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Johnston students see — and touch — possible careers

JoCo Works gives eighth-graders a hands-on introduction to career opportunities. Johnston County Public Schools photo

SMITHFIELD — More than 3,000 Johnston County eighth-graders descended on Johnston Community College recently to explore career opportunities.

“The idea is to get students aware and to increase their awareness of careers and industries that are available to them,” said Reno Palombi, director of career and technical education for Johnston County Public Schools.

The event, dubbed JoCo Works, is a project of the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce. Participants included presenting sponsor Novo Nordisk, the N.C. Department of Transportation and Grifols, a maker of therapeutics derived from plasma.

“We hope to see students engaging with employers and doing hands-on activities that help them to understand a little bit more about what that career is like,” Palombit said.

The middle-schoolers were able to explore careers in many fields, including biotechnology, construction, agriculture, hospitality, tourism, public works, and public safety. Along the way, they learned what the jobs paid and what education they required.

Though she wants to be a pediatric nurse, Bailey Baltimore of Archer Lodge Middle School wanted to learn about other careers. “My goal,” she said, “is to look further into careers that I necessarily didn’t know much about before,” she said.

After some hands-on time with drones and robots, Chase Johnson of McGee’s Crossroads said he was set on a career in engineering. “My expectations for today weren’t the highest when I came in,” he said. “But then I saw everything out there and I got excited because I hit a lot of the engineering stuff.”

“I like engineering; I truly love it,” Johnson said, adding that he planned to explore more than one engineering field. “I want to study something like aeronautical or mechanical engineering first so I can see which I like better.”

Jinely Mandujano, a senior at Smithfield-Selma High School, was among the high school students who dropped in at JoCo Works. Like Johnson, she’s interested in engineering, but a different kind.

“I think engineering is something that I’ve learned to like,” Mandujano said. “It is something that I want to pursue in the future, and I think I’ve concluded, as of now, I want to study biomedical engineering just because I like health science and like learning about the human body.”

Ken Boham, the interim president of Johnston Community College, said JoCo Works helped fulfill the college’s mission. “What we hope to do is to be able to connect the college with the student, connect the college with the community and connect the college with the workforce that’s here in Johnston County,” he said. “I can’t think of any better way to connect the college to the community, especially business and industry that’s represented here.”

Scarlett Tyner, a spokeswoman, said Novo Nordisk was honored to sponsor the event. “JoCo Works is such a special event because it’s interactive, it’s hands-on, and it’s not just about learning about careers from a textbook,” she said. “They get to see, touch, and they get to speak to professionals who are working in their fields of expertise.

“It’s fantastic to see all of the students here and all their excitement to learn about career opportunities.”