Third Annual Expo Connects U-46 Academic Courses with Careers

  • October 17, 2017
  • Terry Gajewski

An all-female competitive engine teardown team, healthcare demonstrations and culinary displays - and tastings - were among the many top draws at Explore 2017: A U-46 Community, Curriculum, and Career Expo at Elgin Community College. At least 2,000 students and family members attended the third annual expo Saturday, the largest crowd to date.

“The rain did not stop students and families from coming together to learn about all the opportunities and career pathways available within our District,” said Dr. Terri Lozier, U-46’s Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Instruction and Equity. “We are beyond grateful for the many professionals who donated their time and shared their skills and passion to help U-46 students and strengthen the 11 communities served by our District."

Students who attended the expo wound their way through themed career clusters such as manufacturing; architecture and construction; health sciences; hospitality and tourism; information technology; government and public administration and more. In each area, students could stop and learn more about a specific career, what courses or programs at U-46 might lead them in that direction and often engage in a fun, hands-on activity, such as piping frosting onto a cake, listening to a model baby’s “heartbeat” or playing with blocks in the engineering section.

The engine teardown team, comprised of students in the automotive technology program at South Elgin High School, showed off their skills in the area devoted to transportation, distribution, and logistics.

“You got this!” one of the girls said to her teammates as they took apart and reassembled a small-block engine in 24 minutes, 31 seconds. The students will compete at the national Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition in Las Vegas at the end of October with a goal to finish among the top 10 in the country.

U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-8th district), Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain, Hanover Park Village President Rodney Craig. Elgin Community College President Dr. David Sam, and Advocate Sherman Hospital President Linda Deering were among the political and business leaders who attended the expo. The leaders gathered with Rep. Krishnamoorthi at the close of the expo to discuss local and federal efforts to improve and expand college and career readiness.

“This type of event is a game changer for middle and high school students,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “It's too late to start this work in high school; I believe we need to introduce the opportunities and decisions ahead to families and students at an earlier age to pave the way for future success. It’s also critical for the economic success of our communities. I believe there’s great potential to expand this type of partnership with ACE to help further develop the workforce of tomorrow.”

Among the crowd gathered around the engine teardown was U-46 parent Phil Novello and his children Gaetano, 11, and Gules, 8, who are students at Oakhill Elementary in Streamwood.

Novello said he brought his children to Explore 2017 to help them start considering what kind of careers they might want to pursue. His son likes cars but also loves animals and thinks about becoming a veterinarian. But since Gaetano uses up all of his dad’s scrap lumber building bridges and birdhouses, Novello wants him to consider engineering, too.

Gules is younger and still at the stage where she is drawn to most everything, but loves her Dual Language experience at Oakhill and can fluently converse in Spanish.

Novello said he benefitted from attending Explore 2017 as well, leaving with a better understanding of all the programs and courses available to students in U-46. Novello is a member of the District’s Citizens’ Advisory Council, and his wife, Kristine, is president of the PTO at Oakhill. Even with their level of involvement, it’s hard to keep up with all that the District has to offer, he said.

“You can be anything you want to be coming out of U-46,” he said.

This is the third annual expo, an event that began as a way of showcasing curricula or course options and has grown to showcase careers through collaboration with the Alignment Collaborative for Education, known as ACE. More than 50 businesses and organizations showcased approximately 65 careers at the expo. The City of Elgin, Elgin Community College, Elgin Community College, Elgin State Bank, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Gilmore Marketing Concepts, Inc., Grand Victoria Casino, Hagg Press, KCT Credit Union and Sam's Club were among the event sponsors, donating funds and services to support the expo.

ACE Executive Director Nancy Coleman said she was pleased with the level of community involvement at Explore 2017 and how every industry cluster was represented.

Growing up in Alabama, she said, it was enough for her to go to college. Mentors who helped guide her career came later. But in a rapidly changing and competitive work environment, it’s important for today’s students to have mentors in middle school and high school who can “help them make good choices,” she said.

“I want the students here to see all the possibilities. No one needs to make a decision right now,” Coleman said. “They might change their minds five times by the time they are graduating from college or heading to work, but the main goal is for them to see all the possibilities and opportunities. … And parents need to know that a primary focus and goal of U-46 is to do a great job with career education.”

While some U-46 students attended Explore 2017 as part of a field trip with a teacher chaperone, many were with one or both parents. Dr. Lozier said she hoped those parents left the expo “seeing that U-46 offers their students multiple opportunities in different career areas, and I hope that the parents will allow their students to try out some of those.”

ACE worked in partnership with the District to offer the expo, organizing dozens of student and community volunteers who welcomed and supported families through the event. Attendees were asked to complete an exit survey that organizers will use to help plan Explore 2018. Already the District is planning to offer next year’s expo on a weekday to generate even more participation among students and businesses.

Students who stopped by the Motorola Solutions table walked away with stress balls and fidget spinners. Rigo Sanabria, an engineer who serves as the company’s continuous improvement manager, showed off heavy-duty radios that are manufactured in Elgin and used by first responders.

Sanabria said the company is always looking to expand its talent pool, but that he also encouraged the students he interacted with to follow their passion, telling them that loving what they do is the best predictor of professional success. For him, that meant competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition as a high schooler and a degree (and career) in engineering. But he also said plenty of teens might change their minds before graduation about what type of career to pursue.

“That’s not the end of the world,”  Sanabria said. “They should never stop exploring.”