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Student-led career fair builds skills and community

Demonstrations, indoors and out, included a pull-up bar at a Marine Corps recruiter’s booth, a boxing game by the National Guard recruiter’s, and opportunities to climb inside a police squad vehicle and look at the controls.

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Park Rapids Police Officer Joe Rittgers explains the equipment inside a squad vehicle for students Soyla Nas, Domingo Castro and Alex Hensel during Thursday's career fair. (Robin Fish/Enterprise, March 18, 2021)

Students in grades 8-12 had an opportunity to talk with representatives of each of the “Panther Tracks” career areas in Park Rapids Area High School’s first career fair on Thursday.

Each grade divided in half and the groups took turns cycling through indoor and outdoor exhibits. Local employers, ranging from banks and dealerships to industry and agriculture, asked and answered questions about the kind of jobs kids might be interested in. Also represented were fire department, law enforcement and ambulance service personnel.

The career fair was planned by students in business teacher Angie Kuehn’s hospitality and event planning class, with help and advice from community career collaboration coordinator Krystal Murphy.

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Brooke Knutson, a senior at Park Rapids Area High School, takes a swing at the Army National Guard recruiter's boxing machine during Thursday's career fair. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

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Maeve Bolton, a student in the elective class, said the kids decided to focus on an event planning project, and Kuehn suggested doing a career fair.

“We planned for all of second trimester, emailing exhibitors and getting together all of the prizes, things that we’d need,” she said. “We made a directory, a map.”

They also had to plan COVID-19 protocols, she said, noting that it helps that restrictions on in-person events have relaxed somewhat.

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Motivational speaker and longtime marathon runner Dick Beardsley stresses the importance of hope before an audience of 12th graders Thursday at Park Rapids Area High School. Beardsley's concern about emotional health was influenced by his son's suicide. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“It’s just been a lot of fun,” said Murphy. “The kids have worked really hard, and this has been a real experience of what it takes to pull off an event” – the point of which, she said, is to work together to set up something for people to enjoy.

Regarding the opportunity for students to explore potential careers, Murphy said, “I think it’s been great. The kids invited at least one organization to represent every track, and just to let the kids really explore and ask questions and get to know the community. That, I think, we’ve accomplished.”

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EMT Sara McCloud discusses careers at North Memorial Health Ambulance with a group of students while two of her coworkers perform a demonstration with a rescue dummy. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“I’m really proud of them,” Kuehn said about her students. “It’s been really good for them to see what it takes to put on this type of event … all of the steps that have to come together. They’ve been awesome helpers, and I think they’ve really learned a lot in the process.”

For example, Kuehn said, her students were nervous about contacting exhibitors. This meant developing skills in business writing, “where they have to spell everything out in an email so that the other person will understand,” she said. “The would be like, ‘I’m so scared to hit Send.’”

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Isaiah Olson, Jackson Lund, Sam Reish and Nick Michaelson visit with Park Rapids firefighter Joe Carlson during the juniors' tour of outdoor exhibits at Thursday's career fair. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

The students also had to work on professional phone skills. “They said, ‘This is so scary,’” said Kuehn. “So they listened to both Krystal and I make a couple of phone calls. We just did it in a class. And then, they were like, ‘Oh, you guys, you make it sound so easy!’ And I’m like, ‘After you do it a lot of times, it is.’”

Kuehn said this made her realize that, as a business teacher, she needs to do more of that kind of teaching, “so kids feel comfortable making contact, and be confident that they can write or speak to someone that they think is scary.”

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Mason Chevalier, an 11th grader, visits with Chuck Hentges from St. Cloud State University about careers in manufacturing engineering during Thursday's career fair at Park Rapids Area High School. The university has partnered with TEAM Industries for the past six years to help get kids excited about careers in manufacturing. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“The whole point is to expose kids to as many opportunities and options as possible,” said Murphy, “because you only know what you get to see. They got to experience a lot of different careers they may not have known existed in our community.”

Kuehn acknowledged that some students may not be excited about the career fair, “but I think most are getting something worthwhile.” For example, she asked a girl which exhibit she liked best and the girl replied, “I got to practice welding.”

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Students Nick Weiss, Nash Mitchell and Sam Meier check out Up North Power Sports exhibitors Nick Mills and John Eidey during Thursday's career fair. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

“The kids that are taking advantage of it are seeing lots of different careers that they can do right here at home,” she said. “A lot of them, I think, think they need to go away from Park Rapids to get a good job, but this is showing them that we’ve got lots of good opportunities here in our community.”

Bolton said she thought the event went well. “There are a lot of things that we’ve learned about things to do better next time, but this is just ‘first annual,’” she said. “We’re really organized, and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments.”

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Juniors Simone Wolff, Hailee Hofmeister and Hailee Heltemes ask Enterprise editor Shannon Geisen about careers in journalism during Thursday's career fair. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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