On a cool, breezy afternoon, freshman Leah Hartley wandered the quad at Anne Arundel Community College searching for her future.
The 18-year-old North County High School graduate approached a table with engineers, saw the guts of a computer microchip and turned away quickly, convinced that electrical engineering was not her cup of tea. She passed by a group of teachers, ignoring their spiel, but taking them up on their offer of a free post-it pad. But then the hospitality business table caught her eye, with its glossy display, and suddenly she could imagine her future managing a gleaming restaurant or hotel.
College officials said they hoped to foster these kinds of realizations on Wednesday through Major Mania, an annual fair at which more than a dozen academic departments and area employers set up booths to help students make one of the hardest decisions of their college years: picking their major.
"Choosing a major is really hard," Hartley said, munching on some chips with friends afterward. "I don't know what I want to do with my life, and choosing a major seems like such a permanent thing. I don't want to make a mistake and end up getting into something that I won't like."
The community college, which has nearly 55,000 students enrolled in more than 2,800 courses, has held Major Mania for five years, timing it toward the beginning of the year to help shape students' decision early, said Joan Sturtevant, the college's coordinator for career services.
"Students read through catalogs, but that's not always enough because you have questions after reading," Sturtevant said. "Here, we're letting them talk to the professors and the employers so they can hear first-hand what it's like working in some of these areas."
Beth Hadley and Jaclyn Finkel sat patiently, a bowl of gleaming red apples before them, hoping to draw students toward teaching.
"Have you thought of teaching?" they gently probed passers-by. "It's really rewarding."
A bespectacled woman with brown hair approached and Hadley and Finkel perked up, but she came just to ask, "Are the apples real? Can I have one?" They answer yes to both, and look back into the stream of students passing by their table during class changes.
Finkel, a professor at the college's TEACH Institute, started in Philadelphia teaching fourth-graders, and later middle school. She knows the apprehension some students might harbor about the field - How do I deal with behavior problems? How do I draw the respect line between teacher and friend? - because she used to have the same questions herself. "But you know what, all those things just fall into place, and in the end, it's one of the most rewarding professions there is out there," Finkel said.
With no interest for 15 minutes, Finkel succumbed to her hunger pangs and bit into her tuna sandwich. But then, freshman Jennifer Markerink approached her, unsolicited.
"I want to be a special education teacher," Markerink said.
Finally, someone so seemingly sure of wanting to be a teacher.
"OK, great, have you thought of elementary school special education?" Hadley asked. "We have a great elementary school program here."
Markerink, 19, said she's more interested in high school.
The college doesn't offer a specialization for high school special education instruction, but Hadley said she would help Markerink get the necessary foundation courses and maybe transfer to another school that could help her.
"It's great when you see students like that, so sure of themselves, and we're here to help them succeed, no matter what their goal," Hadley said.