PORT HUENEME, Calif. –
After the Oxnard Union High School District had cancelled its annual in-person career expo due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) and other employers attended the first face-to-face event since 2019 to form new connections.
The sprawling 17,300-student Oxnard district reported more than 600 junior and senior students attended the 37th Annual Career Expo at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center on April 27. The expo is not mandatory, and students can choose to attend or not.
The district last held the expo in person in March 2019, but cancelled it in 2020 due to the pandemic. The district video streamed the expo last year to a much smaller audience.
“I’m happy to get this event back in person,” said Thomas McCoy, superintendent of the Oxnard school district. “Our goal is to create powerful futures for our kids. We want them to graduate on Friday, and go to work on Monday.”
The district identified 52 career pathways for its students that require obtaining academic degrees with two- and four-year universities, as well as trades jobs in carpentry and automotive repair.
“Everyone knows that the cost of living in Ventura County continues to rise,” McCoy said. “We want our kids to have a living wage and a good quality of life.”
Monica Phillippe, career education director with the Oxnard school district, was ecstatic about the career expo’s return but said it was challenging pulling the event together because new personnel had joined the various sponsors over the past three years and were unfamiliar with the event.
In response, the school district retrained the mentors with the sponsor groups in April to make sure everyone understood how to engage students.
“There’s been very little engagement by our kids over the past few years. The kids are tapped out,” Phillippe said. “This is gold,” she said, of the event’s positive effect.
Last year’s expo on Zoom attracted only about 100 students, Phillippe said.
“The kids really need the community mentors to know that there is life after high school,” she said.
The district gave each student a brochure with a list of questions to guide their discussion with the mentors and help identify a presenter to follow up with for career advice.
Ramon Flores, STEM coordinator with the NSWC PHD, told several students who inquired about job prospects at the NSWC PHD booth that the command offers civilian opportunities in business operations, computer science, cyber engineering, engineering, human resources, cybersecurity, and test and evaluation.
Kyleen Uriarte, a senior at Rancho Campana High School, came to the event with low expectations in terms of finding a career to pursue. After speaking with Flores, Uriarte became energized about computer science and human resources fields.
“I kind of got roped in by my friend, but I’m not so closed-minded that I won’t consider something else,” said Uriarte, who had been focused on a future medical career path.
Layla Semaan, a senior who also attends Rancho Campana with Uriarte, had corresponded with Flores previously on internships at NSWC PHD. Although she missed the deadline to apply for an internship this year, she plans to sign up next year.
“I was interested in in the biomedical engineering field at UC Davis, and wasn’t really interested in (NSWC PHD) until I began speaking with (Flores) today,” Semaan said.
Others also stopped at the booth to get a pulse on possible career choices from Flores and Rosie Magallon, a logistician with the fire control system branch with NSWC PHD.
“We share information on our high school and college internship programs to a large number of students,” Flores said. “I gave my contact information to about a dozen students.”
Marissa Pearson, a senior with the Adolfo Camarillo High School, said she expressed interest in working with NSWC PHD because her grandfather is a Vietnam War veteran, and she looks to him regularly for guidance.
“I want to join (the Navy), if he lets me,” Pearson said. “I haven’t told him yet that I’m interested.”
Samuel Ramos, a junior at Pacifica High School, has eyes on becoming a chemical engineer. “I liked what I was told about safety on the job,” Ramos said.
Liliana Dominguez, a junior also from Pacifica, said she was hooked by NSWC PHD’s travel perks with the engineering jobs. “I’d like to see the world,” she said. “I am interested in science jobs.”
Besides Oxnard, NSWC PHD has ties with other school districts in the area that encourage careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Those districts include Ventura Unified High School District, Camarillo Heights STEM Academy, Santa Clara High School and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish School.
The command also offers several internship programs.
Flores is involved with the Office of Naval Research’s 10-week summer Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP); the Problem-based Initiatives for Powerful Engagement and Learning in Naval Engineering and Science (PIPELINES); and the Science Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP).
NREIP encourages sophomores to graduate students in college to pursue science and engineering careers by placing them in a Navy laboratory with hands-on experience and direct mentorship.
PIPELINES is an eight-week summer internship for STEM college majors.
SEAP places academically talented high school students with interest and ability in science and mathematics as apprentices in Department of Defense laboratories for eight weeks during the summer. These students work with scientists and engineers who act as mentors
Other internships are offered through the Department of Defense or individual military branches.
The Rotary Club of Oxnard started the career expo in 1985, according to Peter Higgins, the Rotary president from 1994 to 1995. He attended the career event.
“The expo incentivizes our high school kids by putting them in front of a vast array of career choices, from law enforcement to accounting and education,” Higgins said. “The kids seem to really like it this year. They missed it.”
The career expo attracted 100 presenters this year.
Besides NSWC PHD, others included the Amazon fulfillment center in Oxnard; California Aeronautical University in Oxnard; memorabilia manufacturer Jostens Inc.; banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Oxnard Police; Ventura County Fire Department; Civil Air Patrol; Oxnard College; Charter College in Oxnard; and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute, a Simi Valley-based nonprofit organization that runs the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum and the affiliated organizations.