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Igniting Minds

High schoolers will find hands-on inspiration, career goals at the annual Central Oregon Skilled Trades & Apprenticeship Fair on Nov. 16

(The original version of this article, adapted here, appeared in the Spring '18 edition of Legacies magazine.)

The excavator operator seems to have a serious case of the giggles.

Trinite Tail, a 16-year-old student from YouthBuild in Redmond, is helming the controls of the compact machine and she laughs nervously as it crawls forward jerkily, rocking, its bucket tipped at a strange angle. Dust seems to kick up in disgust.

But to her credit, Tail never takes her eyes off the task. With coaching from a Peterson Cat employee stationed just outside the cab, she manages to lower the boom in gentle increments, finally grabbing and raising a rather forsaken-looking car tire that’s been waiting patiently in the dirt. It’s a can-do moment—and that’s the theme of the day.

On a sunny, bone-biting November morning, more than 500 high school students from all over Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties (and some places beyond) have converged on COCC’s Redmond campus for the Central Oregon Skilled Trades & Apprenticeship Fair. The hands-on, immersive event, a collaborative project coordinated by Central Oregon STEM Hub, highlights the skilled trades sector by blending company face time, internship advice, real-world perspective and a big dose of give-it-a-go.

Together with the college, more than 40 businesses, internship programs and educational entities are set up to dispense knowledge about their select field or focus, with reps on hand from places like Brightwood Corp., Kendall Auto Group, Keith Manufacturing, OSU-Cascades and Bend Research. Workshops, including “Thirty Minutes in the Life of a Veterinary Technician” and “Arduino Boards: Computer Science,” are underway.
The hands-on, immersive event, a collaborative project coordinated by Central Oregon STEM Hub, highlights the skilled trades sector by blending company face time, internship advice, real-world perspective and a big dose of give-it-a-go.

The teenagers pinball between the displays and demos. Kenzie Hays, a sophomore at Marshall High School in Bend, seems excited for the day’s automotive sampling, which includes a workshop on the future of transportation. “When I see a car, I want to see everything in it,” she says eagerly.

Others seem wide-eyed to their options. At the UA Local 290 table, four girls from Bend High are beginning to fathom how a union plumbing job translates to a good salary and a chance to travel. In another part of campus, at the Deschutes Brewery display, a group of boys nibbles curiously on fresh hops while getting a run-down on the role of sanitary welding. Meanwhile, over at the Hooker Creek table, students throw on hardhats and safety vests, posing for pictures. Even these small interactions—articulating questions, engaging with a potential employer—are takeaway moments.

In Building 3, sparks are flying. The “tick-tick” buzz of a welding demo is underway. COCC’s Mike Perry is helping students gear up, handing out work jackets and protective eyewear. It’s proving popular and Perry smiles broadly. Students chalk a design on an iPhone-sized plate of steel and, with an instructor’s help, fuse their name or a pattern onto it. A basic task that just might trigger a career.

In a nearby classroom, a Bend company called Wright Werx is showing a presentation on composites to a focused audience, planting a seed for future engineers. And down the hall you can hear the thrum of a computer numerical control (CNC) mill machine as it generates aluminum widgets. Students filter through, pause at the device’s window, and learn about its many applications, from shaping prosthetic joints to aviation parts. Within these and other workshops, there’s the chance to take the pulse of a trade.

Back outside, parked next to the Technology Education Center, a hulking, sage-colored Kenworth semi draws students in like a magnet. Some peek into the cab. Others want to rap about the open road. “There’s a lot of technology in these trucks,” says Phil Taylor of Central Oregon Truck Co., there to inspire up-and-coming truck mechanics. Aden Modine, a freshman from Crook County High School, seems to have already caught the big-rig bug from his trucker aunt—he stands close to the semi, as if feeding off its energy.

A cluster of students moves by, chatting and laughing. In their wake is Josh Davis, vice principal at Culver High School, who is chaperoning 10 of his students. He seems happy with the day’s impact, gaining a boost in his commitment to getting his students college- or career-ready. “We’re trying to make sure we can help every kid,” he says. “To show them what’s out there.”

“Our mission and focus is on creating STEM pathways for young people, particularly young women,” says Angie Mason-Smith, executive director of Central Oregon STEM Hub. “Having this partnership with COCC allows us to instantly connect career ambitions with tangible workforce training.”

Soon, this newfound confidence will go on to gain traction in many different places—including at COCC. “If you look at the skilled trades gap affecting our nation,” says Michael Fisher, instructional dean at the college, “we need to excite young people to apply themselves in these fields. It’s a win for all involved—these are well-paying and in-demand careers.” A little can-do goes a long way.

Partners of the event include COCC, High Desert Career Technical Education, East Cascades Works and Youth Career Connect. For more information, contact Tracy Willson-Scott, STEM Hub Education Coordinator, at 541-693-5775 or

By Mark Russell Johnson, COCC College Relations

Skilled Trades Fair