative.
Some of the sessions were based on input from last year's participants about fields that were not represented, Brooks said. Among the additions this year were a financial planner, a session on education jobs and Felice Jorgeson, director of the Smoot Theatre in Parkersburg, discussing career opportunities in fine arts.
The goal is to get students thinking about their futures. It actually grew out of the requirement for transition plans for students on individualized education plans, said Brooks, who is the special education director for Warren Local Schools.
"There are other kids out there that don't have plans for the future. So it just mushroomed into this," he said.
Several of the students at the fair said they had given the subject some thought, and they found Friday's event useful.
"It's really a great opportunity to explore the career field you're interested in as opposed to a career field you're not," said Belpre High School sophomore Jackie Cunningham.
Cunningham attended a session on sports-related careers. She's interested in sports management and athletic training, the latter a result of her own recovery from a torn MCL she suffered playing softball.
One of the things Cunningham took from the session was that "you don't have to know what you want to be at this moment. Just little by little, further your interest."
Marietta High School sophomore Austin Jones already knew he wanted to join the military after high school, but during the fair, he learned that going to college first could give him an opportunity to go into officer training.
"You'll get paid more too," said Jones, who hopes to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Warren High School sophomore Heath Hutchinson said he will think about college more after attending the fair.
"I hadn't really thought about it, but now it makes me want to come to college," he said, adding that a tour of Washington State's auto-diesel lab particularly piqued his interest.
Hutchinson also heard some tips about landing a job during a presentation by Greenleaf Landscapes general manager Dave Fleming on applications and interviews. One of Fleming's points that surprised him was the importance of having a driver's license.
Fleming said that while he understands 15- and 16-year-olds not having licenses, as potential employees get older, it becomes more of an issue.
"You may never have to drive a piece of equipment for me, but I don't have to worry that you're not going to show up for work because your ride ... didn't show," he said between sessions.
Fleming emphasized the importance of some items job-seeking teens might take for granted, like not leaving areas blank, having correct phone numbers and addresses listed and dressing properly. Such errors can contribute to winnowing the field of potential applicants.
Washington County Commissioner-elect David White was on hand to tell students about careers in photography. However, he also wanted to emphasize the changing nature of that industry and career paths in general, noting that when he takes office in January it will be his third career after working as a landscape designer and owning his own photography business.
"I'm here, more importantly, to tell them if they're not doing something they love, they need to change," he said.