McAlester, Okla. played host to one of Oklahoma’s premiere job readiness gatherings Wednesday, Feb. 25 as the eighth annual Choctaw Nation Career Expo drew more than 1,600 participants to the Southeast Expo Center.
With a theme of “Keeping it Real… Real Choices, Real Jobs, Real LIFE!” the event attracted hundreds of high school and vocational school students as well as job seekers from Oklahoma and Arkansas. More than 100 exhibitors represented employers and universities from across Oklahoma and beyond.
“Our event offers career information for both students and job seekers,” said Robin Counce, director of Choctaw Nation Career Development. “Our goal is to bring job and training opportunities to the area.”
The trade-show atmosphere allowed a variety of employers and college recruiters to interact one-on-one with job seekers and students from dozens of area school districts and vocational technology centers. The event centered around a colorful “Game of Life” area where participants walked through a life-size game board to job readiness and college financial aid stations. “It’s a good thing to walk around and meet all these people,” said Jeremy Watts, a welding student at Kiamichi Technology Center in Stigler, Okla. “Actually, I met with a lady from Spartan College about their Nondestructive Testing program.”
It was this sort of hands-on, student-tailored contact, which employers and recruiters sought and found at the Career Expo. Choctaw Nation member Danisha Brown came to the event to see about joining a nursing program offered by Kiamichi Tech. “I’ve been a CNA for 10 years, and now, I’m trying to get into other nursing programs,” Brown said. “I figured I would come home and try it here since I have more family in this area.”
At another booth, Oklahoma Highway Patrol showed students some of the high-tech equipment they use daily in law enforcement.
“This event means a lot, these are the ones who are up and coming,” said OHP trooper Ron Watson, who was showing a group of high school students how to use a radar gun. “Their computer skills are out of this world, and it’s a diverse world out there, so being bilingual is a plus. We’re here looking for everyone who meets the criteria.”
Guest speaker Bill Cordes addressed a group of 1,200 students with his inspirational “YOGOWYPI” message: “You only get out what you put in.”
“We all get so easily conditioned. But if you want something out of life, it’s important to be engaged in life,” Cordes said. “If you made it this far, somewhere inside of you, you want more than to just get by.”
This year, the career expo's “hot spots” included a Veterans Resource Center, OSU Industrial Technology section, Choctaw Nation educational resources and employment resources that included a “Networking Zone” and a job application lab.