Students check out the future

Junior Achievement fair explores college, trade schools, more

NILES — Some estimates say that student-loan debt this year in the U.S. is about $1.5 trillion, but highschool students have many options to avoid being saddled for years with such debt after college.

“Before you ever set foot in a (college) classroom, you have to pay your bill for that semester,” Nicolette M. Fenlock told several dozen highschool students during her presentation that was part of a Junior Achievement of the Mahoning Valley college and career fair Tuesday at Eastwood Mall.

An estimated 3,000 middle- and high-school students representing 18 Trumbull County schools attended the all-day gathering to receive a more well-rounded sense of what colleges and technical schools in the region have to offer, and to get a firmer handle on the types of careers available to them.

In her workshop, “Minimizing College Debt,” Fenlock, a Kent State University at Trumbull assistant director of student services, noted that a variety of local, national and university scholarships are available, along with grants and financial-aid packages, for students in lieu of taking out subsidized or unsubsidized loans, then having to pay them back with interest.

With subsidized loans, no interest accrues while the student is in college; unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, accrue interest as soon as they’re disbursed, Fenlock explained. She added that the average student loan debt is $34,000, up from $20,000 in 2005.

Local scholarships are most desirable largely because the competition for them tends to be smaller, Fenlock noted.

She also provided a series of tips to prevent going into debt, such as filling out a Free Application for Free Student Aid, then applying for financial aid while in high school; taking out loans only for what’s needed, not necessarily for what is offered; developing a sensible and realistic budget; and asking questions regarding what a given financial-aid package consists of.

Among the nearly 100 vendors were numerous regional colleges and trade schools, along with a diverse list of companies and trades. Those included Akron Children’s Hospital; Fresenius Kidney Care; Trumbull County OhioMeansJobs; Olsavsky Jaminet Architects Inc.; Vallourec; Youngstown Tile & Terrazzo Co.; the Indiana Kentucky and Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters; Mercy Health; the Army National Guard; Boak & Sons Inc.; and City Machine Technologies Inc.

“We want students to know that they don’t have to go to college for a good job. A lot of opportunities are there that you can get with no college debt,” said Claudia Kovach, City Machine Technologies’ corporate secretary.

The Youngstown-based CMT is an industrial repair business that is hiring full- and part-time machinists and mechanics. Applicants need to be mechanically inclined and drug-free, and starting salaries are based largely on one’s experience, she noted.

CMT’s offerings attracted Gabriel Altawil and Austin Stassinis, both Howland High School juniors and part of their school’s soccer team.

“I’m just looking at what I possibly can do and at all of the trades available. It’s good to see my options before I make a decision. I’m not sure of my college, but I want to play soccer in college and make sure an education is my No. 1 priority,” said Altawil, who added that he may enter the medical or psychology fields after high school.

Possibly going into business is on Stassinis’ radar screen, as well as going to college to play soccer.

“This is providing a foundation and I can build off of that,” he said about the college and career fair.

In addition to handling college debt, the event featured workshops on exploring career opportunities in the Mahoning Valley, applying for financial aid and managing social media in the workplace.

“We want them to know what they can do and what they can’t do (on social media). An employer will go to a social-media page and look at what type of character they are,” said Michele Merkel, the JA chapter’s president.

It’s imperative to talk to students at a younger age about being responsible on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other sites because they leave a lasting footprint with their posts, she said.



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