January 31, 2023

The Dawn of the Silicon Garden

Gwyneth Saunders  /  The Bluffton Sun

Silicon Garden Exhibit Features Career, Academic Options

The Dawn of the Silicon Garden sounds like the future, and that was what was offered at a recent event at Hilton Head Island High School.

More than 40 businesses and organizations offered insight for young people seeking careers and opportunities in public safety, digital and cyber technology, utilities, construction, higher education, scholarship and funding organizations, and technical training.

For some the afternoon was for exploring.

"I'm here to just check out different opportunities, different scholarships. Look at where I want to go and look at my options," said Hilton Head senior Alandria Kennedy. "I don't know what I want to study yet. I'm really into music and writing, but I'm looking into welding."

Kennedy's mother Shadasha was impressed with the event.

"It's an awesome opportunity, especially for kids who may not want to go to college, who don't know what they want to do," she said. "You have the different career paths you can show them as well as colleges, so I think it's a positive."

The afternoon event was a partnership with Beaufort County School District, the Hilton Head Island MLK, Jr. Celebration Committee, Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation, Technical College of the Lowcountry, and other information resources.

There were 10 colleges and technical schools in the gymnasium, and while they weren't taking applications, they were taking advantage of the time to meet students and parents.

"Anytime we get a chance to go out and talk to students about getting into college or what it may look like to go, we want to be able to inform them and make sure they're making the best decisions for themselves," said the representative from the University of South Carolina.

Carlton Dallas, founder of the BusinessATTRACT, was one of the sponsors of the career opportunity event.

"We're private, basically a collection of 550 different citizens, residents who want to help the economy grow and diversify," Dallas said. "The Economic Development Corporation and the four municipalities and county are recruiting so many good businesses to come here, and a lot of them are high tech.

"To give you an example, over the last four years the EDC has recruited almost $300 million in capital investment in user accounts," he said. "There are 1,100 new jobs that have come in, and 200 jobs that were going to leave, but they've been able to negotiate their retention here. And those companies need talent."

Many of the businesses were employers seeking to hire, train or support local residents in pursuit of job opportunities.

"It's important to pressurize a pipeline of young people like those here that are preparing and getting trained, certified, so they can fill some of these high tech jobs," Dallas added.

Several of those young people were looking around while fulfilling school community service hours.

"I'm just helping out, but also looking at information here," said Jesse Salinas of Hilton Head. "I'm trying to go to USC in the business program. My family owns a business. I'm trying to get more in depth with business, so I can try to manage it more and try to do better with it."

Anthony Bynum of Hilton Head, who was wearing an MIT sweatshirt, has definite goals. While helping out around the event, he was looking for scholarship information.

"I want to go into aerospace engineering. I just always loved flight, and I'm actually trying to get my pilot's license right now," Bynum said. "Being in the air has always just been a dream of mine, but aerospace correlates with that."

Combining business and travel appealed to Elizabeth Monzonsantos, also of Hilton Head.

"I applied to USC and I'm still waiting on them. I heard that they were the No. 1 for the international business," said Monzonsantos. "I'm interested in that because I've always loved traveling, and I might as well mix work with travel."

Hilton Head Assistant Principal Fred Hunter said one of the things the school wants to do in education is make sure students know the different opportunities that they have.

"We want to lay the foundation so that the students have choices. And so being able to expose them to the different opportunities they have after high school is very important," said Hunter. "It's events like this that gives them exposure, bringing in different people from different industries, to let them know about the possibilities. I'm obviously a big proponent, and I believe in students going to college, but it's not for everyone. That's not everyone's passion. And now with the price of colleges increasing, it's very important that students look at other options as well."

Galen Miller, chairman of the MLK committee, said the partnership was formed because they saw a need for youth to have a career path opportunity.

"Not everybody's going to go to college, so there's opportunities out here for everybody, whether you want to go to college or not, but it's a need," said Miller. "Coming off of COVID, a lot of things are different. A lot of things that kids don't know. A lot of things parents don't know that there are opportunities for them, too."

Bluffton Township Fire Department Firefighter Luis Aponte and BTFD HR Director Tracy Walling greeted visitors to the public safety organization's table. BTFD was there to talk about career opportunities.

"We are able to tell those who stop by that not only is training free, but trainees are paid while they learned," said Walling. "It's good for a lot of kids that may not be able to go to college or go to a trade school."

Not only could attendees meet with different trades, schools and businesses inside, but outside of the high school, people could do some hands-on training in the Be Pro Be Proud truck. The huge trailer was filled with high tech displays and critical-need simulators.

Caleb Allen, who drives the tractor-trailer, said he enjoys bringing the rolling workforce workshop to schools.

"There aren't many places you can go to work and teach kids video games that will help them out for a career," he said.

Javier Rodriguez, from Bluffton, was exploring different careers and tried driving a tractor trailer while Allen provided guidance. Hilton Head computer science teacher Josh Wiedemann worked on moving a pallet with a forklift.

One of the youngest drivers on the simulators was Beaufort resident Genevieve Murray, 9, who tried her hand at driving a piece of heavy equipment.

"I liked it," she said, "but I'm still going to be either a biologist or someone who tracks animals."

Dallas said this inaugural event drew more than 100 attendees.

"The overall feedback I have gotten is that it was very positive, people were pleased, and they liked the diversity of companies, from high tech to education to service industries. Drone technology was there, also," he said. "Plus the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) was there, and a lot of people went up to them even after the event for help."

Beaufort School District Superintendent Frank Rodriguez thought the event had a great turnout, had a lot of interest, and that it would be repeated elsewhere in the county.

"What a great opportunity. It's just a chance for students and anybody in the community to come in, and learn about careers and career readiness that are right here in our backyard, right in our county, and in the region around Beaufort," Rodriguez said. "We talk a lot about being college and career ready. I think most people have a good understanding about college and college readiness. And this is an opportunity for people to learn about careers and career readiness, and what they're looking for in the workforce locally."

Watch a video about the community careers event here.