BANGOR, Maine — It began simply enough 22 years ago as a school career fair involving four middle schools and about 90 students.
Now the annual event — which involves 13 area schools, as many as 500 eighth-graders, and more than 60 professionals who volunteer to make presentations about their chosen jobs — has become a model for similar middle, junior high and even high school fairs statewide.
“There were four or five of us doing our own career fairs at our schools, and we decided rather than duplicate our efforts, we could pool our resources and bigger is better,” said Carolee Mountcastle, Orono Middle School guidance counselor, on Wednesday. “We’ve had students from the University [of Maine] come and observe our fairs to set up similar fairs based on our model all over the state.”
The fair has outgrown its former system of using a small group of local schools that took turns hosting it and put down roots at United Technologies Center in Bangor, which has hosted the fair for the last eight years.
“We can’t thank them enough for doing this,” said Mountcastle. “It’s a great location because it’s large enough, it’s centrally located, and it’s a great facility for these kids to be exposed to.”
The event was coordinated and planned this year by 11 teaching professionals: Mountcastle, Stan Pelletier, Merle Adams, Megan Cornwell, Beth Cottrell, Patti Bradstreet, Carolyn Sproul, Duffy Doiron, Tracey O’Connell, Michelle Walsh and Leslie Smith.
The fair coordinators schedule the event so each student gets to attend their top three choices for career representative presentations, which are set up in various rooms and identified on maps for students to follow.
“They usually get all five of their top choices,” said Mountcastle. “We do it all by hand. We’ve thought about getting some kind of computer program, but we haven’t found the right one for our needs yet.”
The participating schools include Dedham, Dr. Lewis S. Libby in Milford, Helen S. Dunn in Greenbush, Holbrook, Old Town’s Leonard Middle School, Orono Middle, Bucksport Middle, Veazie Community, Caravel Middle, Glenburn, Airline School in Aurora, and two small private schools.
“We start planning this in September and get together at least once a month to keep coming up with ways to improve it every year,” said O’Connell.
Some students have no idea what kind of a career path they want and others want more information on how better to prepare for the career they want.
“The middle school years are a great time to start thinking about a potential career,” said Mountcastle. “You can’t really start too early.”
BDN reporter Andrew Neff was one of the professionals participating in the career fair.