NASHUA — Students had the chance on Wednesday night to check out what it takes to launch a career in forensics, graphic design, engineering and a slew of other professions at Passport to Success, an annual career expo for eighth graders.
Organized by the Nashua Technology Center, the school district’s extensive career and technical education program, and hosted by Nashua Community College, the expo featured nearly 100 different exhibitors and career booths where students could explore interactive exhibits, collect brochures and information and talk to teachers, business leaders and local professionals about different types of work.
“A lot of kids don’t know what they want to do,” said Tom Tollefson, an assistant teacher who was at the expo with Pennichuck Middle school’s eighth grade class.
“This gives them a head start, and the opportunity to see some of the options.” For Michelle Papanicolau, director of the career and technical ed program at Nashua High North, the expo is a chance to reach out to students as they are choosing their courses for next year.
“When students are laying out a career pathway, they want to have a direction,” said Papanicolau. Although they may change their minds or discover new interests, Papanicolau said career pathways show students how certain fields are related and how their abilities and inclinations fit with different professions.
The Nashua Technology center’s career programs provide a foundation for degree and certificate programs at colleges and technical schools. And in many cases, students graduate from high school with marketable skills that spare them from having to sweep floors and wash dishes to earn money to pay tuition.
“What’s really important is that students have as much exposure to the world outside their private bubble,” said Jen DiMaria, a career advisor at Nashua High North.
DiMaria said the expo offers a chance for kids to explore career possibilities in a setting that’s welcoming rather than overwhelming and intimidating.
And students had a wide range of careers to explore. At one end of NCC’s busy gym, staff from the Humane Society of Nashua talked to students about careers in animal care.
A few tables away, Capt. Rick Conway of the Nashua Fire Department was demonstrating how to use a heavy ax to knock down a blaze while Lt. Bill Campbell explained the steps to taking the firefighters exam.
At the other end of the gym, reps from General Electric and BAE Systems told students about the wide range of engineering opportunities at their companies.
Students enrolled in the Nashua Technology Center’s Culinary Arts program set up a table in the college’s atrium and doled out marshmallows dipped in warm chocolate to a crowd of kids who were watching a sound engineer from Manchester-based Avalon Entertainment demonstrate how to run the DJ equipment for wedding receptions and karaoke contests.
NCC life sciences professor Debra Costa-Nino fielded questions from students interested in health care careers and offered advice on courses students should have under their belts before applying to a nursing degree program.
While the career expo was focused on helping students sort through career options, it also highlighted the needs of different industries and the regional economy.
“Right now, there are 6,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the state,” said Papanicolau who added that business leaders are reaching out to educators to help build that workforce.