It is said that most high school students do not know what they want to do after graduation. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the rate in which high school graduates are enrolling in college immediately after high school has been decreasing year over year since 2019. Many students go directly into the workforce while the majority still enter college. To help overcome the ambiguity that the future holds for youth, community and business leaders can and should work with their local school and student body, providing opportunities for job shadows, part-time employment, and mentoring. SEFP is working to bridge the gap between our youth and the local opportunities available to them now and in the future.

The Southeast Enterprise Facilitation Project (SEFP) facilitated the 19th Regional Career Fair at the Menno High School on Wednesday, March 8th. The event welcomed 304 students from 11 area high schools with the event theme “Your Future Festival- A celebration of what could be your future.” The new theme put the onus on students to own their career fair experience and level of engagement.

Every student was provided a workbook to prepare for the fair that worked to uncover what they are proud of, what they excel at, what they are excited about, as well as what concerns they have for the future. They were to work through the exercises with their schools selected educator, usually the guidance counselor. Upon working through the self-reflection, they were charged to think on what job or industry, they could put those skills and desires to work. And from there, they were to craft their own questions to ask the various booth vendors that participated in this year’s fair. 

On Wednesday, there were 34 career booths present to share practical and experiential knowledge with the students across multiple industries and fields. The college and universities engaged students with various activities and games. Area businesses demonstrated skills that are key in their line of work. The Menno Olivet Care center had students use a syringe on an orange. Bierle Insurance shared the importance of insurance, and the role of an agent. Military recruiters shared their experiences and the opportunities that are possible through enlistment.

Beyond the booths, students had two other opportunities to learn and grow from. First, each student became a potential job candidate through a mock job interview process. SDSU Extension, SEFP Board Members, and Menno Community leaders walked students through a mock interview and provided them real-time feedback on the students performance. Students were to choose a mock job from a list, fill out a job application, and many created resumes and cover letters.  This is always one of the more fulfilling and immediately valuable activities of the fair.

The second opportunity was more focused to our youth interested in trade programs and other careers that are a part of the Build Dakota Scholarship program. A program representative from Mitchell Tech, facilitated multiple sessions, detailing who the program is for and how it works. It was highly informative.

The students that attended this year’s fair were from the following high schools: Bridgewater-Emery, Canistota, Centerville, Freeman Public, Freeman Academy, Irene-Wakonda, McCook Central, Marion, Menno, Parker, and Viborg-Hurley.  Each student was given a folder with information ranging from financial aid to South Dakota projections and salaries for in-demand careers.  Students were also given a worksheet assignment to engage the booth presenters using their questions to start their career conversations.  The students that turned in the most complete worksheet qualify for one of ten $30.00 awards and one $50 award, sponsored by SEFP.  Each winner will be notified through their school. 

SEFP, the city of Menno, and the Menno School District would like to thank the 34 colleges and businesses that sponsored a booth and took the time to share with our area students. You are who the students come to engage and learn from, and this year you knocked it out of the park!

A very special thank you to Menno School’s Nadia Mudder, HS Principal and Trishia Fischer, Guidance Counselor for their assistance in organizing and hosting the event. Thank you to the high school staff and students who assisted with the setup and tear down of the gym. Lastly, thank you Menno Kitchen staff for the delicious donuts provided for the fair volunteers, booth presenters and school educators.

Also, thank you to Deanna Gall and the SDSU Extension team, SEFP Board Members, Misty Miller, Jeannette Grady, Jackie Lukes, Mayor Darrell Mehlhaf, Menno School Finance Manager Dale Weiss and Menno Development Vice President Jeremy Zeeb who assisted with the student’s mock interviews. You made a lasting impact and impression on the students you interviewed, setting them up for future success by giving of your time. 

I can envision these young people completing their high school experience with a clearer vision of what they can do and want to do with their talents and abilities in the future!  Hopefully, their vision will include coming back home, starting a business, or even delving into local community support organizations and leadership.  The potential is great, and the opportunities are here!  


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