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Academy Expo volunteers shine at selling careers to RPS 205 students

Richard Backeberg wasn’t taking any chances. His company, Cintas, had a delivery truck parked in the BMO Harris Bank Center for the Academy Expo. By hook or by hanger, he wanted Rockford Public Schools students to see what a career at the uniform rental company looks like.

So he had a few questions to ask the students: Would you like a four-day workweek? No weekends? No nights? No holidays?

Then Backeberg, a production supervisor at Cintas, took the wheels off.  He conscripted two students to do a relay that required them to jump in the truck, put on a hat and gloves, run to the back of the truck, grab an armful of uniforms on hangers, run to the front of the truck, jump off the truck and throw the uniforms in two large blue rolling carts.

And they weren’t finished. “I want a smile and a handshake,” Backeberg told the students. “You are in the service industry!”

Richard Backeberg (second from right) accepts an award for his company, Cintas, for booth presentation at the Academy Expo at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Richard Backeberg (second from right) accepts an award for his company, Cintas, for booth presentation at the Academy Expo at the BMO Harris Bank Center.

Cintas was one of 130 companies or organizations that sponsored booths at the Expo, which is held annually for RPS 205 freshmen. The Expo is designed to introduce careers to the approximately 2,000 students and help them decide which high school academy to enter.  In January, they decide among four academies: Business, Arts, Modern World Languages and Information Technology (BAMIT); Engineering, Manufacturing, Industrial and Trades Technology (EMITT); Health Sciences (HS); and Human and Public Services (HPS).

The Expo is a massive event for Alignment Rockford to organize—from getting students off buses to moving them through the booths to making sure 700 volunteers are where they need to be. Each year I’m impressed anew with how professionals like Backeberg relate to students. Backeberg knew students would be impressed with the workweek, but he also told them he had been promoted three times in the seven years he has worked for Cintas.

Just a short walk away in the EMITT booths, Jaclyn Esqueda with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville was also doing a good sales job—in her case, to convince students to study engineering. She said people always focus on the math and science aspect of engineering, but she likes to stress the creative aspect of the career. She encourages students to think about how engineers are responsible for so many elements of their lives. Did they wake up with their cell phone alarm? Thank a software engineer. Turn on the water to brush their teeth? Thank an environmental engineer. Pop bread in the toaster? Thank a mechanical engineer.

“Engineers are problem solvers above else,” she said.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. Click here to subscribe to this blog. Also, please like RPS 205 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

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