DOWNINGTOWN — One word not commonly used to describe a job interview is fun.
However, if you were to ask students and employers who attended the inaugural Technical College High School (TCHS) Brandywine Campus Career & Training Fair, that would be the most commonly used word to describe the event. The event brought approximately 300 students, mainly seniors, together with over 40 employers who had positions to fill. By the end of the event, not only did all the students have smiles on their faces, but many of the them walked away with job offers in hand.
Students brought a scoring sheet to each interview, which employers used to provide feedback on the interviewees strengths and areas needing improvement. For completed interviews, students received a raffle ticket to try and win a donated raffle prize, including a gift basket donated by the Executive Director of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, Dr. Joseph O’Brien.
The entire TCHS Brandywine community came together to pull off this event, which sought to reduce the anxiety that a lot of students were experiencing as a result of the interview process. School to Career Specialist at TCHS Brandywine and organizer of the event, Deborah Watson, said, “In the past, when we would bring in industry partners to conduct mock interviews, we observed that students experienced a high level of anxiety. So we created this event to help take some of the anxiety out of the process by creating a fun atmosphere.”
This festive atmosphere was a team effort by the entire TCHS Brandywine community. Erin Petters, a learning support instructor at TCHS Brandywine, said, “As teachers, we were all rooting for our students to succeed, but it was really a building-wide effort. Even the maintenance workers were encouraging students as they went in to their interviews and asking them how it went when they came out. We want our students to succeed and this event helps show them how awesome they really are when they get that affirmation from employers.”
Students also felt that the event was extremely useful for them in preparing for the next stage of life, whether that be college or entering the workforce. Evelyn Dais, a TCHS veterinary science student from the Downingtown Area School District, said, “I am planning to go to Millersville University of Pennsylvania to study communications and psychology, and I feel the experience I had here in veterinary science has really helped to spark my interest in those areas. I feel the life skills I have learned here are more than what the typical high school student gets in traditional schools and so I am glad I decided to go to TCHS Brandywine.”
Leila Katz Boyd, a TCHS criminal justice and police science student from the West Chester Area School District, said, “I feel I got great feedback today. People tend to have a negative view about technical education. There are adults that think it’s for students who have behavioral challenges or who don’t do well in school but that’s not true at all. Events like this help to combat that stereotype.”
Students weren’t the only ones who benefited from the event; employers felt the experience was extremely beneficial to them as well. Kristen Sipe, district leader at the Hair Cuttery, said, “It was such a pleasure to interview these students. They were so prepared with their portfolios and their overall presence during the interview. Not only does this benefit the students, but it benefits us as employers to be here. We get to have access to highly-qualified candidates to help us grow our business. So really, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Kathy Benigni, a human resources recruiter for CCRES, was another employer who was extremely impressed by the professional demeanor of the students she interviewed. Benigni said of the event, “I am so impressed with these students! They are so positive and well prepared for their interviews. Many of these students were better prepared for these interviews than adults I have interviewed in the past.”
Also key to the students’ preparation was the “Dress for Success” program. “Dress for Success” is a program that sought to provide students with professional attire who might not have access to it otherwise. Over 70 students were served by the “Dress for Success” program, which received over $1000 worth of donations. Students were able to keep their outfits to ensure that they will have professional attire once they graduate from TCHS Brandywine.
The event held morning and afternoon sessions to help accommodate all of the students who attend TCHS Brandywine. Twenty SkillsUSA student representatives assisted behind the scenes to set-up the event to help employers and students get to their assigned areas and to clean up after the event.
TCHS Brandywine Learning Support Instructor, Robert Kindon, observed, “The thing that was incredible was the level of support these students gave each other. They genuinely wanted each other to succeed, even when they were competing against each other. Not only that, but students were actively exploring industries other than the ones they have been pursuing here.”
Employers who were present had the opportunity to donate $10 towards a scholarship for the student who was judged to have the best overall portfolio.
When asked what made the event such a positive experience for both students and industry partners, Peter Laviola, a retired automotive instructor who taught at the Center for Arts & Technology (CAT) Brandywine Campus for 20 years, had a simple answer: “There are just great people here. Great people and great students. It’s as simple as that.”