If the packed parking lot at Aiken High School on Tuesday wasn’t a sign of success for the fifth annual career night, the gymnasium crammed full of displays, presenters, students and parents made it clear.

“We ran out of sign-in sheets,” said Karen Lusby-Ieffel, career specialist for the high school. “More students showed up than I thought, and that’s a good problem to have.”

Fifty-two organizations covering about 70 occupations had displays set up in the gym to inform students from Aiken High, Aiken Middle and Schofield Middle and their parents about the organizations’ jobs and career fields.

“They get to talk to people that are in occupations that they may already be interested in,” Ieffel said. “They get to hear, firsthand, real world experience from someone that’s already doing something they have a passion for. I tell them, ‘Pick their brain.’”

Ieffel said the career fair has grown in size, both with the number of presenters and the number of attendees.

“In the beginning, a lot of parents didn’t come,” she said. “Now, we have whole families come out, so it’s become like a family outing.”

She added that the displays have become more interactive, from blood pressure screenings to cooking to live animals. The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory had several live reptiles on hand to get people’s attention.

“Once they get up to us, they start asking us about careers,” said Sean Poppy, of SREL, adding that he was pleased with the types of questions posed. “I’m a biologist, and they start talking about biology. Some of them ask about how math plays a role in our research, talking about populations and taking all the data. There’s a lot of math in it.”

“I grew up in the country, so I’m used to stuff like that,” sophomore Jai’bria Quattlebaum said after handling a small alligator.

Quattlebaum said she was interested in engineering and saw several displays that were helpful.

“They said black females are rare in their field,” she said. “They would pay more money for a black female, just because there’s not many of them.”

Nola Grant, of Savannah River Remediation, said that young people as a whole are becoming rare in the engineering field.

“Over the last two or three years, when we do our data trends, a lot less students are going into the engineering fields,” she said. “We do a lot of career fairs, but it’s usually on a collegiate level. Now we need to come down to the high school.”

Grant and Gayl Hoel were providing information about SRR’s employment opportunities, including school-to-work, students who plan to go to technical school and internships for students planning to go to a four-year university.

Ieffel said the evening was as beneficial to employers as it was to students.

“A lot of these organizations, they understand that the youth are, hopefully, going to be the pool of applicants that they’re pulling employees from one day,” she said.

“We tell the kids all the time, it’s never too early to network.”