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Middle schoolers check out careers

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Holly Garriott, executive director for the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge, talks to a group of girls from the Boys and Girls Club about the Youth Public Arts Project during a career fair at the ECU Innovation Lab on Thursday. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

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Holly West

Friday, February 26, 2016

Young Professionals of Pitt County teamed up with United Way of Pitt County on Thursday afternoon to give middle school students a jump start on thinking about their careers. 

The event was Young Professionals’ inaugural career fair, which was attended by about 100 students in United Way of Pitt County’s Student Success Academy 21st Century Community Learning programs. 

“We are our county’s future leaders and we recognize that these students are our county’s future leaders,” said Melissa Adamson, community impact and communications director for United Way and immediate past chair of Young Professionals. ”We want to show them they have options, and options they might not have thought of before.”

The program prepares rising sixth graders for middle school and helps them succeed while there by providing extracurricular activities that incorporate STEAM concepts. STEAM takes the popular Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, education model a step further by incorporating the arts. 

The career fair was held at East Carolina University’s Innovation Lab to give students a taste of STEAM in action. Innovation Lab staff led students through an activity about human-centered design by explaining the process of drawing-based rapid prototyping, also known as 3-D printing.

Many of the businesspeople hosting booths talked to students about how STEAM concepts can be used in businesses, from architecture firms to nonprofits to sales companies. 

“You don’t have to be an artist necessarily, you don’t have to be in STEM to use these skills,” she said. 

Students in the academy are so-called “bubble kids,” meaning they are very close to meeting proficiency standards on state tests but need a little push to get over the ”bubble,” said Jackie Smithwick, director of United Way of Pitt County’s 21st Century Community Learning Center. 

The academy exposes its students to events like the career fair to show students what they’re capable of.

“Top kids are always pushed to top careers; middle- and low-achieving kids are not,” Smithwick said. “This is a good way to show middle and low kids that there are possibilities.”

Young Professionals member Allison Jones, a human resources representative for Greenville-based copier sales company Copy Pro, said getting that message through in middle school will give students a head start on setting themselves up for success.

“Our goal for our organization is to inspire and create a good environment for young professionals,” she said. “It makes sense to start with students. It’s important to start striving for those goals, thinking about scholarships, having things to work toward.” 

Adamson said she hopes this year’s career fair was the first of many. She said she would eventually like to see it expand to include all students in Pitt County Schools.

“We recognized in order to get kids engaged in school, we have to catch them early,” she said.

 

Contact Holly West at hwest@reflector.com or 252-329-9585. 

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