by Gary Leftwich

Explore. Discover. Know.

These are the opportunities University of West Georgia President Kyle Marrero issued to students at the Carroll County Eighth Grade Career Expo hosted by UWG, West Georgia Technical College and the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce Friday.

Photo of Kendra Bennett, a licensed veterinary technician at Bowdon Animal Hospital, shares details about her job with students at the recent Carroll County Eighth Grade Career Expo.
Kendra Bennett, a licensed veterinary technician at Bowdon Animal Hospital, shares details about her job with students at the recent Carroll County Eighth Grade Career Expo.

The event brought together students from across the county with local professionals, who shared details about their vocations, including welding, construction, nursing, business, cosmetology, film and video, veterinary science, and a host of others.

"Today is about discovery and exploration," Marrero said. "What is your passion in life? What do you like doing?"

By identifying those passions early, students can act upon them during high school and college by setting clear paths to matching careers, Marrero told the group of a few hundred students.

"The more active you are today, the better prepared you will be to follow your passion and make your mark upon the world," he said. "You have a multitude of opportunities because you are here today."

Developed four years ago by the chamber's Workforce Education and Development Committee, the expo seeks to start the conversation about careers early, according Donna Armstrong-Lackey, the chamber's senior vice president of business development.

"As the event has evolved, the goal now to expose middle schoolers to as many career professionals as possible and to a college campus, as many of these students have never been to UWG or WGTC," Armstrong-Lackey said. "We strive to educate the students on the varied, high-skilled and high-paying career options there are right here in Carroll County, and to let them know we sincerely care about their futures."

Before the event, students chose three vocations about which they wanted to know more. During the expo, they rotated among those selected careers, interacting with professionals to get a feel for what their daily jobs are like.

One of those was Kendra Bennett, a licensed veterinary technician at Bowdon Animal Hospital. Bennett opened her presentation with photos of her three dogs before sharing details about her job.

As she listened to Bennett, Central Middle School teacher Amber Shiver called the expo a timely introduction to career planning. Students enrolled in Carroll County Schools, which includes Central Middle School, must identify career paths in the ninth grade to prepare for the workforce.

"They need to know what is available and what they need to focus on in high school and college," Shiver said, adding that some of her students took the opportunity very seriously. "A lot of them are dressed up and are treating this like a real job interview."

Suzanne Hyatt, a paraprofessional from Bowdon Middle School, called the expo a gentle wake up call for some.

"A lot of middle school students are just focused on getting to high school and are not thinking about careers," she said. "This helps them see what's out there and helps them create a path of study."

Exploration and discovery are only the beginning, according to Dr. Scott Rule, acting president of West Georgia Technical College (WGTC).

"This is the start. It doesn't end here," he said, pointing out 65 percent of jobs will require at least a high school diploma in 2020. "Explore for the rest of your lives. Continue to learn. Continue to explore."

Dr. John Green, director of the Carrollton Carroll County Education Collaborative (CCEC), echoed that thought.

"We're not asking them to choose a career today," Green said. "Our goal is to help students assess their own talents and have a chance to talk to someone in a very instructive way from the field they may be considering."

Drawing on the knowledge and experience of educators from UWG, WGTC, the Carrollton City Schools, Carroll County Schools and Oak Mountain Academy - as well as from local business and community leaders - CCEC is recognized across Georgia and nationally as a model for joint efforts to enhance the academic process.

The collaborative brings together diverse organizations to help students reach certain goals as the progress through elementary, middle and high school. The ultimate goal is that every student graduate prepared for employment, enrollment in post-secondary education or enlistment in the military.

Posted on March 27, 2018