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A chance to learn how to install an electrical outlet caught the attention of seventh-grader Katherine Tucker at a career event at the Alliant Energy Center.

Katherine, who attends Toki Middle School, was taking part in FutureQuest last Thursday and stopped by the booth set up by Design Electric of Madison.

“It looked cool,” Katherine said.

She said the experience piqued her interest in the career area even though she had never considered it before.

That was the idea behind the third annual event, which was coordinated by the Dane County School Consortium in conjunction with the Madison School District. It was an opportunity for local companies to get their brand in front of about 5,600 middle school students mostly from Dane County.

Students who attended rotated through areas, or zones, where they first heard about the importance of career planning and then could meet with business partners promoting the skills needed to be successful in positions within their company and industry. In addition to answering students’ questions, the businesses and professional organizations offered hands on activities.

This year the event grew from four zones to five zones and organizers are always looking for more exhibitors, said Josh Fassl, director of the Dane County School Consortium. About 500 more students also came this year, Fassl said.

“We are hoping to expose students to careers and pathways that they might not have been interested in prior,” Fassl said. “The hopes are that as students start to look at elective opportunities in high school they will start to align them to career interests.”

Travis Larson, president of Design Electric, said about two-thirds of the students who stopped by at his booth were girls.

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Students dug a trench in a sand pit and connected a plumbing fitting at a booth set up by Dave Jones of Madison. Lindsey Meisner, construction operations manager, said the company was hoping to show the students how interesting it can be to work in the trades.

“It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” she said.

Meisner also served as an example of a woman working in the trades. She said one girl asked her what women could do if they don’t want to do the “hard work” of installing plumbing so Meisner told her about jobs such as working in scheduling, operations and project management.

Evan Sullivan, an eighth-grader at Waunakee Middle School, said he came to the event planning to become a social studies teacher, but he found the Madison School and Community Recreation booth interesting.

“I thought that it was really cool that they plan all the events for the district,” he said.

Billy Sem, a seventh-grader at Jefferson Middle School, said he knows he wants to be a bus driver and checked out the Metro Transit booth manned by maintenance supervisor Chris Nygaard, instructor Steve Ward and bus driver Clinton Boone.

Jen Wegner, director of Personalized Pathways for the Madison School District, said the event is an opportunity for students to “try things on for size.”

“Our goal is to connect this with the work they are doing in school with academic and career planning,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of companies and businesses in the Madison area that they might frequent but don’t see as opportunities for jobs and careers.”

Ty Jury, Waunakee Middle School counselor, said his school took more than 340 eighth-graders to the event and after they returned they spent the afternoon taking part in two other career exploration activities.

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