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Volunteers from across Naval Air Station Patuxent River conducted mock job interviews, Feb. 26, with St. Mary's County high school students enrolled in programs at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown.

While the center prepares students to be college and career ready through a varied number of professional, technical and vocational program offerings, it also recognizes that important initial hurdle necessary to secure any position in any field — the job interview.

“We're preparing these students for the world of work, but unless we teach them interview skills, that preparation is wasted,” said fair coordinator Ann Johnson, college and career readiness/vocational evaluator. “They need to learn how to properly talk with adults and how to sell their skills and themselves.”

Interviews were 15 minutes in duration, followed by five minutes of instant feedback to the students about their soft skills — handshake, eye contact, posture, grammar, use of professional terminology, how well they answered questions asked, and did they seem confident.

All dressed to impress, 500 students signed up to speak with one or more of nearly 45 mock interviewers from a variety of professions from Pax River and the community.

Representing engineering was Justin Berrier, an aerospace engineer with Naval Air System's Command's Propulsion and Power Department (NAVAIR 4.4).

“They have a lot more skills than I had [at their age],” said Berrier, who is only about six years older than the students he was interviewing. “What they're being given today is very valuable and I wish I had it when I was younger.”

The advice Berrier offered to the future engineers he spoke with was not to dismiss the importance of the classics in education.

“Such a logical student body may sometimes forget it, but [literature, history, philosophy] and the arts are important because they help you understand where things come from and foster creativity; they provide a well-rounded education that will also benefit them in their engineering career.”

Student Zach Fischer, a senior in Engineering II with an interest in industrial design, said the most difficult question he was asked was what he would do if he were presented with an individual task — how would he go about it and what resources would he use to complete the task.

“I also learned that broadening my idea of what I want to do will open me up to more experiences and could lead to more opportunities,” he said.

Although enrolled in horticulture, junior Carrie Lockhart interviewed with someone in the graphics communications field because that also interests her.

“I take photos and like to edit them,” she said. “I'm self-taught and I wanted to see if the skills I have now are worth anything. I also interviewed in computer networking. It was very informative to learn what an interview would be like; it was very helpful to me.”

Perhaps the most surprised student of the day was junior Hunter Pulliam who, after his interview, learned he is in the running for a potential internship with a contract company that provides project support services at Webster Outlying Field.

“Hunter already has training in AutoCAD and SolidWorks and was as strong as many of the college candidates we see for internships,” explained mock interviewer Vince McKeown. “I took his résumé back to my division director and we're going to see what we can work out.”

Sailors participated as well, with Air Boatswain's Mate Handler 3rd Class Cole Steyer interviewing for Computer Science and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Jeffrey Anello interviewing for Criminal Justice; and both were also able to answer questions a few of the students had about the Navy.

The Forrest Career and Technology Center offers 24 educational programs — from carpentry to health professions to aviation technology — and most end in students acquiring certifications or earning college credits.

“At the end of their program, our students walk away with skills they can put on a résumé,” Johnson said. “My job is to raise awareness and let people know about them. I want to foster more internships by starting a pipeline for businesses to realize what we have here.”

For more information about the center and descriptions of its programs, visit www.smcps.org and click on Our Schools/High Schools/Career and Tech Center. For information related to student internships, contact Johnson at 301-475-0242, ext. 28137, or asjohnson@smcps.org.