A small but attentive crowd gathered around Martin Navarro as he sat at a potter's wheel working on a flowerpot.

While the 15-year-old aspiring singer from Refugio High School had only worked with Play-Doh, he explored a new field of study during Hancock College's 13th annual Career Exploration Day on Friday.

As Martin worked on his flowerpot, roughly 3,000 junior high, high school and Hancock College students mingled with more than 100 employers and educators.

Emily Smith, director of K-12 partnerships for Hancock College, called the event a "beautiful marriage" between industry and education designed to highlight opportunities within the community for local students.

"Oftentimes, students are not completely aware what's out there until they're exposed to it," she said. "We want to expose students to opportunities at the college, to career opportunities that result from living [in Santa Maria] and educating themselves [at Hancock.]"

While the event gives students and employers the opportunity to directly interact with each other, Smith said it also helps ease potential students into the campus community.

"It takes the unknowns of being on a college campus and taking classes [away] and puts students a bit at ease. Some are attending a college event for the first time, so the event helps take the fear of being on a college campus away from them."

Seasoned veterans Romenick Casabar and Daniel Lavery echoed Smith's assessment. After attending their first Career Exploration Day last year and enrolling at Hancock College through the concurrent enrollment program, the Central Coast New Tech High School students opted this year to volunteer and provide information.

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"We're here to show other students what the experience of taking high school and college classes at the same time is like," Casbar said. "We want to show prospective students how campus life is."

Lavery added that as high school students, they can connect to attendees better and relate in a way administrators normally can't.

"We have the same experiences; we've gone through many of the things they will experience," he said. "We cannot only inform them about it but relate to them in ways others can't."

Although Martin enjoyed his ceramics experience and credits it with a new desire to take art classes, he doesn't believe it changed his mind about pursuing singing. Despite being undeterred about his potential career trajectory, he spoke positively of the event and its mission.

"I think it's awesome -- I really appreciate all these people coming out and showing everyone what their businesses are and the type of work they do. I love how they give examples and hands-on-experiences."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.