DEWITT – Middle school and high school students from Central DeWitt, Calamus-Wheatland, Northeast, Clinton, and St. Joseph School of DeWitt explored career opportunities at Central DeWitt high school Tuesday.

Tours of the career technical education rooms, roundtable discussions and a business expo provided information about career opportunities, especially those that might keep students in the county or entice them to return if they leave.

The STEM Fest and Manufacturing Day brings students to Central DeWitt every other year, courtesy of DeWitt Chamber & Development Company in collaboration with the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory County, said the Chamber’s executive director, Angela Rheingans. About 900 students participated this year.

At half-hour intervals, students moved from one area of the school to another, hearing presentations from area businesses, asking questions and learning about “careers they could have here in our region,” Rheingans said.

Workforce is necessary to economic success, and the DeWitt Chamber wants students to know that jobs are available here if students want to stay, or if they move away and want to come home.

“There will be jobs here,” Rheingans said.

In the gymnasium, 28 business or individuals in the science, technology, engineering and math fields talked with students about their jobs.

“We’ve asked the businesses to give us a hands-on experience,” Rheingans said. Businesses responded with virtual reality, 3D, robotics and industry-oriented displays.

Students took turns making a robot shoot baskets at a display set up by the Central DeWitt robotics club. The competitive robotics team is in its sixth year, said junior Isaac Blandin, and has been to the state tournament five times.

Last year the team made it to the world championship in Detroit, Blandin said.

The program isn’t only about robotics, Blandin said. One of the requirements of the competitions is to present the robotics program in the community to promote STEM careers.

Alliant Energy Key Account Manager Paula Schneckloth and Shannon Hambly, line foreman in the DeWitt area, talked to students about opportunities for careers with the company. “I think it was a good turnout,” Hambly said.

Alliant’s display allowed students to try on safety equipment and demonstrated, using a model of a pole and electrical lines, how linemen safely work with high voltages.

The company sets up displays “whenever we’re asked,” Schneckloth said, including at elementary schools where it sets up Safety Town.

Dave Underwood, recruiter for Hon & Allsteel in Muscatine, said the manufacturer of office furniture has nearly any career a student wants to pursue, from finance and human resources to engineering and supply chain logistics.

The orange cardboard visors that held a virtual reality tour of the Muscatine plant was popular with students Tuesday.

“The kids seem to enjoy this,” Underwood said.

Some students visited the displays around the gym without one of particular interest, but Avery Voss found her favorite: the chiropractic display. Voss would like to be a horse chiropractor some day, she said.