Career Expo Uses Competitions to Engage Students

By Dennis Pierce

At its college and career expo, College of the Sequoias uses career-based competitions to tell prospective students what they need to know for certain careers.

At the recent College and Career EXPO hosted by College of the Sequoias (COS), high school students in California’s Central Valley had a chance to compete in hands-on events that tested the technical skills needed in certain careers.

Students interested in a career in construction technology were given a pile of lumber and a blueprint, and they had 30 minutes to build what the design required. Students drawn to sports medicine were asked to walk through the treatment for a specific ailment, which was presented by an athlete lying on a table.

Experts in each field judged the competitions, says Thad Russell, dean of CTE and workforce education at COS. For instance, the construction technology competition was judged by the county building inspector and other licensed contractors. Winning students received gift cards from various merchants.

More importantly, Russell says, students were able to make connections with industry experts and get meaningful feedback on the educational choices that will help them get land a job in a chosen field.

Better engagement with potential students

The EXPO included booths with information about more than 30 different career and technical education programs available at the college. But the competitions also offered a way for COS to engage with prospective students on a deeper level.

During a typical college and career fair, “99 percent of the kids are going to tune you out when you speak,” Russell says. “Students might come by your table and grab a stress ball or whatever freebie you put out, but out of hundreds of students, you might engage with only three or four.”

But with the competition-based format, “our faculty are engaging with students all morning,” he says. “It’s a different level of engagement.”

COS revived its College and Career EXPO this year after a three-year hiatus due to the recession. The college partners with three local school systems and the county education offices of Tulare and Kings counties to operate the event.

How the expo came together

To advertise the EXPO, the college worked with guidance counselors, principals and CTE instructors at area high schools. Having a competitive element helped spur interest, and nearly 300 students participated this year.

Students were bused to the April 8 event from their local high schools. For some of the competitions, such as the one in digital media, students worked on their projects for the six weeks prior to the event and presented their results at the EXPO.

Russell advises community college leaders interested in hosting a similar event to start small, learn from their initial efforts and then scale up the program from there.

“You’ve got to be engaged with your industry partners,” he says. “Having high school students receiving direct, constructive feedback from actual experts in the field lends legitimacy to the event.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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