BENTON TOWNSHIP — Sydney Vernier spent her Friday answering questions from curious students while lying on a table for an ultrasound.

Vernier and fellow Lake Michigan College student Alaina Wells were representing the college’s diagnostic medical sonography program at the second annual Career Pathway Day, held at The Mendel Center.

“It’s such a good program and not many people know about it,” Vernier said shortly after Wells finished running an ultrasound transducer over her abdomen. “It’s been nice having an influence on some of the students. We’ve gotten a lot of questions and have gone through loads of brochures.”

The unorthodox career booth was among the highlights from an event that drew more than 2,000 students, who met with a handful of representatives from various Berrien County industries.

During the event, students explored their career interests through a number of hands-on activities, met with post-secondary representatives, and spoke to area employers about career opportunities in Southwest Michigan.

The event was organized in a collaborative fashion through Berrien RESA, Michigan Works and LMC.

The event set itself apart from other career-based sessions, in that Career Pathway Day primarily focuses on ninth-grade students.

“Career Pathway Day is an exciting opportunity for area ninth–graders,” said Chris Machiniak, Berrien RESA’s career and technical education regional director. “When you walk in there, you see the kids interacting with everyone. They’re not shy; they’re not clumping up. They’re actually going out and being engaging.”

At one of the more career booths, students were able to practice inserting an IV into a prosthetic arm. Another station manned by the Berrien County Firefighter Training Committee gave students the chance to lift a fire hose.

Machiniak said he doesn’t consider Career Pathway Day a typical job fair, but rather a career exploration opportunity.

College representatives from LMC, Southwestern Michigan College and Western Michigan University were onsite to answer students’ questions.

Additionally, veteran high school CTE students were present to share their CTE class experiences with ninth-graders.

Among the CTE students present for Friday’s career expo were from Berrien Springs High School’s construction trade program.

Jeff Mitchell, the program’s instructor, had a display highlighting the group’s previous projects, as well as a four-by-four piece of wood for students to hammer nails into.

“I wanted to give them a taste of what we do,” Mitchell said. “This program gives students a sense of community spirit and giving back. Many of the students coming in have never built anything in their life.”

Erin Venno, sector relations coordinator with Michigan Works, said many of the students at the expo have never had the opportunity to ask a welder or a human resource professional what their day-to-day life is like.

“There were a lot of discussions about how do we show students jobs they might like or dislike in a more hands-on fashion,” Venno said. “We didn’t want students to just come in and get some swag. We wanted to give them a chance to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

Not all of those 2,000 students were freshmen.

Venno said about 80 were upperclassmen who are part of their school’s CTE program. With Career Pathway Day growing in attendance from last year, which served 1,600 students, Venno said they are looking to expand it even more.

“We know that year after year there are at least 8,000 jobs that are available in Southwest Michigan,” she said. “Even if every single student from this event were to get a job in this community, that would be only a fraction of what’s needed. This is something that’s going to happen year after.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski