By Cody Thompson
Messenger Reporter

PALESTINE – Students from across Anderson County gathered at the Palestine Civic Center to get hands-on experience and learn about various job fields at the third annual “Dream Expo” on Tuesday, April 18.

The event, co-sponsored by the East Texas Council of Governments and Workforce Solutions East Texas, gave students the chance to speak with professionals in a variety of fields and get hands-on experience working with tools of the various trades.

The expo was created after the passing of House Bill 5, which requires incoming high school students to select one of five career paths, to help ease and facilitate the decision-making process.

“I can’t imagine trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life when I was 14-years-old,” ETCOG director of workforce and economic development Doug Shryock told the Messenger. “We’re just trying to give them a chance to see what these different career fields are about before making their decision.”

The five endorsed career paths are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), business and industry, public service, arts and humanities and multi-disciplinary studies.

Representatives from organizations in Anderson, Henderson, Smith and Nacogdoches counties had booths set up in the civic center parking lot with equipment that students could interact with.

Henderson County Sheriff’s Office deputies hauled a mobile command unit into the parking lot to let students handle the equipment and simulate emergency scenarios.

“The kids really seem to be enjoying the hands-on approach that the expo gives them,” HCSO deputy Jim Langford told the Messenger. “The kids are having fun and learning more about what we do than they ever could in a classroom.”

Other hands-on stations included a variety of emergency response vehicles from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and HCSO, a portable laboratory from the University of Texas at Tyler and a lifeflight helicopter that students were allowed to tour.

Booths were also set up inside of the civic center with representatives that gave students a more academic approach to the different career fields.

“Getting that hands-on experience with the equipment is a great way to get the students interested in a certain career path,” Shryock said, “but not every career path has that equipment for them to play with so they have to take a more academic approach.”

Inside the civic center were representatives from over 30 organizations, colleges and universities, including UT Tyler, Stephen F. Austin University, Walmart, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Trinity Valley Community College.

“We really tried to cover as much ground as possible with this year’s expo,” Shryock said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a turnout this big from the organizations or the schools.”

ETCOG and WSET hosted the first “Dream Expo” in Athens in 2015, and the 2016 expo was held in Henderson.

“ETCOG covers an area of about 10,000 square miles, so we unfortunately don’t have the resources to do an expo for all of the counties in that area each year,” Shryock said. “That being said, we’re trying our best to cover everyone and will continue hosting the expo in different counties as long as the school keep coming.”

In attendance at this year’s expo were students from Cayuga ISD, Elkhart ISD, Frankston ISD, Neches ISD, Palestine ISD, Slocum ISD and Westwood ISD.

Cody Thompson may be reached via e-mail at cthompson@messenger-news.com.