College Awareness Day awakens students

Franco Bulaon
Franco Bulaon welcomes students to conference. / Photos by Hannah Dinero

More than 300 high school students were awakened to new possibilities for their future on May 12 at the College Awareness Day at the University of Washington Bothell.

The UW Bothell admissions staff created the event “to give students a glimpse of what college can be, what their future can be and to celebrate themselves and their identities,” said Franco Bulaon, admissions adviser and event organizer.

The first-year, sophomore and junior students mostly came from the Seattle area but also as far away as Wenatchee, Bulaon said. This is the first time UW Bothell combined separate affinity group events into a larger conference for diversity, access and inclusion for high school students.

College Awareness Day banner

After hearing from keynote speaker Nikkita Oliver at the North Creek Events Center, students attended workshops and heard speakers selected for a variety of groups:

  • Asians Connecting and Empowering Students (ACES)
  • Black Opportunity and Leadership Day (BOLD)
  • Día de Avanzando Latinx en Educación (DALE)
  • Pacific Islanders Pursuing Education (PIPE)
  • Reaching American Indian Nations (RAIN)

The day helped expand the notion of college for the students, said Miguel Macias, director of UW Bothell’s student diversity center.

“It’s profound to step onto a college campus and see yourself here and to be able to see people that look like you, who come from places you come from,” Macias said. “It’s such a jolt of confidence for students. Sometimes, that’s all they need to feel empowered and to make UW a possibility.”

The program also raised awareness of other colleges and universities in the region, with about two dozen distributing school-specific information in a “college fair” setting. In other breakout sessions, students got advice on topics including Funding Your College Education, Writing the College Essay and Making the Most Out of Your College Visits.

At the start of the day, Oliver offered inspiration to the high school students with her personal story of growing up in Indianapolis. The artist, organizer and 2017 Seattle Peoples Party candidate for mayor said her counselor in a large high school didn’t even suggest she go to college, despite her high grade-point average.

“How many feel college is outside your reach?” she asked those assembled on the UW Bothell campus, noticing a few who raised their hands.

Oliver shared how she strung together small scholarships to stay in college and make the most of the experience. Among other things, she said, it was her education that helped give her the confidence to take on a mayoral debate.

“College prepared me to be in that situation, because it taught me how to take massive amounts of information and synthesize it… to learn how to dig through it and be prepared for any question anyone could ask me,” Oliver said.

In the audience were Nate Navarro and his son, Nathan, left, who is a first-year student at Lake Stevens High School. The family already has ties to UW Bothell through Nathan’s sisters, Ariana (a senior), and Ellissa, who will start in fall 2018.

“College is really important in our family, because I’ve seen it change lives, give opportunities to open doors and careers,” said Nate Navarro. But, growing up poor in San Antonio, “It didn’t seem like it was within reach,” he added.

After moving to Washington to work at Boeing, Navarro earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business management through Phoenix University. He now works at Seattle City Light.

Events such as College Awareness Day are important, he said, because they hels high school students think ahead.

“What I like about this activity is it starts with what I call the awakening. It starts with awakening to these opportunities so you can be aware. Then once you’re aware, that helps you make a decision,” he said.

The question for his son is not whether he’ll go to college but which one, Navarro said.

Nathan Navarro likes math and hands-on classes in manufacturing tech and digital design.

“I want to go far in life, get a good job and career,” he said. “I’m privileged to be here and learn about stuff. It’s really exciting to me.”

The keynote speaker, Oliver, left, also said that going to college taught her to be a transformative agent.

Nikkita Oliver

“How many of you all want to change your communities?” she asked, acknowledging more students raising hands. “Go to college,” she told them.

“It can be scary to leave your neighborhood,” Oliver said. “It can be scary to leave the place that you know. It can be scary to take on debt. It can be scary to go to a place where you may not see anyone who looks like you for a whole day.

“But I promise you: If you invest in your future by going to college, you will be investing in a future for all of the people in your family, all the people that live in your neighborhood, because you will learn how to be a transformer in that space.”

Learn about the diversity center at UW Bothell, a center for students, by students.

Look back on the first 50 years of the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and imagine the possibilities for the next 50.

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