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About 300 high school students from around the state gathered in Billings on Wednesday and Thursday for the Jobs for Montana Graduates IGNITE Conference.

Students learned about an array of careers and competed in competitive events over two days at the Radisson Hotel, formerly the Holiday Inn Grand.

Morning workshops Thursday ranged from how to prepare healthy, affordable meals to a primer on smokejumping.

Smokejumper Caleb Allen-Schmid offered the sort of tips not found in brochures.

“In the winter, when there’s no wildfires, we do a lot of sewing,” he said, talking about preparing gear.

He had a table full of equipment to show students, and told them that jumping into a wildfire doesn’t have much in common with commercial skydiving.

“We never know where we’re gonna jump until we get to a fire,” he said, explaining that jumpers land using a “glorified shoulder roll.”

Yellowstone County Extension Agent Jackie Rumph showed students how to combine common foods to create quick, healthy meals using versatile recipes — even with the likes of ramen noodles.

“You can always add a little bit less or a little bit more depending on what sounds good to you,” she said.

She offered students tips on how the make the most of their purchases, such as the minimal nutritional differences between fresh and frozen vegetables.

“If you buy which is the more affordable, you’re not really shorting yourself nutrition,” she said.

In a session led by Shani Rich of the Area Health Education Center, students learned CPR.

“We don’t wait until we’re in an emergency situation,” she said. “That’s why we practice.”

Students practiced chest-pumping techniques timed to the beat of the Bee Gees' "Stayin’ Alive."

“Two minutes is a really, really long time when you’re doing this,” Rich said. “This is your morning workout.”

Sessions were designed to both expose students to careers and to build life skills.

“It’s awesome for thinking about a wide range of jobs,” said Fromberg junior Cory Struthers.

Jobs for Montana Graduates is a Department of Labor initiative that can be taught as a middle or high school course, helping students gain employable skills, educating them about career options and leadership and civic awareness — with a major focus on keeping students in school through graduation.

“JMG’s probably one of my favorite classes,” Fromberg junior Eugene Barker said. “You’re not constantly sitting in a room.”

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.