Celebrating its fifth year, the SOVA Career Choice Youth Expo, organized by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in partnership with area K-12 Career and Technical Directors, attracted 4,106 middle and high school students from seven localities—one of the largest crowds yet. Students enjoyed the opportunity to interact with more than 50 employers from a wide array of career sectors to learn about occupational opportunities available to them in Southern Virginia. For the first time, an “Expo in the Evening” preview event was open to the public the night preceding the student days. 

“Successful talent development starts with early exposure of our youth to the career opportunities and businesses right here in Southern Virginia,” said Dr. Julie Brown, IALR’s Director of Advanced Learning. “We are fortunate to benefit from the collaborative efforts, time and energy of a remarkable group of volunteers, school districts, employers, sponsors and staff members like Jessie Vernon, who spearheaded much of the Expo’s planning and implementation efforts.”

An award-winning event, the Expo has been replicated in Southwest Virginia and Richmond. Each year, middle and high school students are engaged in hands-on activities led by employers to help them explore career choices. Schools within the Virginia communities of Danville and Martinsville and the counties of Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Patrick and Pittsylvania participated in this year’s event. 

“It’s so important to give them this kind of exposure as early as possible,” said Frances Bradford, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education, who traveled from Richmond to attend the event. 

Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education, Frances Bradford, with IALR Advanced Learning Director, Dr. Julie Brown

The Expo showcases existing job opportunities each year so that students will have an option to stay in the region, based on an informed career decision with a clear understanding of skills needed, education levels required and salaries they can expect. The event remains an intentional effort to build a pipeline of students in strategic sectors that are aligned with economic development interests, including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, cybersecurity/IT-related fields and others.

Platinum-level sponsors of the event included the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Averett University, Goodyear, Piedmont Access to Health Services, the Danville Regional Foundation, The Harvest Foundation, Microsoft and J.T. - Minnie Maude Charitable Trust. Silver sponsors included Eastman, MedExpress and Centra Health.   

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