Jon Mark Beilue: Where careers, students meet

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They came on a Thursday to the First United Bank Center for different reasons. Some sought summer employment, some wanted to gather information on internships, others were changing majors and wanted to see what employment in their new field was like. And one had a more urgent reason.

Caleb Brandon is a graduate student in music at West Texas A&M University. He’s also 47 years old, born the same year as WT’s first career job fair in 1974. He’s also the father of two daughters and husband of a stay-at-home mom. And it looks like his job with BNSF Railroad could be playing out soon.

“I don’t want to wait for the inevitable,” he said, “and so I’m embarking on a new career search. It’s kinda scary.”

At one time, Brandon was in IT for Clovis (N.M.) Independent School District in his hometown. He’s also worked for the railroad for 10 years and formerly worked in education. That’s one reason he’s a grad student.

But it’s all about options.

“I’m open to anything,” Brandon said. “I got experience in tech, and the email we got said a lot of tech companies would be here and I want to network with some of them. But I’ve also been out of the business for 10 years and so I don’t know if they want to train an old guy like me.

“At times it’s very nerve-racking, not knowing what the future holds with a family. But I think back on my life experiences and I’ve always been taken care of. I’m a firm believer in a higher power. It will be fine, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was anxiety at times.”

Brandon and other students talked with representatives of 106 companies which helped fill the First United Bank Center on Oct. 14. The Fall 2021 Career Expo, held each semester at WT, has been a staple going on five decades.

“Even for our freshmen and sophomores who may not necessarily be looking for internships or full-time jobs, this is to help them build a network so when that time comes, they have those contacts they may not have had otherwise,” said Sam Green, assistant director of WT’s Office of Career and Professional Development.

Sydney Grimland of Bushland and Madalynn Brown of Amarillo are animal science majors, while Kaitlyn Lambert of Keller is an equine industry/business student. The three roamed the booths of agriculture-related companies, which, not surprisingly, were prevalent throughout the career expo.

Cattle operations, seed companies, animal health, agricultural products, U.S. Department of Agriculture, ag credit, even the Texas Christian University Ranch Management program – with representatives wearing Horned Frog purple ties – were in full force.

Brown wants to be a veterinarian and had questions about feedyard employment. Grimland is tweaking her major to ag communications and wanted to see how that could be used in the real world. For Lambert, who graduates in May, it’s more about options.

“I have a job lined up,” she said, “but I want to look at other opportunities and options. I don’t want to be limited, like ‘what if?’ I want to have a real feel about what my degree can bring.”

For just about all there for the four hours, it was the first chance for companies to meet students since the COVID pandemic in 2020. It was a chance for employers to tell their story and to search for students anxious to begin putting their education to use.

Cayley Birchfield, human resources director and talent sourcing specialist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, spent time discussing with Grimland, Brown and Lambert what TP&W does and what it offers.

“Part of our problem is people don’t know what all we do,” said Birchfield, who came to the job fair from the Austin headquarters. “We have 13 different divisions in 200 locations across the state. We have job opportunities in so many areas. We keep 60 to 80 positions open at all times.

“For us, it’s about getting the word out. Face to face and eye contact is so much better. Students open up to you more in person. We’ve missed that.”

Embassy Suites in Amarillo was the only hotel represented. The hotel is expanding its management team.

“We’re looking for creative folks with fresh ideas to build relationships not only in West Texas, but in general,” said Alexandria Bennett, group services manager. “Our management team is good about making a position of fit for the right person.”

Embassy Suites, Bennett said, is looking for a person and personality more so than a specific degree. It casts a wide net.

“There are always those who graduate in May and don’t know what they want to do,” Bennett said, “but communications to marketing, there are so many fields that fit what we look for. I was a theater major at one time.”

The healthcare industry – from those in Amarillo to Pampa Regional Medical Center and Deaf Smith County Hospital District – was in force. So too was law enforcement, from Amarillo and Lubbock police departments to Texas Department of Public Safety to Randall County Juvenile Probation.

“This has really grown over the years,” Green said. “Employers keep returning. Just the feedback that we continue to receive is this career fair is one of the best they attend. We get similar feedback from students about making meaningful connections.”

John Marting, territory sales manager for Merck Animal Health, was where the current students were more than 30 years ago. He is a 1989 graduate of West Texas State, the last year before WT went under the Texas A&M system.

“I’ve been in their shoes and I can relate,” Marting said. “Most kids don’t know what to ask and I try to help them in that conversation. They don’t know what they don’t know.

“I talk to a senior differently than I talk to a freshman. For a senior, I ask them what is their passion, and will this company provide that? If it does, what’s available? Get that foot in the door.

“The other thing is networking, getting to know people. One leads to another to another. You can never know too many people.”

Marting spent several minutes with Addison Kurts, an ag education major but could change to ag production. Kurts, a freshman from Borger, said she is seeking to explore every career angle that would fit her eventual degree. She has a worthy goal.

“I want to start out doing what I want to do,” she said, “which will make it easier finishing what I want to do, so that way, I won’t hate my life.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, event, alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu .

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