ELKHART — Hundreds of middle school students shuffled into Center Six One Five early Wednesday morning, where nearly 50 businesses were ready to pitch them on other opportunities outside higher education.

The Horizon Education Alliance organized this year's Career Quest, a two-day exhibition supported through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development Skill UP Indiana! grant to bring awareness to careers in Elkhart County and surrounding communities. Nearly 4,300 students are expected to attend as the event continues through Thursday.

"Kids are trying everything," said Ancon Construction President John Place, who had an exhibit featuring virtual reality used to walk through three-dimensional blueprints. "We're exposing them to things they've never done before, so when they get to high school, they have a better idea of what they want to do."

Business representatives attending the event were organized into four different sectors: construction and trades, information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. Students were given about 20 minutes in each sector during the three daily sessions.

"We're very excited to offer this unprecedented hands-on event showcasing local career options in manufacturing, construction, health care and IT sectors," said Breanna Allen, Pathways Coordinator for HEA. "We believe it is critically important to inspire kids early on to think ahead about what career options are available in their home communities."

Bethany Christian Schools seventh-graders were some of the first students to walk through the exhibits, talking to representatives from Wieland Designs in Goshen and Nucor Building Systems in Waterloo. Other local students will attend the Career Quest event Thursday, including those from Goshen, Fairfield and Middlebury schools.

"I like designing things," seventh-grader James Lind said at the Genesis Products booth. "It's nice to know what I'd be doing if I went into a job like this."

Ben Mikesell can be reached at ben.mikesell@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 328. Follow him on Twitter at @ben_mikesell.

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