Teens explore careers during Tour of Opportunity

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Jasper High School freshmen Vanessa Mejia, right, helps Mallory Krapf, left, put cheese on her pretzel as Southridge High School freshmen Jeffrey Garris and Lucy Schwartz wait their turn during the Tour of Opportunity's hospitality pathway visit to Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper on Wednesday.


JASPER — Jasper High School freshmen Jane Franklin and Madison Kinder both love to bake. To them, a career in the food industry sounds like just the thing.

On Wednesday, the two got a look at local opportunities to follow their dream — as well as other local opportunities in the food and hospitality industries — as part of the Tour of Opportunity, a career exploration event for high school freshmen throughout Dubois County organized by Dubois Strong, Vincennes University Jasper Campus, Hub 19 and the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Cooperative.

For the program, students chose a career pathway and spent the morning touring local companies before returning to VUJC to learn about education opportunities that can help prepare them for their pathway. Options included the manufacturing pathways such as automation, trades and construction that have traditionally been part of the Tour of Opportunity, as well as new tracks, such as agriculture, health care, business, communications and public safety. More than 550 students participated in the event.

Jane, Madison and about 40 other students chose the hospitality track, so their morning took them to the Schnitzelbank Restaurant and The Hampton Inn, both owned by the Hanselman family. Inside the Schnitzelbank and surrounded by the olde world German décor, the students learned what it takes to run a four-star restaurant.

Jasper High School freshman Selena Penick, left, and Southridge High School freshman Gracie Stasel react to the temperature as they walk through the freezer during the Tour of Opportunity's hospitality pathway at Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper on Wednesday.

“We here at the Schnitzelbank employ more than just our cooks and our servers,” said Kim Voegerl, a marketing and sales associate for the Schnitzelbank.

In fact, the Schnitzelbank employs 105 people, including gift shop staff, kitchen staff, bartenders, office staff and bakers. That last one caught the attention of Jane and Madison.

“I didn’t know they bake the desserts in the morning,” Madison said, referencing Voegerl’s presentation. “I thought they baked the night before.”

Jane and Madison both agreed that being the one to bake the Schnitzelbank’s famous apple strudel and German chocolate cake would be pretty cool.

The students got a firsthand look at the chaotic morning of food prep on a tour of the Schnitzelbank’s kitchen — which easily takes up the eastern quarter of the building and includes a room-sized freezer and refrigerator. The students also got to see one of the four kitchen trucks Schnitzelbank Catering uses to cook fresh food on the spot for events.

“That’s why our catering business is so popular,” Voegerl told the students. “It’s all made fresh.”

Students take turns looking inside a catering truck during the Tour of Opportunity's hospitality pathway at Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper on Wednesday.

The last stop of the morning took the students to The Hampton Inn where they learned about the many jobs it takes to keep an award-winning hotel running. According to the internal ranking system for Hampton by Hilton, the parent company of Hampton Inn, the Jasper location is the No. 1 Hampton Inn in Indiana and No. 19 out of the 2,500 national locations.

“It takes every single department to keep it going,” Hotel Manager Mary Mehringer told the students. “Without one, the others don’t function.”

Mehringer advised the students to start at the bottom of the hospitality industry and work their way up. That means taking a job as a dishwasher or housekeeper so that by the time you become a manager, you’re familiar with what each department does and understand how every job is interconnected.

“I am not above cleaning a toilet, folks,” Mehringer said. “If you were a manager, you wouldn’t be either.”

At the end of the morning, Jane and Madison still wanted to work in the food industry, but now they both said they’d consider a job in a hotel, too, especially one that serves breakfast like the Hampton Inn.

Students ended the Tour of Opportunity back at VUJC where they learned about local education opportunities that can help them along their career paths.

By the end of the day, organizers had the satisfaction of a successful event, as well as ideas about how to improve the event for next year, said Jacob Berg, the director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing at VUJC.

“For some of these companies, it was their first year participating,” Berg said. “I think, overall, it went really well. It’s definitely something we’ll do again.”

Besides the hospitality track, the Tour of Opportunity also featured tracks for agriculture, audio visual and communications, automation/robotics/manufacturing, automotive and trucking services, building trades, finance and investment, healthcare and social services, information technology, management and marketing, public safety and welding and precision machining.

Students on the agriculture track visited Hopf Equipment, Farbest Foods, Dubois County Soil & Water, Green Thumb Nursery, Superior Ag, All Seasons Lawn Equipment, Precision Farming Solutions, Southern Indiana Purdue Agriculture Center, and German American Bank. The audio-visual and communications track visited DC Broadcasting, WBDC & WJTS18, and The Herald. Automation, robotics and manufacturing included Indiana Furniture, Jasper Engines & Transmissions, Kimball Electronics, and Kimball International. Students interested in automotive and trucking services visited Uebelhor & Sons and Sternberg Chrysler Center. The building trades and construction track included Gudorf HVAC and Electrical, Dubois County Block and Brick, Krempp Lumber, Spring Valley Bank and Trust, Wright Masonry, Dennis Voegerl Construction, and Designs by Megan. Students interested in finance and investment visited German American Bank and Springs Valley Bank & Trust. Healthcare and social services spent the morning at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center. The information technology track featured Matrix Integration and Meyer Distributing, and OFS presented management and marketing. The public safety track included Dubois County Security Center, Jasper Fire Department, Jasper City Police, and Memorial Hospital EMT. And students interested in welding and precision machining visited the Patoka Valley Career and Technical Education Cooperative’s welding and machining programs, housed at Pike Central High School.

Students walk past a mirror in a hotel room during the Tour of Opportunity's hospitality pathway at the Hampton Inn in Jasper on Wednesday.

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