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Career fair at WYCA attracts schools, industry

Career fair at WYCA attracts schools, industry

With more than a dozen booths before them, Andy Herrera and Jordan Harris, both 16 from Eastern Washington, stood for a moment and for the first time really thought about their future.

Fifteen schools and businesses gathered at the Washington Youth ChalleNGe Academy on March 7 to conduct a college and career fair. It’s the first time the Academy has hosted one of these events in many years, although students have had field trips to career fairs in Tacoma and Puyallup.

Harris, from the Tri-Cities, gravitated toward a booth from Washington State University.

“This is a place I never thought I’d be able to attend,” Harris said, while filling out a pamphlet to get on a mailing list. “But I’m doing so well here at the Academy. I’m getting As and Bs. I’m enjoying class. I’m learning so much.”

Harris said he was a little worried about how he would afford college, but when he heard about federal Pell Grants and scholarships for first-time college students, he hightailed it back to talk some more with the WSU representative.

Jordan Harris fills out a form for Washington State University.

Herrera, from Othello, was learning more about technical colleges and the career opportunities that could come from there. Talking to a person from Bates Technical College, he learned about different culinary programs around the state.

“At my house I cook a lot,” he said. “And when I cook, I’m actually pretty good. It’s something I enjoy, and shouldn’t we go into a job doing something we enjoy? Maybe I could start my own business, my own food truck?”

It’s a future Herrera said he hadn’t even really considered. He was on the verge of dropping out of high school not that long ago until he decided to enroll in the Washington Youth ChalleNGe Academy.

Among those participating in the career fair were Charter College, Western Washington University, Tacoma Community College, Trident Refit Facility, Bangor, WSU, SAFE Boats International, South Kitsap Properties, Kitsap Credit Union, Bates, WorkSource, Puget Sound Skills Center, the Universal Technical Institute, the Washington Army National Guard, U.S. Army, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Marines and the Air National Guard.

Andy Herrera talks to Colten Nixon of the Washington Army National Guard.

Clay Blackwood, a representative manning the booth from Western, said he enjoyed meeting with cadets. These were students who wanted to be here, who wanted to learn about the different programs. Every class at the Academy devoted an entire school period specifically for the teens to meet with different groups.

Damian Staatz, 16, said he joined the Academy because he used to sleep in class and then just started skipping school altogether. He’s up at 5 in the morning now and is doing better in school.

The only thing he enjoyed from his old school in Olympia was welding class so he spent time talking with a recruiter from the Air National Guard to see what it would take to be a mechanic that works on airplanes.

“Maybe I could get a job as a mechanic and then work on planes on weekends,” Staatz said. “This is all possible for me now.”

Damian Staatz talks to a recruiter with the Air National Guard.

In the end, both Herrera and Harris ended up in front of the booth from the Washington Army National Guard. Talking to recruiter Colten Nixon, they learned about the Guard’s culinary training program and business loans they could get to start their own businesses while just putting time into the Guard as a part-time soldier.

“You can accomplish all of your career goals and we’ll be there to help you along the way,” Nixon told them.

They also admit they should really be talking to each other about their future. Turns out, they’re both interested in culinary programs, and they’ve been friends for a while now.

“Maybe we can learn together,” Harris said with a big grin.

Kevin Troller with South Kitsap Properties talks about selling homes and property.