Virtual college fair connects high school students with services they need now to get ready for fall

College classes went online last spring. This winter, college and career planning services are making the jump to a virtual format.

The Bay Area Community Foundation and Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District joined forces to create a solution to make sure high school juniors and seniors can access career planning services.

On Dec.15, about 1,500 high school seniors have the chance to join in the first Senior Career & College Virtual Access Day.

Doug Trombley, Director of Technology and Postsecondary Preparation at the Bay Arenac Intermediate School District, says the event is a win-win for the community and educational partners.

“One thing the pandemic has taught us,” says Trombley, is that educators have to rethink how they present information.

“The virtual format gives students access to schools, but also their representatives can reach students they might not have been able to,” says Aaron Faist, program officer for the Bay Area Community Foundation. Rather than having representatives make hours-long trips to the region to visit with only one or two students, they can stay where they are and potentially reach 350 at one time.

The idea was born out of the recognition that current high school juniors and seniors are missing access to colleges, technical schools, and the military, whose recruiters would typically show up in person at high schools.

Trombley says most of this year’s seniors have already made plans for after graduation, but this event gives them the opportunity to ask important questions.

Representatives from 16 different technical schools, colleges, and the military will participate in the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students will have the opportunity to participate in two break-out sessions, where they can meet with representatives from:

  • U.S. Army and Army Reserves
  • National Guard
  • Baker College
  • Delta College
  • Kirtland Community College
  • Greater Michigan Construction Academy
  • Northern Michigan Building Trades
  • Ohio Technical College
  • Central Michigan University
  • Davenport University
  • Ferris State University
  • Lake Superior State University
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Northern Michigan University
  • Northwood University
  • Saginaw Valley State University

Along with the two breakout sessions, students will be able to talk to experts about career planning, financial aid, and scholarships.

The virtual career fair is just part of a larger effort between the BACF and the ISD to grow in partnership with other community constituents.

Educators in the Great Lakes Bay Region are working together to help today's high school students get ready to take their next steps.Faist says the two groups have been working together since 2012 to divide up some of the workload of making sure students get the services they need. He says originally the BACF was focused primarily on assisting first-generation and low-income students, but over the years they’d added more and more services. “It grew beyond what our two-person office could handle.”

They approached the ISD for help and the Local Area College Network or LCAN was the result.

“They were excited about the plan, so we began to slowly transition some of the services to the ISD, so now BACF can refocus its efforts on first-generation college students and low-income students.”

“We look at it as a bicycle wheel,” says Faist. “The LCAN is the wheel and like a wheel, it has several spokes. The BACF is just one of those spokes.”

The BACF provides career planning, counseling and assistance filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student AId.) 

“We’re not all operating in silos,” says Trombley, adding, “It’s better to do one thing right, then several things poorly.”

“It’s still in the very early planning stages,” says Trombley, adding over the last decade the two groups have come together to find solutions to making sure everyone gets access to educational assistance. “The real strength of LCAN is building relationships with entities that get us all pulling in the same direction.”

Faist agreed, saying, “The basis of the LCAN is to bring together various constituencies, and together with the LCAN, the BACF and ISD can help assure students get the college preparation they need.”

Part of meeting that need is offering the virtual fair. The event was set up through a program similar to Zoom. When students register, they’re directed to a link where they can enter virtual discussions.

This event is planned for high school seniors, but Trombley says they are already working on setting up a similar event for juniors for the spring. “We invited representatives that we had a relationship with already,” Faist says, adding there were others who heard of the event and wanted in, too.

Based on the success of this virtual event, the LCAN hopes to be able to eliminate in-person recruiting fairs in the future, which will give recruiters the chance to connect with students wherever they are.

“Everybody has something to offer, and this will give them a chance to show students exactly what that is,” says Faist.

To register or for more information about the virtual career and college fair, visit

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