Students Inspire Students in Inaugural S2S Conference
What’s the difference between high school and college? What’s a good way to plan financially for college? And how do you know which college or university to go to?
High school students looking ahead often get plenty of advice on these topics from family members, teachers and guidance counselors, but there’s nothing like hearing from college students who navigated the same territory just a couple of years ago and have figured out how to forge their own successful path.
“Parents can tell you a lot of things about college, but seeing someone who has just transitioned is more impactful,” said Dajza Mitchell, 21 of Glenwood, a junior at Governors State University. “We have more experience with what [students] have to deal with now from day to day.”
Mitchell was among GSU students who shared their expertise at the S2S Engagement Conference on March 1. Hosted by GSU’s College Pathways Program called “Level Up: Navigating the Road to Success,” it drew more than 100 south suburban high school students and at least two dozen GSU students for a day-long discussion of how to transition successfully from high school to college.
The event was designed to be student-driven and student-led, which meant students from both high school and college helped plan the logistics, create presentations and run the conference, said Kristy Goodwin, Director of the College Pathways Program.
“It’s good for high school students to hear from GSU students as well as their peers,” she said. “And it gets high school students involved in what adults do in their careers, like giving presentations and figuring out how to keep your audience engaged. They’re learning stuff they ordinarily wouldn’t experience until later in life.”
Among them was Daniela Saavedra, 17, a senior at Thornton-Fractional North High School who lives in Calumet City. As a panelist speaking on involvement and engagement, she said one of her challenges has been time management. “When I was younger, I’d procrastinate with assignments. I could do them at the last minute and still get a good grade,” she said. “But I learned that that doesn’t always work out. AP classes can be overwhelming. And it’s hard to balance what you need to do with what you want to do.”
Mitchell, who was also on the panel, pointed out, “In college you’re on your own. You’ve got to be a lot more disciplined. You need to be proactive about everything from your assignments to financial aid because no one is going to do things for you. But there are so many resources. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
John Perry, Director of Financial Aid at GSU, echoed the thought in a panel called “Money, Money, Money, Money.” Acknowledging that the question of how to pay for college invariably provokes plenty of questions, he urged students to ask college staff for help, no matter what the question might be.
“A financial aid package shows what you’re eligible for, but you should borrow only what you need,” he said.
One high school student wondered, “Wouldn’t you want to accept it all?”
“Grants, yes,” Perry told her, “but not loans. Watch your borrowing. It can start to add up. Realize you’re going to have to pay it back with interest, and you’ll want that money from your first job to go to things like car payments or rent.”
While Perry was among a handful of GSU staff members who offered advice at the conference, most of the voices belonged to students. They tackled topics like how to handle stress, what study abroad experiences are like and how to graduate from college debt-free.
And while the goal was to prepare participants for heading off to whatever college or university they choose, the teenagers heard several good reasons to choose GSU.
Describing how he decided which school to attend, panelist Pete Brassea, a GSU senior majoring in social work, said, “I looked at location and affordability. To me, diversity was important. And I wanted to go to a place where I wasn’t in a class with 100 other students. I wanted the professor to know my name.”
Both he and Mitchell also credited their success in part to the Dual Degree Program, the unique, award-winning partnership between GSU and 17 Chicagoland community colleges that supports students in earning an associate’s degree first.
“It had a tremendous effect on me,” said Mitchell.
The conference, which Goodwin said may become an annual event at GSU, clearly resonated with participants. “It was definitely worth it,” said. Terrell Steele, 15, a sophomore at Crete-Monee High School who lives in University Park and is contemplating a career as a professional chef.
“I got to gather a lot of info like how to manage financial aid, how to deal with stress, and about the different curriculums and activities,” he said. “And you’ve got to have fun because college goes by fast.”