In response to the needs of a student population who choose the vocational route after high school, a group of parents from Newark Collegiate Academy High School spearheaded an inaugural career fair in order to expose the school's more than 500 students to the many opportunities available immediately after graduation.

Sponsored by the NCA Parent Partnership Team (CAPPT), the fair was geared towards NCA students, alumni and parents and featured professionals in a variety of fields including logistics, civil service, law enforcement, security, military and entrepreneurship, among others.

Representatives from the Newark Police Department, the U.S. National Guard, U.S. Air Force, UPS, Essex County College, the Aspen Institute and others were on hand at the fair to engage one-on-one with students, hand out informational material and offer job, internship and externship opportunities and paid fellowships, with attending vendors agreeing to hire NCA graduates who meet the necessary requirements.

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Tafshier Cosby-Thomas, Chair of the NCA Parent Partnership Team, said the idea of the fair came out of the necessity to offer options to all high school’s graduates, not just those who are college bound.

“As parents, we feel we needed to offer a choice,” Cosby-Thomas said. “We are fully in support of the KIPP Through College program, but we’re in support of other things too, and we wanted to offer alternatives. This fair will offer exposure to careers they might not have known they could apply for after high school, especially military careers.”

The KIPP Through College program pairs counselors with students as they prepare for and select colleges and careers. After high school, KIPP advisors help alumni navigate the academic, social, and financial challenges they might encounter while in college or pursuing a career.

In October 2016, 69.7 percent of 2016 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities, according to a 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Recent high school graduates not enrolled in college in October 2016 were about twice as likely as enrolled graduates to be working or looking for work, with 72.3 percent of those not enrolled looking for jobs compared to just 38.4 percent who were college bound.

NCA Parent Engagement Fellow and CAPPT member Shayvonne Anderson said that not every high school senior is headed for college and that students should be made aware of the wealth of options available other than college.

“We have to give our kids options as far as their careers after high school,” she said. ““There are people that have careers and did not go to college and they make more money than people who have attended college. Kids need to be taught how to go out into the world."

NCA Director of Campus Operations Chris Bonner said that as ex-military, he was responsible for bringing military representatives to the fair.

“I see it as my duty that folks see the military as an option,” Bonner said.

Bonner, a former helicopter pilot who served in both the Army and Coast Guard, said military vets don’t typically live in New Jersey and that those who do and join the military often do not return.

“By name we are a collegiate high school, but the reality is that not everyone is going to be ready for college,” he said. “College is not the path for everyone or maybe now is not the right time, so parents kind of forced us to make this a priority. It’s always been my goal to expose our kids to the military, especially the financial benefits and career skills it offers.”

Bonner said many are starting to see the military as a viable career option.

“For a long time, the military was always a last resort but that is no longer the case,” he said. “Folks in the military are highly skilled and highly professional. I kind of feel like it’s my job to be the liaison.”

Cosby-Thomas said parents often shy away from encouraging their students to pursue military careers but that this is simply due to misconceptions.

“There are so many careers in the military they can apply for,” she said, noting that hundreds of military careers exist outside the purview of serving on the front lines, include accounting, communications, engineering, aviation, business administration, construction, and cyber education, among others.

"My goal is to always to make sure our children are successful," Cosby-Thomas said. "I'm hoping a lot more industries will come next year."