Stephanie Freeman, career development facilitator for Fort Smith Public Schools (FSPS), hopes to change the way junior high students see their city. Since helping launch the iCan Career Expo for ninth graders from the district’s four schools in 2015, she has heard a common refrain from students unfamiliar with the opportunities waiting for them on the other side of graduation.
“I’ve heard them say, ‘Well I’m leaving. There’s nothing here in Fort Smith for me.’ We want to display to them that there is, actually, and help them to plan for a future here and to make a difference here,” she told Talk Business & Politics at the third annual event from the Fort Smith Convention Center on Tuesday (Nov. 7).
Sixty exhibitors and Paul Vitale, a motivational speaker/Arkansas native, were in force to back up Freeman’s mission, and they brought more than a few company representatives for emphasis.
The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM) had one of their state-of-the-art $95,000 robot patients on-hand, part of a $2.5 million “high-fidelity simulator” at the college which allows medical students to diagnose medical conditions and provide treatments.
Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office personnel were in uniform to discuss careers in law enforcement. 5NEWS co-anchor Daren Bobb discussed what makes a story newsworthy. Representatives from the 188th showed off a fighter jet to a group of five awestruck boys who were speechless when they found out the entire thing was operated by remote control, and a group of girls learned about the beauty profession through live demonstration and hands-on training from the Academy of Salon and Spa.
The students attended the daylong event in two groups of approximately 450 each with Kimmons and Chaffin occupying the morning slot and Darby and Ramsey the afternoon. All 900 students received approximately one hour and fifteen minutes to visit the exhibitor tables, while Vitale took the other half to discuss “The Hero Within,” or how to be a positive influence in the world regardless of one’s profession.
Students switched between the two events about halfway through.
The addition of Vitale was “probably the biggest change” from previous years, Freeman said, adding that plans for the iCan event usually start in the spring semester “and we work on it during the summer.”
“This is our third one, so by now, we have some things in place that make it a little easier. But we start recruiting pretty heavily in the summer time and right at the beginning of school when we have our Partners in Education meetings and things like that,” Freeman said.
The district tries to reach out to “anyone who would be interested in presenting and also people we know and people that we either think would make a good fit who may not actually be our partners. Like, the (Sebastian County) Humane Society, for example. They’re not necessarily a partner, but we thought, ‘Man they would just be a great presence and provide an opportunity for kids to think about jobs in that realm students may not have thought about.'”
Freeman continued: “We want to represent Fort Smith as a whole, so we’ve tried to get different businesses and organizations – small businesses, big businesses with Baldor and ArcBest. I have a realtor here who works for herself basically. We’ve got churches, teachers, several university representatives. We try to get as much variety as possible.”