College fair exposes 800 high school students to future opportunities

About 800 high school students from across the city visited the UChicago campus on July 13 for “Your Elevated Route to College,” a college fair co-hosted by UChicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program, the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Global Leaders Program and Chicago Scholars.

Kishauna McClain, who will be a senior at UChicago Charter School-Woodlawn Campus in the fall, said the experience will help make her college decision-making easier. “I was able to talk to colleges that I was interested in and get information that’s not on the schools’ websites, from people who are experts,” McClain said. “I was also able to speak to colleges that I hadn’t heard about before.”

Daniela Altamirano, going into her sophomore year at Walter Payton College Prep, said the fair was one of the highlights of her summer. “By introducing us to the college representatives who may play an important role in admissions, it helped us differentiate ourselves and make genuine connections, which helps to make the idea of attending your ‘dream school’ far more real,” she said.

Representatives from more than 135 colleges and universities across the country attended the fair. They included colleges that meet 100 percent of demonstrated need or tuition, based on family income; highly selective schools; colleges that have 25 percent or higher minority students; state flagship schools; and colleges with a STEM or liberal arts focus. The college fair supports the UChicago Promise initiative, which is aimed at helping Chicago high school students prepare for, gain access to and thrive in college.

“We are committed to connecting greater numbers of students to college success and the opportunity it provides,” said Sonya Malunda, senior associate vice president for community engagement in the Office of Civic Engagement, which oversees the Collegiate Scholars Program. “Addressing the barriers to college entry is critical, and the Scholars Fair is a major step in this direction.”

Marybeth Kravets, chief education officer and vice president of college partnerships for Chicago Scholars, added, “The collaboration between IIT, Collegiate Scholars Program and Chicago Scholars represents a shared belief in the importance of college access. As a result of this partnership, we were able to increase the impact by connecting more than 600 first-generation students to a wide variety of colleges and universities.”

To accommodate the large number of college representatives, the fair was set up in rooms throughout all three floors of Ida Noyes Hall.

“I love the way it was like a competition between the reps to get me to even look at their schools,” said Desmond Cain, who is going into his junior year at Urban Prep Charter School–Bronzeville. He was also surprised to learn that “a lot of colleges will pay for you to come see them at an overnight retreat, and some colleges will meet your financial aid needs.”

Workshops and Campus Exposure

A highlight of the fair was the workshops and panel discussions focused on different facets of gaining admission to and attending college. The workshops covered traditional topics such as essay writing and financial aid, including a session on particular considerations for undocumented students that was led by Tanya Cabrera, a career development coach and chair of the Illinois DREAM Fund. Workshops also delved into other important matters, such as the role civic engagement plays in getting into college and how students seek a first job when they step on campus.

The workshops and panel discussions were held in nearby campus locations, giving students the chance to experience authentic college classrooms. They were led by experts such as Amy Chan, director of UChicago’s University Community Service Center and associate dean of students, who led the “Civic Leadership on Campus & Beyond” workshop with recent UChicago grad Cameron Okeke; and Emily Benoit, AB ’11, an assistant director for the UChicago Office of College Admissions, who shared actual submissions to demonstrate how to write an effective essay and avoid common essay-writing mistakes.

“The application workshop showed me how to write a compelling personal statement that could possibly gain me admission into the college of my choice,” said Nneka Jones, who will be a sophomore at Westinghouse College Prep. “This fair has subsided all of my fears about going to college and has made me much more confident going into this process.”

Rick Browdy attended the fair with his daughter Maggie, who is entering her junior year at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, “because there were so many options for learning that she didn’t feel she would be able to cover it all.” He added, “It was incredibly well-organized, and the combination of workshops, panels and school fair greatly increased her current tool kit for the complicated and intimidating college search process.”