Cody Gaboury, a junior at Cony High School, isn’t sure what he’ll do after high school.

He would like to find work in the field of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, but is not certain he’ll be able to pay for a two-year college program to learn the necessary skills.

After speaking with representatives from state universities and the Army during a college and career fair Thursday morning at Cony High School, though, Gaboury does have a clearer sense of his options.

“If I can’t work up the money, I may be able to go into the Army,” he said. Not only would that provide him some savings, Gaboury said, but he’d also be able to learn HVAC skills while serving.

Such lessons were the goal of the college and career fair, which for seven years was held in the lobby of Capital Area Technical Center. The fair has been outgrowing its venue, so this year organizers moved it to the gymnasium at Cony High School.

“We decided to join forces this year and open it up to more careers and colleges,” said Lisa Plourde, a Cony career adviser. “We were able to add a lot more participants and give students a bigger array of postsecondary opportunities to look at.”

Stephanie Turgeon, a coordinator at Capital Area Technical Center, said this year close to 70 groups participated.

“Before this year, we would shove 40 vendors in our lobby,” she said.

Students such as Gaboury appreciated the mix.

“There’s a huge variety,” he said. “You name it; they’ve got it.”

Gaboury was at the fair with Jared Beckwith, a junior at Maranacook Community High School.

Both of them now take classes in plumbing and heating at Capital Area Technical Center. Beckwith would like to learn more of those skills at a community college, but after speaking with representatives at the fair, he said, “not a lot of them did have plumbing and heating courses.”

Students came to the career fair from Capital Area Technical Center, Cony High School, Cony Middle School, Gardiner Area High School, Monmouth Academy, Erskine Academy and Hall-Dale High School, according to a spokeswoman for the Augusta schools.

They met with representatives of state universities, New England colleges, the Army and other armed forces branches, police and fire departments, hospitals, banks, organizations, employment agencies and even a professional theater company.

Amanda Beaulieu, a junior at Cony High, said she spoke with several representatives at the fair but was not actively shopping around for potential places to study or work. Originally from Florida, Beaulieu said she would like to return there for college, possibly to study a criminal justice-related subject such as forensic science.

“I have to look more into it,” she said.

Still, Beaulieu said she welcomed the opportunity to speak with college officials at the fair and learn about financial aid opportunities.

For some students, particularly those in middle school, college and a career are still a couple years away. But it’s never too early for them to begin thinking about their futures, Plourde said.

“It’s proven that the earlier a student can start talking about postsecondary plans, the greater the chances of the students having a plan,” she said.

The Augusta schools received a grant early this year from the MELMAC Education Foundation that has funded numerous efforts to get students thinking about postsecondary plans, including Thursday’s fair, Plourde said.

Nowadays, she added, most careers require some postsecondary education, but there are different avenues to receiving that learning, such as through military service and two-year programs.

For one of the Army recruiters at the fair, serving his country and going to college have not been mutually exclusive. Sgt. Patrick Regan said he is pursuing a degree in business administration from Post University in Connecticut — an education the Army has paid for — and he likes to inform current high school students about similar opportunities.

“A lot of people have the old-school mentality of ‘join the Army or go to college,'” Regan said. “They don’t realize the Army is very pro-college.”

Many representatives at the fair were handing out bags, pens and other freebies that promoted their respective entities. When one boy asked Regan if he still had any footballs to give away, Regan told him there were none left, but that he could stop by the Army’s recruiting center in Augusta to pick one up.

“We’re not the big, scary Army dudes trying to get them to join the Army,” Regan added.

Several admissions coordinators from Maine colleges said they appreciated reaching students at an event such as the fair, even if those students were not considering college or a career immediately.

Gail Pelletier, an admissions coordinator at the University of Maine at Augusta, said she informed fair attendees about educational programs available at the school. She also handed out bags featuring the university’s logo and informational brochures.

“If I hand a student a goody bag, they’re going to remember us better than if I hand them this,” she said, holding up a handout titled “Choosing a Major.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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