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Jon Austria/The Daily Times at San Juan College on Friday. processed by IntelliTune on 23092011 110454 with script _New Nice Image-CTP
Jon Austria/The Daily Timesat San Juan College on Friday.processed by IntelliTune on 23092011   110454with script _New Nice Image-CTP
Jon Austria/The Daily Times at San Juan College on Friday. processed by IntelliTune on 23092011 110454 with script _New Nice Image-CTP (Jon Austria)
FARMINGTON — Friday morning was a flurry of contained chaos as scores of seventh and eighth grade students from middle schools throughout the region descended on the main parking lot at San Juan College for "Wheels to Work," an event designed to expose students to various professions and careers.

More than 1,600 students registered to attend, said Marie Schumacher, director of career services for San Juan College. That's compared to 200 students when the college started Wheels to Work five years ago.

"It's really become a popular event," she said.

More than 40 organizations and businesses from throughout the county set up tables in the parking lot, and representatives spoke to the students about their various professions and why it's important to stay in school.

"The concept is that the companies bring a "wheel' which represents their industry," Schumacher said. "For example, the police department brings a patrol vehicle the kids can explore, and Emergency Medical Service brings a gurney. An office-based profession might bring a rolling desk chair. The idea is to get the students excited about all the possible professions and to inform them about what they can do to prepare for a future career."

Students visited the various displays and collected stamps on a sheet of paper after asking questions about the jobs, such as salary range, pros and cons of the job and how to prepare for a career in the profession.

A bevy of girls huddled around the college's Cosmetology Department table, examining mannequin heads with elaborately designed hairstyles.

Another group of students gathered around the Daniels Family Funeral Services display, finding out about that unique profession.

At San Juan Regional Medical Center's respiratory therapy booth, therapist Tara Foutz showed Marah Woods, a Heights Middle School eighth grader, how to insert a tube into a dummy lying prone on the table.

Foutz guided Woods' hand as she gently eased the tube into the dummy's windpipe, explaining how the procedure helps unconscious patients get oxygen.

After completing the procedure, Woods announced, "that was a lot of fun," and said she would consider going into the medical field when she grows up.

This is the fourth year the department has participated in the event, Respiratory Therapist P.J. Gillen said, adding that therapists look forward to it every year.

"It's fun to introduce kids to our profession," Gillen said, "because all they usually see on TV is doctors and nurses. They don't know about other employment possibilities in the medical field."

Gillen added that respiratory therapy is slated to grow faster than any other medical profession in the next five years, as the baby boomer generation ages and cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease increase.

"COPD is one of the fastest growing diseases, and respiratory therapists are taking over more of the treatment responsibilities that traditionally were the purview of doctors, so this is an excellent career path for students to consider," she said.

Leigh Irvin:

lirvin@daily-times.com