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Career center offers open house, classroom exploration for interested students – Chicago Tribune

Washington Township High School sophomore Sam Stokes was settled in at the Porter County Career & Technical Education main campus in Valparaiso to hear what precision machining instructor Greg Carmack had to say, flanked by his parents.

“He just said it’s a really good career choice,” Sam said of the advice he received from his dad, John Stokes, who is a machinist at Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton.

“I was trying to tell him if you do well in school and you do well here, Dad’s company might hire you,” John Stokes said to Carmack. The family has been helping Sam research future career options since the Career Center held its first open house in December. Sam attended the diesel technology information session at Portage High School then.

Each year about 1,000 high school students from 10 Porter County public high schools and Hobart High School take classes through Porter County Career & Technical Education that not only help them explore possible careers, but can even lead to certifications at far less cost than would be incurred once they leave high school.

Prospective students and their parents visited the diverse range of sites that host the program Thursday evening to learn about program offerings, cost, scheduling and potential impact on their future career choices. The classes are open to juniors and seniors, with a few just for seniors, and are held in either morning or afternoon sessions that allow the students to work around their core schedule at their home high schools.

In the row behind the Stokeses sat the Gareches. Portage High School senior Robert Garech is already in the program, but his mom and dad, Judith and Bob Garech, wanted to see his class space. Robert made his mom a lovely brass bell that produces a pleasing tinkling. She loves it.

“He’s one of our typical students not sure of what this is all about,” Carmack said. “Hopefully he’s enjoying it because he’s really good at it.”

Around the corner and down the hall Valparaiso High School sophomore Kimberley MacKenzie was listening in to the health science presentation being given by instructor Lorna Marcus with the help of two of her current senior students. The senior students plan to become a nurse and physician assistant and were directly admitted to the Purdue University and Valparaiso University nursing schools, and the Valparaiso physician assistant program, respectively.

MacKenzie, who wants to become a dermatologist, is also back for her second open house.

“I went to cosmetology last time,” she said. “I really like learning about skin care and I struggle with acne and it’s interesting learning about it.”

Should she be accepted into Health Science Education I and II she has the opportunity to earn her certified nursing assistant and dementia care certifications. “College is expensive and any credits we can get them are a bonus,” Marcus said.

Across the parking lot in the auto technology classroom Morgan Township High School senior Jason Grieger was helping instructor Mark Furry welcome prospects. “They’re more so interested in working on economy vehicles and being able to fix their own vehicles,” said Grieger, who is himself planning a career as a diesel mechanic. “A lot of them had in common they don’t want to sit in a chair.”

Jason Grieger, a senior at Morgan Township High School, speaks about his involvement in the automotive shop program during an open house at the Porter County Career & Technical Center in Valparaiso on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Michael Gard / Post-Tribune )

Furry said his students leave with two years of automotive training with student-level ASC certification. “What that does is it helps the shop owner and manager know they’re on their way,” Furry said of the automotive field, that like so many others, is short on qualified workers. Furry’s students can also earn certification for digital multimeter and SP2 safety certification.

“If you have any type of curiosity about becoming an auto mechanic it’s a great place to get your feet wet,” Furry said. Like most of the other classes at the career center, Auto Technology has a nominal fee of $155 for the school year, which includes the textbook, a work shirt and safety glasses.

Dual college credits are possible in a wide variety of classes which are held at several different campuses throughout Porter County, each specializing in one or more study areas.

Students returning to the career center have until Jan 31 to register for classes next school year, while new students have until Feb 3. Visit www.PCCTE.org for more information.

Shelley Jones is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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