25 Ottawa High School students are planning a spring career fair for their peers

Businesses will attend to conduct interviews, introduce opportunities, even offer jobs

From left to right, Melissa Lorenzi, Joey Marez, Nevaeh Wheeler and Ashley Carls.

Ottawa High School students are plotting their own Pursuit of Happiness as they organize a career fair Friday, April 21, in the school’s cafeteria.

That might seem like a long way out but the fair has been in the works since last semester. Seniors Nevaeh Wheeler and Joey Marez are leading a group of 25 students in creating a career fair the helps outline their path for the future.

“We started with a survey that we sent to students with options of careers they’d like to learn about, with options to add careers to the list that we didn’t think of,” Wheeler said. “It was very helpful, but we’re focusing mainly on the needs to students to help them get out in the world and get the resources they need, because a lot of people don’t reach out.”

Wheeler said different factors play into that, whether it’s social anxiety or an overall unawareness of what resources students have available to them.

Teacher Ashley Carls said the students have learned so much through the planning process. While she and counselor Melissa Lorenzi are involved, they take a passive role to allow the committees to decide how the career fair should look.

Carls found students were quickly able to make connections within not only the school’s community, but also within Ottawa. Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Jeff Hettrick helped in forwarding the flier for the event to more than 1,300 different people within Ottawa’s business world.

Students are in the process of fielding responses now.

“It’s taken students that weren’t engaged every day and gotten them interested in planning for the future,” Carls said. “Joe [Marez] was very, very quiet at the beginning of the year and now he’s taking to this. I’m proud of both [Marez and Wheeler].”

Lorenzi said the process has been kept low key to reinforce collaboration and taking time is undervalued.

Marez said talks at the beginning took place around how the students could get other students interested in coming to the career fair.

“The more we got into this, the more progress we’ve made and with the committees, it seems like everyone is seeing this can work,” Marez said.

Lorenzi said the students are finding ways to make the career fair valuable as they reach out for ways to add to it. The students have questions, such as resumé building, cover letter writing and interviewing that will be addressed, as well.

“In all this, you have to have communication skills,” Wheeler said. “Everything during this is a learning process and some people are going to have trouble communicating. Here, we can find someone that will help. It’s great, to get out there and get that experience.”

Wheeler said she’s grateful for the opportunity because she’s been able to grow through it, overcoming social anxiety.

“The students are in charge,” Lorenzi said. “They have done great and again, they’re getting insights that even things, like eye contact when speaking, can be a valuable skill.”

Carls said her hope is the Pursuit of Happiness Student Career Fair becomes an annual event organized by students. While rules may be different in the future, students composed their expectations for this year’s event. It will be attended by juniors and seniors, and businesses will be provided a table to set up their booth. From there, potential employers can talk with students, promote their business and conduct interviews, even offering employment opportunities on the spot if they see fit.

Employers interested can contact Carls by emailing her at acarls@ottawahigh.com or by calling 815-433-1323, ext. 3506.

The students also are looking for sponsors willing to donate $25 in an effort to support the career fair. Donations can be made via cash or check, dropped off at the main office at 211 E. Main St. in Ottawa, with attention to Ashley Carls. Donors will be featured on the Pirate Nation social media page.

The event is scheduled 10 a.m. to noon on April 21.