Elkhart, Ind. is about one-hour northwest of Winona Lake, home of Grace College, and less than 10 miles south of the Michigan state line. According to the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, “Michiana,” as it’s called, is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, encompassing Elkhart, South Bend, and Goshen, Ind., along with several small towns.
Last month, 13 Grace College students received a special invitation to attend “What’s Next” – an event sponsored by the Elkhart Chamber to introduce Hoosier college students to all that Michiana has to offer, including a variety of career opportunities.
The Grace College students from several different majors, including nursing, accounting, information systems, and applied physics, traveled to Elkhart Oct. 18 – 20 for the career and networking event. The Elkhart Chamber of Commerce provided transportation, meals, and lodging for students, as well as a superb line up of speakers, business tours and career connections, according to DeeAnna Muraski, associate director of internships at Grace College.
Muraski, who is part of the Grace College Center for Career Connections, coordinated Grace students’ participation and was very pleased with the results of the event.
“Students got to hear from inspirational speakers in the Elkhart area, learn about a variety of opportunities in the region, talk to potential employers and even interview with some,” Muraski said.
Levon Johnson, president and CEO of the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, birthed the idea for “What’s Next” earlier this year in an effort to serve Chamber members who are challenged to find qualified workers.
“Unemployment is very low in our county, so finding workers at all levels – from entry-level manufacturing to c-suite executives – is a challenge currently. We have to think outside of the box to attract talent here,” Johnson explained.
The What’s Next program was created after the college athletic recruiting model, according to Johnson. He knows this model well, as a former collegiate football player-turned high school coach.
“We decided to create an event to showcase all that we have to offer in Michiana right here in downtown Elkhart. We bring the college students to us, help them build relationships with peers and potential employers, and hopefully find inspiration to come back and consider starting their career here,” he said.
This was the second What’s Next event; the first was held in March and a third is planned for November. Johnson designed the program with the intent to “scale it up” in time.
“We’ve had between 35 and 57 students attend each session. The last event had 10 employers at the job fair. We hope to build on that in an effort to serve both students and our local employers well,” Johnson said.
Alexander Reinhardt, a Grace College junior from Goshen, Ind., attended What’s Next in hopes of finding an internship close to home this summer. Reinhardt, who is studying applied physics and mechanical engineering, spoke to two prospective employers and he’s now in the process of applying for a summer internship at one of the companies.
“I was very glad I went to What’s Next because I want to secure a relevant internship near my hometown. Talking directly to employers was very valuable, and learning about all of the efforts to modernize Michiana and attract young professionals was inspiring,” he said.