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'Expo'nential opportunity: DLHS, Chamber of Commerce hosts career expo for area freshmen

Detroit Lakes freshmen have been attending career fairs for years, but this year the school is changing it up, holding an entire expo at the Kent Freeman Arena Sept. 21 from noon to 7 p.m. Meagan Pittelko/Tribune

The Detroit Lakes High School is increasing its annual career fair 'expo'nentially with a career expo beginning noon Thursday, Sept. 21, at the Kent Freeman Arena.

One of a number of other changes going along with the implementation of the new academy model, the career fair is being bumped up to the primetime September slot rather than later in the year. It's all about a career-centered curriculum now.

"This sets the rudder for the course (the new freshman seminar)," said Aaron Swenson, freshman seminar instructor at the high school. "If things change, that's fine. We just want that base."

And a strong base it's set to be, with the expo expecting anywhere from 60 to 70 businesses that will be setting up an "interactive booth" meant to engage 400 plus freshmen, the 250 from Detroit Lakes High School, and the rest coming from surrounding schools like Lake Park-Audubon, Frazee, Ogema-Waubun, and Pelican Rapids.

In addition to having more interactive booths at the career fair this year, the fair is also flipping the interview process, meaning the freshmen have to interview the businesses.

They will be creating "passports" with 12 questions they will ask of eight different businesses, meaning they will be interacting with one business from each of the six business categories on the Minnesota career wheel (business, agriculture, arts, engineering, health science, and human services)—and then some.

"We're going over the questions in the seminar class now, what they can and can not ask" said Swenson. "For example, they know they can't ask 'What do you make?'"

The students are also learning how they will be expected to dress—interview appropriate attire—and practicing how to ask their questions in a professional way.

The hope is that students will be able to see, through the interview process, that there's more to businesses than meets the eye.

"Teenages may think banking is all numbers," said Chamber of Commerce president Carrie Johnston, adding that really, it's so much more than that, and there are a number of different careers within the banking pathway, for example, that may interest a number of students with a many different interests.

"This isn't just a one-and-done deal, either" added Mike Labine, another freshman seminar instructor at the high school.

The students will also be expected to write a reflection on their experience afterward. From there, they will continue to discover their interests and talents and see where they may fit career-wise after graduating from high school (or college, if they decide to take that path after high school).

Labine added that focusing on the career doesn't make them anti-college, it's just a way to show students the numerous paths they may take after walking across the stage and getting their diploma.

"People think we're dumping these kids in and telling them they're going to be an electrician, and boom that's their career forever," Swenson said laughing, and adding that that is certainly not the case. "We're looking to guide them towards a career area."

After the high school career fair ends at 2:30 p.m., the Chamber of Commerce took it upon themselves to expand the expo even further by inviting the participating businesses to stick around and showcase their businesses to the public from 4 to 7 p.m. The expo is expected to be more of a "trade show" style that's free and open to the public, with appetizers, a cash bar, and door prizes.

"It will be a good way for parents to check up on what their kids did," said Vern Schnathorst, DLHS school-to-work coordinator, adding that it's not just for the parents, though. Anyone curious about the numerous job opportunities in the area are invited to come check it out.