A world of possibilities

Students throng to UCC to explore programs, job paths

Douglas County students explored the worlds of engineering, cybersecurity, forestry, apprenticeships, automotive, business, welding and more at the 12th annual Explore UCC event at Umpqua Community College this month.

The annual event draws hundreds of people and gives students from near and far the chance to learn about programs that are available at UCC. Not only that, industry leaders volunteer their time to chat with students about the many career options that exist in their communities.

“What’s unique about this event is they have an opportunity to meet with people that are working in business and industry,” said Clay Baumgartner, UCC’s Engineering/ Surveying and Computer Information Systems program chair.

The event is designed for students of all ages, including those in elementary, middle and high school, and those attending UCC. The goal is to teach students and their families about potential STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) careers and educational pathways. More than 40 local employers, along with representatives from UCC and four-year universities such as Oregon State University and Oregon Institute of Technology, participated.

This year’s Explore UCC, held Feb. 6, was sponsored in cooperation with the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub and this year was expanded to include representatives in business, wine making and wine grape growing, and some health care fields.

Oakland Middle School 8th-grader Matthew Harting was assisting with a FIRST LEGO League robotics demonstration at the event and said he appreciated the chance to learn about school and career pathways.

“I think it teachers you a lot about options,” he said.

Mom Connie Harting agreed.

“I think this is a great event, a great opportunity for kids of all ages to come out and just start thinking about what they want to do when they get out of high school,” she said.

Jimmy Swanson, corporate recruiter for Swanson Group based in Glendale, was on hand to talk about career opportunities in the wood industry. He said it’s important for students to realize that even if they don’t plan to attend college, there are ways to earn high-wage, high-demand jobs.

That’s why he’s partnered with career and technical education programs in schools across the county. The company is a supporter, for example, of the South County CTE Collaborative, an initiative to combine the resources of five South County school districts to create a state-of-the-art CTE center and a program for students in the area to complete and be able to step into a job after graduation.

“We need not only employees, but we need skilled employees, so electricians, millwrights, tradespeople,” Swanson said. “They’re getting older, retiring, and there’s this gap. It’s a great career.”

Marq Randall, project manager for local manufacturer Romtec, said that, growing up in Douglas County, he wasn’t aware of the companies operating locally. An event like Explore UCC helps raise awareness among students.

He agrees there is a need for skilled workers, and suggested that students take advantage of every internship and work opportunity they can to gain experience. In addition, Randall pointed out that employers strongly value employability skills such as the ability to communicate both verbally and in written form. 

With a variety of job options at companies like Romtec, students have many paths to consider.

“We’re a growing company,” he said. “Every year we’ve just taken on more and more opportunities. There’s definitely opportunities growing in engineering, project management, sales, IT. With a growing company comes different needs.”

South Umpqua High School junior Seth Mahan, who is interested in computer engineering as well as theater arts, said the Explore event gave him a better sense of the credentials different fields require.

“It makes me basically understand what I have to take and what certain fields do,” he said.

Baumgartner said the event initially focused on STEM-related careers, but as it has grown, so too has the emphasis on jobs in manufacturing and other CTE-related fields. More importantly, the focus on how STEM and CTE overlap has grown.

It’s a connection that Douglas County Partners for Student Success is emphasizing through the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub and its Bright Futures Umpqua initiative, which seeks to provide students with career-connected learning opportunities.

“STEM applications are increasingly becoming a part of CTE-related fields like the trades due to ever-expanding technology,” said Gwen Soderberg-Chase, DCPSS and STEAM hub director. “Students have a world of possibilities open to them that may or may not require college, that can lead to high-wage, high-demand careers. Our job as educators is to show them these paths and help them choose one that is meaningful to them. Events like Explore UCC help open students’ eyes.”

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