Thanks to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, Fort Smith Public Schools and regional industry partners and organizations, local eighth graders had the opportunity to learn more about high-demand career fields in the Fort Smith area.
The inaugural Career Camp was held throughout the month of October, with students from Fort Smith’s four public junior highs visiting local organizations in four all-day sessions. Each session focused on a different career field: information technology, manufacturing and business, healthcare, and public service. The camp culminated in a wrap-up session in early November on the UAFS campus, when students reflected on their visits and created career plans.
Organizations and businesses students visited were:
- Mercy Hospital,
- Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine
- ArcBest Corp.
- 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard
- Fort Smith fire and police departments
Students also heard from a panel of elected officials, nonprofit leaders, and other community leaders, including:
- Jerry Glidewell, Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club
- Eddie Lee Herndon, United Way
- Talicia Richardson, 64.6 Downtown
- Susan Pruitt, Ronald McDonald House
- Jack Moffett, Children’s Emergency Shelter
- Dalton Person, Jones, Jackson & Moll
“These students start making career plans in eighth grade for high school, so we saw this as the perfect time to start exposing them to some of the careers that are available here in the Fort Smith area,” said Amanda Seidenzahl, director of Regional Workforce Grants at UAFS, the program through which the camps were funded.
The overarching goal of the camp, Seidenzahl added, was to educate students about the careers available in the Fort Smith region in hopes of retaining them after they graduate high school and college.
For Chaffin Junior High student Kaleah Smith, the camp’s healthcare session offered an opportunity to find out more about physical therapy, a profession she was interested in pursuing. But once she toured different facilities, she found her interest piqued by a different vocation.
“I kind of wanted to be a physical therapist, but then we went to Mercy and found out what a pharmacist did and how much schooling goes into being a pharmacist and the amount of money they make outside of college,” Smith said. “It kind of drew me in.”
Tracy Long, vice president of marketing and communications for ABB, said the camp helped the company’s efforts to show students and their families the benefits of working in the manufacturing industry.
“We are proud to support the UAFS Regional Workforce Grant program through events like last month’s Career Camp,” Long said. “In order to help more students and their parents to see manufacturing as a long-term career option, we want to bring them into our facilities and let them experience the kinds of work we do and the technologies we use first hand. This has proven to be an effective way to teach them about the kinds of skills they will need to succeed in manufacturing.”
Jordan Hale, director of government and community relations at UAFS, said the camp was a collaborative effort in preparing the future workforce.
“Career Camp brings all the key players in workforce development together to ensure we are pulling in the same direction and all on the same page in regards to preparing the future workforce,” Hale said. “We’re doing that by exposing students to career fields that are right here in our region and giving them an opportunity to see what those careers look like.”
Seidenzahl said the university plans to expand the camp in future years to include more industry partners and accommodate more students.
“We only have another year left on this grant, so the idea is that we will work to leverage resources with all of the partnering organizations to continue offering this camp in the future,” Seidenzahl said. “We had 250 students apply this year and were only able to accept 100, so there’s definitely a demand for programs like this. We hope to grow the camp and be able to accept more students in future years.”