HESSTON — Exposing students to professional opportunities is not a new concept at Hesston High School. In fact, high school counselor Courtney Hiebert said such experiences are tailored to each grade level — with multiple opportunities to learn about potential careers, and the necessary post-secondary education needed, offered to freshmen through seniors.

However, it was one recent trip to AGCO the Hesston Robotics class took in the fall — one students called the best experience they'd had — offering hands-on learning in a related professional field that informed the latest opportunity being organized by the high school.

"We just started to brainstorm how we could continue off that and really better connect our businesses in this area, not just Hesston alone, to our students and really expose them to further careers and different opportunities within that," Hiebert said. "We've got a lot of great industry opportunities in our very own community and I don't think our kids totally realize that — or maybe they think of AGCO and think agriculture; they don't really think about all the jobs that are possibilities within that."

Looking to open students' minds to all those potential career paths, Hesston High School will be hosting its first career fair Jan. 24 in the high school gym, with freshman through seniors participating. The Hesston culinary arts class will also be offering breakfast items while sponsors AGCO and NetWork Kansas will be providing lunch at the career fair.

Discussions about a career fair began with the Hesston Chamber of Commerce and executive director Megan Smith in November, according to Hiebert, as the school started seeking community partners to connect students with as many potential business opportunities as possible.

On top of bringing in local businesses, Hiebert said she has been contacting area schools, such as Hesston College, Hutchinson Community College and Wichita State University, to better illuminate those potential career paths and the certification or training that may go along with that. Bringing in the colleges was an idea that stemmed from one of the current opportunities offered to Hesston juniors to visit various college settings in one day.

"We're just asking them to share information about what their business does, what education that student might need to work at that organization ... and then help guide them on their next steps after high school and answer questions in that regard, too," Smith said. "It's just a way for them to advocate the different career opportunities that they have available locally so students know, 'I can go into this discipline and come back to the community I grew up in and work and have a career here.' It also has an opportunity for businesses, if they have job openings available that high schoolers can apply for, to promote those as well."