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Companies entice students into tech jobs at STEM Career Fair

Jenny Peterson
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More than 2,000 students attended the second High School STEM Career Fair last Thursday, and fittingly, they got right to work.

Dozens of interactive booths from local companies engaged students in real-life tasks, giving them hands-on experience with some of the skills used in science, technology, engineering and math-related careers.

At the booth for Davis and Floyd, an engineering, design and planning services firm, students were able to use a computer program to design and build a bridge that would allow a large truck to pass over it.

Students were told to choose materials durable enough for the heavy load, but also to build it as cost efficiently as possible — a task faced by actual engineers every day.

Some students’ bridges buckled on screen when the simulated truck drove over it; other bridges were more successful, but over budget. There was a prize up for grabs for the student who built the most successful bridge.

“For students who are interested in engineering programs, this is a basic model program,” said Mary Thompson with Davis and Floyd.

At the Mercedes-Benz booth, students were challenged to place correct size parts into pegs on a training table — the same table they use to test assembly machinists in dexterity and fine motor skills.

“This is for future opportunities for them to work for Mercedes in Ladson,” said Veronica Hobbs. “This is real-life training.”

Students raced the clock to complete the task and the winners were able to take a ride in a Mercedes-Benz driving simulator, which required students to shift gears and drive a car with simulated feedback in the seat and steering wheel.

Sponsored by the Charleston Regional Business Journal, the second High School STEM Career Fair at the North Charleston Convention Center allowed students from Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties to get a snapshot of the types of jobs available in STEM and companies that need skilled employees locally.

More than 50 companies set up booths, including higher education institutions that offer degrees and programs relative to these industries.

Company representatives used props and technology to help entice students, including virtual reality goggles, games and programs.

Nucor Steel representatives used different types of candy to explain the different types of steel the company manufactures; some steel products are hard like lifesavers; others are flexible like gummi worms.

“Metal is not the same on cars as it is in ceiling beams, or metal tables,” said Ryan Peck, metallurgist at Nucor Steel.

Students got to sit in a new electric BMW i3 and in fully-armored vehicles from Streit USA Armoring.

“If you like to take things apart, figure out what’s wrong with it and put it back together, you’ll love working here,” said Melinda Wilferd, human resources representative for Mahle Behr Charleston.

At the North Charleston Police Department booth, students were told about employment opportunities in technology, including outfitting police body cameras, cyber-security, crime analysis and crime scene investigation work.

Area school robotics teams, sponsored by Robert Bosch, brought competitive robots that students designed and built and programmed so that the machines threw beach balls out to the crowd of students.

Many representatives were impressed with the skills high school students were already learning.

“They are gaining skills we didn’t learn in school like 3-D printing,” said Kyle Cruz with Victory Solutions Inc. engineering firm. “They will be going from iPhones to who knows what.”

Robert Stone, an engineering teacher at West Ashley High School, said students are learning in the classroom the exact program used to build the bridge at the Davis and Floyd booth.  

Micki Boulineau, a computer science teacher at Charleston County School for Math and Science, said the career fair was an important way to showcase opportunities in Charleston.

“Students were excited to see professionals in the field,” she said. “They were able to see that there are these types of jobs right here in Charleston and they don’t have to go to Charlotte or Atlanta.”

Contact Jenny Peterson at 843-849-3145.

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