On Friday, January 30th the regional Jobs for Americans Graduates (JAG) Career Development Conference was held on Indiana University Northwest’s (IUN) campus in Gary, Indiana. Approximately 110 students from 8 area schools (AK Smith Career Center, Calumet High School, East Chicago Central High School, Gary Roosevelt Career and College Academy, Gary Wirt/Emerson VPA, Gary West Side Leadership Academy, Hammond High School, and Knox High School) gathered in Raintree Hall to represent their schools and to compete for a place in the state competition in one of eight skill categories and Out Standing Senior Nominee.
Following a short welcome speech by Northwest Indiana Workforce Board Member Keith Kirkpatrick in the auditorium, the students adjourned to their assigned classrooms for their events. Events included career presentation, cover design, creative solutions, critical thinking, employability skills, public speaking, writing skills, and financial literacy, and Outstanding Senior. Colorful banners, community service binders, and student produced JAG commercials from each school were also judged by volunteer judges representing local employers, community organizations, and workforce officials. Many of the judges had judged before, returning because they enjoyed interacting with the students. During the introductions, a few even revealed that they too were once JAG students, so they were happy to support the program that had helped them achieve their goals.
In the auditorium, 11 students gave three-minute prepared speeches with the topic “JAG as a Roadmap to My Future.” Before they began, two-time winner David King Jr, now a student at IUN, offered the students advice based on his experiences, urging them to stay calm and be themselves. Though some were nervous, many used the time to tell personal stories of struggle and success; one girl said that following a family tragedy, she would’ve dropped out of high school if her counselor hadn’t pointed her toward JAG. Another credited JAG with her acceptance into four of her top five colleges.
As all the scores were tabulated, students reconvened in the auditorium and heard an energetic presentation from ArcelorMittal’s R.D. Parpart. Parpart’s talk focused on how, as the economy changes, jobs for unskilled workers are drying up while new opportunities for skilled workers are going unfilled. “We desperately need skilled workers,” he said. “That’s why they pay me just to talk to you.” And while he said he would never tell anyone not to go to college, his message was on gaining marketable skills as the key to success, not just a degree.
WorkOne staff then ran a spirited game of “JAG Jeopardy” with the students before the awards ceremony that recognized top finishers in the various competitions. The following first place winners will be moving on to the March 2015 State Finals Career Development Conference in Indianapolis: Chapter Banner-Gary West Side Leadership Academy, Chapter Service Learning Binder-AK Smith Career Center in Michigan City, Chapter Commercial-Calumet High School, Program Cover Design-Maia Smith from Gary West Side Leadership Academy, Career Presentation-Amari Butler from East Chicago Central High School, Creative Solutions-Jose Arciniega from Calumet High School, Critical Thinking-Jaylen Reese from Calumet High School, Employability Skills-Katie Sullivan from Knox High School, Financial Literacy-AJ Hoy from Knox High School, Public Speaking-Georgeann Holloway from East Chicago Central High School, Writing Skills-Brianna Talley from East Chicago Central High School, and the Outstanding Senior Award went to Kei-Chelle Jordan from Calumet High School.
Through the anticipatory nervousness of the morning’s activities to the early afternoon’s relaxed camaraderie, the day ended with happy students, proud teachers, and a regional conference that rewarded and inspired!
For further information on the regional JAG program contact Tamara Stump at 219-462-2940, ext. 32.