Once he heaves that tasseled cap into the air on graduation night, Ryan Nitti has plenty of options going forward. The high school senior just can't decide which hat he wants to put on.

He could continue working at Publix and possibly move into a management role. He could follow in his dad's footsteps and pursue a career in air conditioning. He knows a lot about cars, so a shift into the automotive field isn't a long-shot. Then there's engineering — he's taken classes at Mainland High School and can already fix some machines around the house.

"Right now I have different options," Ryan said as he walked around Daytona State College's 160,000 square-foot Advanced Technology College like a selective Christmas shopper. He was hopeful a tour will help make his choices a little clearer.

Nearly 200 Volusia and Flagler students moved from station-to-station Monday morning during an open house. It was designed to be a day of listening, learning and asking questions about options and opportunities — not just for their future — but for right now during high school through dual enrollment programs.

"This was an opportunity for us to get students out here to see the programs we have," said Mary Bruno, associate vice president for the College of Workforce and Continuing Education.

At one station, instructor Roger Rowan stood outside his machinery shop and talked about the 900 manufacturing companies in the area and how they all need more workers. The 12 graduates Daytona State's machinery program churns out in a typical year aren't enough.

"There's a big demand for these jobs," he said. "We get calls all the time."

In another department, Roger Raffaelo touted the more than $45,000 a year those repairing air conditioning units and refrigerators earn. He also gave advice about other life skills that are needed to be successful beyond basic job functions.

"The people who I see get fired were very good mechanics," he told a crowd. "The reason they got fired was because they were unreliable. Reliability is a very important part of the real world. ... But there's a reward if you can provide that."


The majority of students at the tour aren't graduating in a few days, but that doesn't mean it's too early to begin their path toward a career. Daytona State offers a myriad of dual enrollment programs, free to qualified students, out of its technology center. However, participation has been low, with only two or three students typically involved.

Starting next fall, students with a 2.0 grade point average can enroll in construction and machinery courses, which can be completed with a certification in only two semesters.

"Dual enrollment for our students is invaluable," said Jason Wheeler, spokesman for the Flagler County school district. "While you can put a dollar amount on the cost of enrollment, the value in terms of what programs like dual enrollment gives participants goes beyond mere dollars and cents."

Deborah Drawdy, Volusia's coordinator of student support services, stood in a hallway as the tour came to a close and watched students walk past. They seemed engaged, excited.

"We have told students about the programs available (here), and the students actually got to see that today," she said. "I see more interest in their eyes now than when they got here."


Originally posted on Daytona Beach News Journal.