More than 600 O'Fallon and Shiloh eighth-graders were let loose to explore over 70 career options during this year's eighth annual Career Exploration Fair at the Regency Conference Center last week.
"Every year, I look forward to this day and am excited to see all of the role models who come. We have a huge number of different careers represented for students to explore," said Carrie Hruby, O'Fallon School District 90 superintendent.
Aya Patterson, an eighth-grader from O'Fallon Carriel Junior High School, said the fair was "a lot of fun."
"I'm happy to be able to learn all the different things. A lot of the people I've talked to have told me things I didn't know. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes things that are really cool," Patterson said.
For example, Patterson said she learned a many surprising things about the job responsibilities of a librarian.
"I had no idea that job took so much. I thought it would be boring, but I don't think it is anymore," Patterson said after talking to Ryan Johnson, assistant director of the O'Fallon Public Library.
"It's a great experience for students to look at careers and kind of get a peek into different types of careers, and look at: what type of education is required, what type salary, and what type of job responsibilities each of those have," Hruby said.
At this stage in their lives, what's important isn't specifically the career they may want, but rather, it's the process of exploring interests, as well as identifying and refining skills, according to Hruby.
"But it also gives our students an opportunity to dress professionally, speak with someone with eye contact and shake their hands —and all of those things are really important for eighth-graders to start understanding how we interact professionally with peers," Hruby said.
Erica Lane, a Fulton Junior High eighth-grader, said she wasn't sure what to expect from the event.
"I'm just glad I'm here, because I really don't know what I want to do, so I'm learning a lot about what's out there," Lane said.
Sponsored by the chamber, Junior Achievement, and Scott Air Force Base STEAM Advisory Group, the event took place from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 2 at the Regency Conference Center, 400 Regency Park Drive.
Dale Sauer, Shiloh School District 85 superintendent, said in a press release, “This collaboration of many, is a remarkable opportunity for our students entering into their first year of high school. The chance to interact with over 70 professionals in various occupations is not available through any other venue."
“This career fair wouldn’t happen without the partnership between the business community and the local schools. Together, we really can make a difference," according to Debbie Arell-Martinez, O'Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce director.
The event is provided at no cost to the schools.
Arell-Martinez said, eighth grade is a critical time in the decision-making process for students.
“These students are an investment in our future, because in a few short years, these students will be a part of our workforce,” she said.
Each school had four to six role model rotations done in 15-minute increments. The first few minutes included an introduction to the career, the role model(s). Some tables had more than one person representing.
“(It's) an amazing opportunity for students to explore many different career fields,” Jackye Biehl, principal of O'Fallon First Baptist Academy, said in a chamber press release.
The remaining time was for the students to interview the role models and ask questions.
The last rotation is for the students to visit a role model whose career they’d never considered.
“There's never a dull moment,” Arell-Martinez said.
The O’Fallon Progress and Belleville News-Democrat participated in the career fair.