Summer Scholars give middle school students career crash course


By Michael Wunder, News Editor

Middle school students got a crash course in college preparation and career exploration June 29 during a unique career fair event at the Milo Bail Student Center. From 1 to 4 p.m., college-bound high school students from across the Metro area gave middle school students from the North Omaha Boys and Girls club a guided tour of the UNO campus and lessons on college and career advancement.

The high schoolers selected to lead the fair’s events are enrolled in UNO’s Summer Scholars Program. The program offers 46 bright high school seniors the opportunity to take part in a five-week pre-college summer session, which includes a week of dorm life, coursework and community service, among other activities.

The career fair event marked the first occasion when Summer Scholars had assumed the role of service-learners by sharing with area students what they learned from their own crash course, said Lucy Garza Westbrook, a Service Learning Academy associate.

Earlier in June, graduate students from Professor Karen Hayes’ “Human Resources in the Schools” class led workshops covering resume refinement, essay writing, interpersonal communication and interviewing with Summer Scholars students. The scholars shared their knowledge with metro area middle school students as they led them through career-exploration learning stations. The middle school students were also given the opportunity to talk with 16 business professionals about career possibilities.

The event developed over worries about middle school students’ engagement in their future academic and professional lives, Westbrook said.

“Every service learning project is in response to a need voiced in the community,” Westbrook said. “One such need was recently mentioned by an area teacher that related how difficult it is for her to engage her students in conversations about career choices in middle school. Out of an initial meeting with partners in this particular project the idea for the career fair targeting middle schools students evolved.”

Many students are not properly prepared for the future, Westbrook said.

“K-12 students, even entering college students, are not always prepared to achieve their career goals based on their understanding on how to purposefully pursue them,” she said. “This service learning project allowed UNO Summer Scholars students to explore career options in greater depth. By sharing it with K-12 students in the community, those visiting students are presented with the opportunity to think ahead.”

The project was a part of the Nebraska P-16 initiative, a coalition of 31 education, business and government organizations that focus on improving student success rates from preschool (P) through college (16), according to the initiative’s website.

“The hope is to engage students in their learning,” Westbrook said. “This event provides students with an opportunity to consider many of the possibilities.”

The Summer Scholars Program is sponsored by the UNO Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs. To qualify for the program, students must have a 3.0 cumulative GPA on a 4.0 grading scale, be a junior in high school during the spring preceding the Summer Scholars session and must be a resident of the Omaha metropolitan area. Students must also fill out an application requiring two professional recommendations and a personal essay expounding on major goals the student hopes to achieve within the next five years. A committee of UNO faculty and staff then selects finalists, and award them scholarships for specified program courses, student fees, books and parking permits.

The program is focused on preparing students to make the right choices when it comes to furthering their education.

“Students who know what is educationally required for specific fields will be better prepared to take the courses they will need to reach their career goals,” Westwood said. “The Summer Scholars students are here to prepare for college and develop professionally. They’re accomplishing their curriculum goals and, while doing so, are encouraging other students to do the same.”