WSU holds college readiness conference

Weber State University hosted the second annual Expect the Great conference on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. The conference is a college and career readiness fair aimed at African-American communities throughout Utah.

(Photo by Kenny Haeffele) During the annual Expect the Great conference, a speaker talks to the audience. The conference was to help high school students get ready for college and their future careers.

“It was an initiative that was started in response to a need to reach out to African-American students to get them into higher ed,” said Betty Sawyer, WSU’s director for the GEAR UP state partnership, “(and) also to make sure that the ones who were already in higher ed had the support and services to graduate from college and our universities.”

More than 10 Utah colleges and universities and more than 25 employers and community organizations were in attendance. The conference featured workshops, advising sessions, student discussion panels and vendor showcases. A step performance was put on by Ladies of Today, an organization which provides opportunities to women 13-18 years old. A continental breakfast and lunch were also served, and prizes were given away in a raffle.

“It went really well,” Sawyer said. “We had great participation from our community from along the Wasatch Front. It seems like our attendance grew from last year, so we’re excited about that. One of the other points of the event that was really great for us is the amount of representation we had from our colleges and universities.”

The conference drew people from all over the state, from Tooele to the Wasatch Front and beyond. Martyn Fuqua, a freshman at Dixie State College, said he drove up from St. George specifically for the conference.

“It’s a great experience,” Fuqua said, “to be able to communicate with other people from different schools in Utah, you know, talk and see different faces. I think it was a great experience and I want to do it again.”

Tavaras Fuller, a student leader at the University of Utah, said he thought the conference was great.

“A lot of different people coming together for the sake of fellowship and all that — a wonderful experience to be a leader and have so many young people ready to take that next step in life.”

Sawyer said the conference was open for all ages, including elementary, junior high, high school and university students.

“One of our goals is to help develop that college-going culture early in our young people’s lives so by the time they get to high school, it’s not a question of whether they’re going to go, but it’s where, which school will I attend,” Sawyer said. “And so we encourage families to bring their whole family up, and not just the older kids.”

Darnell Blackett, a senior from Northridge High School who attended the conference, said he was planning on continuing his education at a college or university and the conference was helpful and informative on how to get “financial aid and stuff like that.”

Educational organizations in attendance included WSU, U of U, Utah Valley University, Westminster College and Snow College. Employers and community organizations included the Department of Workforce Services, Starbucks Coffee Company, the U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management, Utah Transit Authority, and Teleperformance USA.

“This definitely was a major event and a big part of our effort, but it doesn’t stop here,” Sawyer said. She said all of the institutions were asked to follow up with the students and families to let them know they are there to help. “They all offer such outstanding programs that there’s something there for everybody. If they can’t find it at Weber, they can find it someplace else. And so that’s been exciting for us, to be able to come together as these institutions and now to work to make sure we keep these people engaged and on the radar so that we’ll see them on one of our campuses in the fall, if not sooner.”