Blue-Green Career Fair introduces students to environmental jobs

Students visit a booth during the Blue-Green Career Fair.
Melanie Manion with Ottawa County Parks & Recreation talks with Innovation Central High School students during Groundwell's Blue-Green Career Fair.
Image credit - Courtesy

Growing up, Jessica Vander Ark knew she wanted a career working in the environment. But, the only opportunity that she knew of was a park ranger. 

In her current role as manager of the Groundswell program within the College of Education and Community Innovation, Vander Ark hopes to cultivate a love for the environment with students and show them the multitude of career opportunities available. 

Hence, the idea for the Blue-Green Career Fair last week at Innovation High School in Grand Rapids. Hundreds of the school’s students met with more than a dozen organizations and discussed careers in a variety of departments like environmental services, education, engineering and sustainability.

Students chatted with representatives from the City of Grand Rapids, Blandford Nature Center, Kent County Department of Public Works, Michigan’s Environment, Great Lakes and Energy department, Ottawa County Parks and Recreation and other organizations. 

“I’m hoping this event changes lives and really sets some trajectories that students are going to find jobs and internships,” said Vander Ark. “There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be taken care of just to support our city.”

With funding from the Mi-STEM network and the Wege Foundation, the career fair was developed as a pilot program for this year. 

“One of the things that they put forward in their funding proposal last year was this Blue-Green Career Fair,” said Mi-STEM Regional Director Ginger Rohwer. 

“You talk to some of the folks here, and they’ll say, ‘I wish I knew of this job when I was in high school or junior high.’ 

“We really appreciated that Groundswell was willing to do this event at the school. This is an experimentation of the model where we come right to the high school campus.”

Given the positive feedback thus far, Vander Ark hopes the fair can grow this year’s pilot program on a bigger scale at Innovation Central or expand throughout the region, incorporating different schools or districts. 

“All of these presenters are very excited to let people know that these jobs are there, and that they need not look far for opportunities,” said Vander Ark.


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