Hundreds of students packed Jefferson City High School's gymnasium Tuesday evening for a college night and career fair.
Each year, the long running college night features booths from regional universities, community colleges and technical schools to inform students about higher education options. For the second year, JCHS also partnered with the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and held a career fair to reach out to students seeking to enter the workforce directly after high school.
Dozens of colleges, including four year colleges from across the region, like the University of Kansas, Pittsburg State University and Missouri Southern State University, were represented at the event. Other community colleges and technical schools like State Technical college also had representatives at the event to answer students' questions.
Gage Abbott, a junior, said he's still trying to figure out what his major will be. Abbott stopped by booths for Washington University, Drury University, Saint Louis University and the University of Missouri. He's also considering attending the University of Central Florida.
"Just trying to find that college, trying to figure out what I want to do with my life," Abbott said of what he got out of the night.
During his free time, he paints, and he said he might be interested in a career in journalism or photography.
"I like taking photos and I'm good at writing," Abbott said. "English is my highest grade."
Freshmen Kaniya Rosser and Jayla Boyd wandered the gym to get their first taste of what might lie ahead in college.
Rosser wants to be a nurse, Boyd a lawyer.
"I'm good at arguing and expressing my points," Boyd said.
Boyd said she simply came to get information about what's out there. She had no idea what college she wanted to attend because she didn't visit every table yet.
"I just know I want to go to an out of state college," she added.
Adjacent to the gym, about 25 companies participated in a career fair for students looking at jobs that don't require college degrees. For more than 20 minutes, Shane Summers, a senior, chatted with Tom Gredell and representatives from Gredell Engineering Resources.
Summers said he's looking at getting an associates degree in mechatronics from Moberly Area Community College. After graduating from there, he wants to get an engineering job like the ones offered by Gredell Engineering.
"It was a good success," Summers said. "(Gredell Engineering) answered a lot of questions, told us what they were about, and some colleges to go to."
Diane Clayton, a JCHS counselor, said the event expanded the past two years to include more options for students.
"We want kids to know there's all kinds of options," Clayton said. "No matter what you're thinking right now, we have it here tonight."
In October 2016, 69.7 percent of 2016 high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Missy Bonnot, the director of economic development for the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, said previously that companies in engineering and IT fields are having a tough time finding employees with Jefferson City's unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent.
The career fair is designed partly to just get representatives from companies in front of students who choose not to attend college.
"Everyone is hiring right now," Bonnot said previously. "It's just a good opportunity to get in front of those potential employees for the businesses."
Gredell said he didn't plan to find employees at the event, but he wanted to promote engineering jobs to local youth.
"We're trying to make sure people are still going into technical fields and geology," Gredell said. "Sure, somebody wants to come work for us, but there's three or four companies like us around town that hire engineers."
Still, Gredell acknowledged it can be tough finding talent at times.
"To get somebody from Kansas City or St. Louis to move here is a challenge sometimes," he said.