JJ Candela represents Muscatine at JAG National Conference
by Margaret Hurlbert
May 09, 2023

MUSCATINE, Iowa–After making history as Muscatine’s first Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJAG) state competition winner, JJ Candela traveled to Orlando, Florida to attend and compete at the JAG National Career Development Conference April 20 through 22. A new experience for JJ and Jon McConnell, the iJAG educational specialist for junior and senior students at Muscatine High School, the pair came away with many insights for themselves and Muscatine’s iJAG program.

On May 19, JJ, McConnell, and the other iJAG students and chaperones attending the National Conference flew to Orlando. Once there, McConnell reported they had lots to do, with numerous workshops on topics including workplace readiness and marketing and a large college and career fair featuring many nationally recognized schools and corporations.

JJ competed in the employability skills contest, where students created real resumes based on their work and educational experiences and a cover letter for a position they could realistically apply for. Students then completed 10 to 15-minute mock job interviews with a panel of judges who also reviewed their resumes and cover letters.

At JAG contests, judges only announce the ranks of the top 10 placers. Though JJ did not make the top 10, he still felt proud of his performance. “I felt good about it,” he said. “I knew what I was getting into–there were a lot of very qualified people competing.”

McConnell shared that he and, “the rest of iJAG are very proud of how JJ did,” and that many in the iJAG delegation, even though they had only known JJ briefly, felt surprised that he did not place. “If you know JJ, you know he’s qualified for a lot of things out there,” McConnell observed.

JJ Candela (second from right) with other members of the iJAG delegation at the JAG National Career Development Conference. Photo courtesy Muscatine Community School District.

Outside of spending time at the National Conference, JJ, and the iJAG students got to spend time sightseeing in Orlando. This included visiting the Universal CityWalk and a trip to Coco Beach. Though JJ had fun on all the outings, he most valued networking with all the students and JAG leadership at the National Conference. “Most would say going to the beach was the best, but for me, it was all the different people,” JJ shared.

Though JJ will graduate from Muscatine High School this month and can no longer compete in JAG events, he hopes JAG will play a role in his future career. JJ would like to work in marketing and would love to do marketing for JAG.

After having such a positive experience in iJAG classes and competitions, JJ encourages younger students to consider taking iJAG themselves. He believes the project-based approach and the relationships between students and teachers will appeal to them. “Everyone is family in iJAG, and we all bond over different things,” he said.

Following a stellar first year of leading iJAG at Muscatine High School, McConnell looks forward to further success for his students, both in the classroom, at competitions, and in the real world, sharing he felt, “proud and just happy to have someone go to nationals in my first year.”

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