McALESTER ARMY AMMUNITION PLANT, Okla. -- The ammunition plant opened its gates and simultaneously opened the eyes of some teenagers to possible careers during a tour, here, on March 27.

Seventeen seniors from McAlester High School participating in the Eastern Oklahoma State College's GEAR UP program -- an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs -- were given a tour to expose them to new career fields as they prepare for college.

"This is a great economic opportunity, especially for the students in the McAlester area, because it gives them knowledge of job opportunities in their community," said Rachael Ranallo, GEAR UP education coordinator for Eastern Oklahoma State College, who services six schools, including McAlester High School.

While at MCAAP, the students were given an overview of the plant's mission and watched a video highlighting how it supports the nation's warfighters. They also visited a missile maintenance facility and the chemical laboratory.

Ranallo said it was particularly helpful for the students to learn about the education and training paths that MCAAP employees have taken to advance their careers.

"Finding out about their educational background and the skills they learned to get here will help the kids think about opportunities that maybe they didn't know existed, and how they can go about doing something similar," said Ranallo.

Insights from the two-and-half hour visit took McAlester High School's Davian Noels by surprise.

"It's really opened my eyes to careers on the base that don't necessarily include being on the front lines," said Noels. "It gives you a good wide range occupations you can do to help your country."

Education coordinators have been working with the students since they entered the GEAR UP program in the sixth grade. As their assigned education coordinator, Ranallo has taught them about financial literacy, study habits, scholarship searches and how to select the right college. She also meets individually with the students to help them develop goals and a plan for success.

"Each student has a different path and our goal is to expose them to the resources to achieve those dreams," said Ranallo.

Since entering the program in the seven years ago, the students have taken two field trips each year and have visited numerous college campuses, such as Eastern Oklahoma State College, East Central University, Southeast Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma. They have also been exposed to other educational opportunities like the Science Museum of Oklahoma and the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

GEAR UP support services for the students are provided through federal grants to Eastern Oklahoma State College and are awarded to communities with the socioeconomic need, said Ranallo.

As the largest employer in southeast Oklahoma, MCAAP routinely invests in the community's young people through various activities.

"Engagements with young people give us an opportunity to not only inform them about the types of jobs available here, but also about the important role that MCAAP employees play in our nation's defense," said Brian Lott, MCAAP chief of staff. "It's a win-win situation for everyone and we're pleased to be involved."

Other GEAR UP students from McAlester High School and Hartshorne High School will visit MCAAP on March 29 and April 25, respectively.

MCAAP is one of 17 installations of the Joint Munitions Command and one of 23 organic industrial base facilities under the U.S. Army Materiel Command.