More than 500 fifth-grade students from Dalton Public Schools explored the Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) Whitfield Murray Campus recently where they learned about the different career and education opportunities available in the Dalton area.

The career exploration event was made possible through the partnership of several organizations who have been working with local elementary students for several years in order to show the possibilities around them, according to Dixie Kinard, a retired volunteer with the United Way.

"The exposure is so important," she said. "I have told students time and time again you won't find a better area to get a good education and job."

According to Margaret Zeisig, director of community solutions for the United Way of Northwest Georgia, the career outreach program began a few years ago when United Way brought an education showcase to City Park Elementary School. One of the nonprofit's pillars is education, and showing the almost middle school-age students the opportunities of a technical college is something the organizers at United Way believed was important, she said.

"We wanted to take advantage of the technical aspect of Georgia Northwestern," said Zeisig. "These students are headed into middle school and will be choosing pathways soon. They can't choose something that interests them if they don't know it exists."

The goal is to alternate the program between Dalton State College and GNTC, added Zeisig. "United Way had been planning for (the) tour of fifth-graders for a year and a half while the Whitfield Murray Campus was being completed."

"We're giving the community an inside look at our new facility," GNTC President Heidi Popham said. "It is important to bring these students and teachers onto our campus and share with them the importance of a postsecondary education."

The career exploration event was more than just a tour, however. United Way brought in business leaders and partners from the greater Dalton area to have question and answer sessions with the students.

Carl Campbell, the executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield County Joint Development Authority, talked to a group of City Park students about how he works to bring businesses to town. Campbell spoke on how his job allows him to travel, sometimes internationally, and the result is more jobs brought to Dalton and Whitfield County.

David Aft, president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, led the students through an exercise where they could donate their change or keep it. Aft explained what their money could do, the feeling that comes with giving, as well as how it is his job to connect people who want to give to the people who are in need.

After a morning of learning about the different careers in the area, students toured classrooms and labs at the GNTC campus. Students watched machines cut metal in the Precision Machining and Manufacturing lab, tried on welding helmets, and walked among tractor-trailer engines in the Diesel Equipment Technology Laboratory, which is exclusive to the Whitfield Murray Campus.

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