AUGUSTA — While some students laid bricks in the lobby of the Augusta Civic Center, others gave professional presentations, checked out companies and colleges or discussed decisions for real-life scenarios.

Rick Malinowski, human resources manager for Procter & Gamble in Auburn, said he was thoroughly impressed by the students he met and judged during an event at the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates Career Development conference Wednesday.

Behind the students’ poise and preparation are personal histories filled with struggle, as Malinowski has learned from attending the annual conference the last three years and talking with the students.

“You go home thinking, ‘I got it good,’” he said. “These kids have an uphill battle, and they’re doing amazing things.”

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers classes in public schools for students who face barriers to education. The JMG specialists who lead the classes help keep the students engaged in school, get them focused on planning for the future and teach skills such as job interviewing, communication and time management.

Malinowski said there was no better possible cause for the Procter & Gamble plant, which produces tampons, to fulfill a corporate initiative than to adopt a local school. Rather than choose a single school in the area, the company is working with JMG, which includes sponsorship of two $1,500 scholarships that were awarded Wednesday at the conference.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has given scholarships to two JMG graduates annually for each of the past 11 years, and more companies and organizations are following suit. This is the second year Procter & Gamble sponsored scholarships, and a total of eight were awarded Wednesday.

JMG spokeswoman Lisa Gardner said the growth in scholarships reflects the promise that business and community leaders see in JMG and the students who take part.

Among the scholarship winners Wednesday were Messalonskee High School senior Kaitlin Eschenbrenner and Madison Memorial Area High School senior Britteny Watt.

Eschenbrenner, of Oakland, plans to use her scholarship to enroll at Thomas College, where she plans to study criminal justice, with a goal of becoming a victim advocate. She was inspired by working with a victim advocate when she had to testify in a criminal case last year.

Eschenbrenner has experienced her share of struggle, including the death of her mother when she was 16. She said JMG has provided a friendly, relaxed environment in which she has learned to express herself instead of being so reserved.

“It has done a lot for me,” she said. “It has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and be an advocate for myself.”

The practice she’s received in stating her opinions and ideas during class discussions came in handy for Eschenbrenner on Wednesday, when she competed in a team decision-making event.

Other competitive events Wednesday included communication challenges, mock job interviewing and public speaking.

There was also a college and career exposition that looked like any other, with booths set up by employers, schools and the military. But out in the civic center lobby, there was an opportunity to try a potential career in a hands-on way.

Maine Masonry Co. which does large brickwork projects throughout the state, brought supplies for students to let them try bricklaying. Ed McGarrity, the company’s business and employee development specialist, said the company has visited several schools to expose students to a trade they probably haven’t considered. This was their first time at the JMG conference.

“Not everbody’s cut out for college, and we need more and more people to come into the trade because of the demographics,” McGarrity said.

Maine will have a shortage of masons in 10 years, McGarrity said, and there probably will be a need for large projects such as health care facilities and nursing homes because of Maine’s aging population.

Masons can earn up to $50,000 a year, he said.

Among the students who tried their hands at laying bricks Wednesday were Madison junior Gretchen Miller and Waterville Senior High School senior Destiny Petit.

Miller said she tried it because it was something she probably would never do otherwise, and she found that the work required more skill than she might have expected.

“It’s not the job for me, but it’s something good to know just in case,” she said. “I guess I don’t like to be dirty all the time.”

Miller said she may become a radiology technician, hoping to do for others what such technicians did for her recently when she had major surgery.

The setup had its intended effect on Petit, who said she might consider a career in masonry. She said she is not sure what she wants to do, and she enjoyed laying bricks — enough to do two whole rows and then proudly exhort a friend to take a picture of her wall.

“It was actually fun,” Petit said. “I like repetitive stuff, and I’m artistic. It was kind of like putting a puzzle together.”

The conference also brought new experiences for Hall-Dale High School junior David Morris, who said he tied his own necktie Wednesday for the first time. Students are required to dress professionally for the event.

Morris said he enjoys performing when it comes to music and acting, but he was nervous about competing in the public speaking event.

This is Morris’ first year in JMG, and he said it’s bringing out his leadership skills. He volunteered for multiple events at the conference, hoping to show that he’s ready to be an officer next year. He was hesitant to sign up for JMG in freshman and sophomore year, not knowing much about it; but now he’s glad he took the leap this year.

“JMG has so many different kinds of people in it, from shy, quiet people to loud and outgoing and obnoxious people, and they all come together as one in this program,” he said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 smcmillan@centralmaine.com Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan