BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WBOY) — Students from several different high schools across Harrison County got the chance to participate in a culinary and hospitality workshop and competition at the Bridgeport Conference Center on Thursday.

Dr. Geraldine Beckett, the Career and Tech Ed Liaison for Harrison County Schools, said the event allowed students to learn about event planning, work with chefs in the kitchen on food preparation, tour the facility and “find out what is done on a daily basis in the typical day in an event center.”

About 50 students in Career and Tech Ed classes were involved in this event, coming from either a baking and pastry program, the ProStart culinary program, or a hospitality and tourism program offered by Harrison County Schools. Students also viewed a presentation from the conference center’s sales department, and they toured Mia Margherita Coal Fired Pizzeria as well as Microtel Inn & Suites to see other local businesses that work in hospitality/customer service.

“We hope to make this an annual event,” Beckett stated. “It’s all in an effort to improve the relationship and to create a bigger relationship between the businesses and the schools in Harrison County,” she added.

Beckett said that the event was an “aha” moment for some students who had never been to an upscale dining kitchen. “So, now they realize that maybe there’s a place that they can work that might not be a fast food chain—that they can actually work in more of an upscale environment and maybe make more money, and maybe have more of a career path. So that’s what we’re trying to do for our kids today, create these opportunities for them.”

The conference center also has “a lot of information,” according to Beckett. She said that the center offers possibilities for job shadowing, internships, and other opportunities that many of the students wouldn’t have been aware of had it not been for this field trip.

Following this workshop, in teams, students also had to compete by presenting their plans for a social event to a panel of judges. the students could explore and figure out what aspects, if any, of hospitality may be a good fit for them as a career.

“One of the biggest things about career exploration is you’re showing that person what they may like, but then, just as important, they’re finding out that maybe it’s something they don’t like,” Dr. Beckett added. “So the whole purpose of career exploration is to give our kids something to grow on, something to move forward with because they won’t know if they’ve never seen it or they’ve never been there, and personal experience sometimes is all it takes to make that happen.”

One student in particular wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue as a career path, but developed an appreciation for hospitality through the ProStart culinary program at Liberty High School, which she says is referred to as the “Liberty Cafe.”

“I kind of saw this as an opportunity of just to learn something new, kind of get an idea and when I started to get into it, it helped me to see the different opportunities,” said Emma Elliott, Liberty High School senior.

Elliott also feels that this program gives the students insight into all of the different opportunities in hospitality, and that it’s not just confined to culinary work. “Like it’s not just one thing, it’s different things every day that you have within the hospitality.”

The rest of the students who participated in this event came from Robert C. Byrd, Lincoln, and South Harrison High Schools.