FORTVILLE — PJ Sterrett made a beeline to the Marines.

The son of a U.S. marine, PJ has always known he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps after graduating from college.

The career fair at Mt. Vernon High School gave the junior a chance to learn more about the job he’s heard about his whole life and to get information he’ll need when he takes the leap and enlists.

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The high school hosted a career fair Thursday, bringing together about 40 businesses from around Hancock County and Central Indiana and the district’s roughly 600 juniors and seniors. The event gave businesses the opportunity to meet young talent and afforded students a chance to see the type of jobs available right in their hometowns.

Students spent about 45 minutes hopping from table to table, talking with employees of various businesses.

Educators say they chose to plan the fair after several business leaders approached district officials about giving them time to meet with their students. Turnout to the fair was better than organizers expected, said Scott Shipley, the district’s director of special programs.

He hoped to get 20 businesses to the high school gym, and 42 signed up.

Juniors and seniors are preparing for life after high school — they’re thinking about college, hat they want to be, where they want to go, Shipley said. Putting them in touch with local businesses allows them to see just how many different career paths there are and how many of them can be found nearby, he said.

Preparing for the fair, organizers sent 180 businesses letters inviting them to join the effort, setting up booths and sending representatives to talk with students about their missions. They marketed the event to parents and even asked employed students to pass the word onto their bosses.

And the response gave students plenty of options to weigh, whether they’re considering part-time employment now or planning for a career years down the line.

Dairy Queen came looking for part-time help — a job students can take now to earn a little extra cash. Other businesses, like NineStar Connect, were advising students of what education or training they’ll need to get a job there after high school or college.

Samantha Beauchamp, sales and marketing representative for NineStar Connect, was encouraged by how engaged Mt. Vernon students seemed to be during presentations. They asked questions and seemed genuinely interested in what she was saying.

Career fairs and similar events give NineStar representatives the chance to market their work to potential employees, she said. Any chance the company has to sell itself locally is beneficial.

“We’re a local company. If we can get students from our local area to come out and be interested in NineStar, that’s great,” she said.

Sterrett said Thursday’s fair was worthwhile. He spent a few minutes chatting with representatives of the U.S. Marines and walked away with a business card — to reach out to a Marine recruiter if he has any questions or concerns — and pamphlets detailing what he needs to do to enlist.

It’ll be a few years before he signs up for the military — he’ll head to college first — but now’s a good time to learn as much as he can about the branch, he said.

Fair organizers wanted to make sure students came away with something meaningful, an idea of what an interview might be like or how they might prepare for the job they want now or in the future.

Ahead of the career fair, students were armed with a list of sample questions they might be asked and those they could ask employers to see if the position would be a good fit for their interests and skills, Shipley said. District leaders wanted students to be prepared and to gain as much insight and advice as possible from the employers present.

Already, organizers are planning for another event, and they want everyone who played a part Thursday to have a hand in shaping the next fair. They’ll pass out surveys to students and employers to gauge the event’s success.

Going forward, the district plans to host a career fair every year, maybe twice a year if the demand is there, Shipley said.

Maeve Laughlin, a junior, used the morning to scope out careers close to home. She knows she wants to head to Ball State after graduation to study nursing. Years before she starts her career, she already knows she wants to settle into her professional life near where she’s grown up.

She hopes career fairs like the one hosted Thursday help make finding a job in the Indianapolis area possible, she said.

“It’s cool to look at what all you can get involved in and where you can go for the future,” she said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.