AUGUSTA — While some students laid bricks in the lobby of the Augusta Civic Center, others gave professional presentations, checked out companies and colleges or discussed how to resolve real-life scenarios.

Rick Malinowski, human resources manager for Procter & Gamble in Auburn, said he was impressed by the students he met and judged at the Jobs for Maine’s Graduates Career Development Conference Wednesday.

Behind the students’ poise and preparation are personal histories filled with struggle, Malinowski said.

“You go home thinking, ‘I got it good,’ ” he said. “These kids have an uphill battle, and they’re doing amazing things.”

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates is a statewide nonprofit that offers classes in public schools for students who face barriers to education. The specialists who lead the classes help keep the students in school and learn skills such as job interviewing.

Malinowski said there was no better cause for the Procter & Gamble plant to undertake. The company sponsored two of eight scholarships awarded at the conference.

Among the scholarship winners Wednesday were Messalonskee High School senior Kaitlin Eschenbrenner and Madison Area Memorial High School senior Britteny Watt.

Eschenbrenner of Oakland plans to attend Thomas College, where she will study criminal justice.

Eschenbrenner has had her share of struggles, including the death of her mother when she was 16. She said Jobs for Maine Graduates has helped her learn to express herself.

“It has done a lot for me,” she said. “It has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and be an advocate for myself.”

The skills she’s learned came in handy on Wednesday, when she competed in a team decision-making event.

Other competitive events Wednesday included communications challenges, mock job interviewing and public speaking.

There was also a college and career exposition with booths set up by employers, schools and the military. But in the lobby, students tried a different skill.

Maine Masonry Co. which does large brickwork projects throughout the state, let students try bricklaying. Ed McGarrity, the company’s business and employee development specialist, said the company has visited several schools to expose students to a trade they probably haven’t considered.

“Not everbody’s cut out for college, and we need more and more people to come into the trade because of the demographics,” McGarrity said.

Masons can earn up to $50,000 a year, he said.

Among the students who tried bricklaying were Madison junior Gretchen Miller and Waterville Senior High School senior Destiny Petit.

Miller said she tried it because it was something she probably would never do otherwise, and she found that the work required more skill than she expected.

“It’s not the job for me, but it’s something good to know just in case,” she said. “I guess I don’t like to be dirty all the time.”

Miller said she may become a radiology technician, hoping to do for others what such technicians did for her recently when she had major surgery.

Petit said she might consider a career in masonry. She said she enjoyed laying bricks – enough to do two rows and then proudly exhort a friend to take a picture.

“It was actually fun,” Petit said. “I like repetitive stuff, and I’m artistic. It was kind of like putting a puzzle together.”

The conference also brought new experiences for Hall-Dale High School junior David Morris, who said he tied his own necktie Wednesday for the first time. Students are required to dress professionally.

Morris said he enjoys music and acting, but was nervous about competing in the public speaking event.

This is Morris’ first year in the program and he said he’s glad he took the leap.

“JMG has so many different kinds of people in it, from shy, quiet people to loud and outgoing and obnoxious people, and they all come together as one in this program,” he said.

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan;