Students taste daily grind: Conference allows area youth to experience working world

Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

More than 90 kids from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District got a taste and a trial of the working world during the Career and Technical Student Organizations Conference at Kenai Central High School Thursday.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Soldotna High School freshman David Swedberg concentrates on operating a forklift Thursday afternoon during the Career and Technical Student Organizations Conference at Kenai Central High School. "This was pretty fun," he said. Swedberg said he also learned a lot in the conference's job interview skills program.

The conference, in its 18th year on the Peninsula, featured workshops, speakers and contests for students in technical and trade organizations like the Future Farmers of America and SkillsUSA.

"It's a chance for kids to plug into real world jobs and get some contacts in the area," said Wally Ward, a judge for this year's design/make/sell and extemporaneous contests and former conference state champion.

Contests ranged from job interviewing to welding to flower arranging at this year's conference with workshops in subjects like self-defense and non-destructive testing.

The district conference is unique to the Peninsula because it is one of the only districts in Alaska that has its own contest before the state competition. Alaska's technical conference is being held in Anchorage next month.

"It takes care of the butterflies," said Walt Ward, Wally's father and the former career and technical education coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, who helped judge the contests this year with his son and wife, Colleen. He said that while the district competition is not a qualifier for state conference, students do need to place first at state to go to the national contest. The national competition has some 83 different contest categories, which also adds to the appeal of these types of vocational clubs.

"It's kind of neat because it caters to a wide variety of students," Wally said. "You don't have to be 6'4", 300 pounds or play a wicked piano. It's pretty much for everybody."

Levi Lacey, a Kenai High senior and president of Kenai's SkillsUSA club, competed in the heavy equipment operating contest with a Bobcat. He said being involved in the club helped him realize what he wanted to do as a career -- be an aeronautical engineer.

"That's part of what SkillsUSA is. You get into stuff you want to do in the future," he said, explaining that he got experience in drafting. Lacey said he will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona next year to begin his engineering studies.

"Anyone who has gumption to do something should get out and try to join it," he said. "It's just so broad that anybody can do it and enjoy something."

Take Jenna Mahoney, a Homer High School student, for example. She attended the district conference to compete in the culinary arts contest.

"I'm planning on going to college so I thought it would look good for college for culinary arts," she said, adding that she would like to start her own catering business someday. "If you know more going into school it makes things go smoothly. It's easier to learn it now."

Mahoney said sanitation standards were stressed during the contest where she made vegetarian chili. Other participants created different types of chili, cornbread and salad which was lunch for the conference attendees and volunteers.

"It was really fun. I didn't think I'd have as much fun as I did," she said.

And that's exactly what the new district career and technical education coordinator, Dan Bohrnsen, wanted -- for students involved in the conference to spark an interest in something that will translate into a career. He said that even though the economy is struggling now the students are developing skills to use when they are ready for the workforce.

"In the future all of these jobs are going to be good for them," Bohrnsen said. "These jobs should all be pretty strong five to six years from now."

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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