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Saturday summit to help smooth way for under-represented college students

Trump signs executive order on HBCUs

President Trump signed an executive order aimed at bolstering historically black colleges and universities by moving the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education to the White House. "T
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President Trump signed an executive order aimed at bolstering historically black colleges and universities by moving the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the Department of Education to the White House. "T

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would remind me, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As an adult, I am starting to understand the power of this African proverb.

I see promising North Texas black high school students excited about taking the next step to enrolling and attending college someday. I realize they must have a strong support system to help them become both college and career ready.

Unfortunately, in a world where wealthy families can pay for their child’s college admission, often black children must find ways to navigate without wealth and social capital. And although they have earned academic achievement and come from loving families, they can easily be overlooked if they do not have mentors and networks to guide them.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that only one Texas college graduated more than 100 African-American men in 2016. Black women, over time, are faring better than men – but they still face other challenges compared to their counterparts.

From my own research and experience I’ve come to realize they need someone to show them the way. That’s why eight years ago we held our first “Cutting Edge Youth Summit” at El Centro College-West.

As founder and executive director of the Action Research Center, our mission is to advance student and community leadership development. Our communities have great cultural wealth, and we must mobilize it to help “first generation” college students and their parents prepare.

I look forward each spring to being an ambassador and SMU host for another Youth Summit. This year’s event is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at the SMU Cox School of Business, and it is free and open to the public.

Since it coincides with SMU’s Founder’s Day Weekend, participants will meet alumni who look like them and have traveled the college path successfully.

We know from past summits that attendees leave knowing that the timeline and expectation will include testing (ACTs or SATs), and that parents will have to create a FAFSA report in order to estimate how much money they’ll need to contribute to their education. They will also learn about options: HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), MSIs (Minority Serving Institutions), liberal arts colleges and public universities.

More than anything, the summit gives hundreds of students who attend an actual sense of going to college. They will tour SMU classrooms, living/dining quarters, athletic and commons facilities – and hear professors, staff and alumni offer insights about classes and career paths.

Many of the volunteers who work the summit are either former attendees or parents who want to help mentor. Keisha Ware, an attorney for Student Legal Services at the University of North Texas, volunteers to help students understand the power of networking and the village. Her daughter, Saella Ware, a graduate of Mansfield High School, has been accepted to SMU, Howard University, UNT, and the University of Texas at Austin.

College is a different experience for everyone – but especially for families where no member has ever had the experience. The opening speaker, Ray de los Santos – executive director of LULAC National Educational Services, Inc., of Dallas – will share his story of being a first-generation college student and provide tips for success.

We’ve been able to help nearly 2,000 middle, high school and junior college students since 2011. Our goal is simple: Get summit attendees to the point where they can honestly say, “Yes, I can see myself there.”

Professor Candice Bledsoe is founder and executive director of the Action Research Center, and teaches the Dallas Graduate Liberal Arts Program in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU Dallas.

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