A college counselor’s office brims with a variety of pendants, logos, and brochures, touting universities and what they have to offer.
But the idea of going to college is just that — an idea — until high school juniors walk the halls and classrooms, and meet the students and faculty that make up an urban research university campus.
“By putting kids on the campus, they can picture themselves walking through these halls, they can see themselves in a classroom, they can picture themselves in the library,” said Herbie Walker, college counselor for Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus in Las Vegas. “Once they’re here walking around, it’s no longer something out in the ether that their parent or community leader is telling them about. They can picture themselves here.”
That’s what UNLV hopes for the 275 Clark County School District students who visited campus on Feb. 8 as part of African-American Scholars Day.
The annual event gives UNLV the opportunity to highlight its campus culture and academic programs, as well as the student organizations and support services available to high achieving African-American students who might decide to make the university their next home.
A similar event — Latinx Scholars Day — will be held on March 8, and will attract about 300 local students.
It’s part of a larger, multicultural recruitment plan at UNLV.
“They’re going to have a lot of options,” said Carlee Todd, associate director of tours and events for UNLV’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. “We want to get them on campus just so they see — is this your home? Do you feel like this is a place where you can identify and fit in?”
‘I found who I was’
Cherokee Conley, a senior psychology major, felt right at home at UNLV.
At a panel discussion during the scholars day event, Conley said that it was “really important” for her to find a college campus that embraced diversity. She had attended school in Louisiana, where most of her teachers and her classmates were white, and then moved to San Diego, California, where it was more diverse, but she still experienced racism.
“Coming to UNLV, I felt so much more comfortable,” Conley said. “I feel like I emerged into my identity — I found who I was. I made the decision to stop straightening my hair. I’ve made more of these changes to go back to my roots, which in turn is making me develop as a young adult.”
For the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report has ranked UNLV at the top of its annual list for campus diversity. Prior to that, UNLV achieved the No. 2 ranking for two years in a row.
And in 2015, UNLV became the first four-year institution in Nevada with a Hispanic enrollment rate of 25 percent, meeting the U.S. Department of Education’s definition of a Hispanic Serving Institution.
“We’re trying to welcome more and more students from our local community onto campus,” said Kristine Shay, executive director of admissions for UNLV. “So many of our local high school students haven’t yet been here, and we want the opportunity to show them exactly who and what we are, and what it means to be a part of the Rebel community.”
Rochelle Walker, another panelist and an academic advisor at UNLV, said that the people of UNLV “make this place.”
“Get to know the people, the staff,” she advised the CCSD students. “They will see you through.”
‘Fly, dive, and soar’
The panel discussion was just one portion of the jam-packed event, where students also heard from nursing major Gabriel Wan and Dr. Harriet Barlow, executive director of The Intersection, UNLV’s multicultural resource center.
“For me, higher education gave me the tools to be comfortable in my skin, and challenged me to be all that I can be … and even to be better than the best that I can be,” Barlow said during the keynote address. “A college education allows you to do what you love and what you’re good at. It allows you to give back and to pay it forward. It allows you to flourish. It provides amazing opportunities to fly, dive, and soar.”
Participants also toured campus, making stops at Lied Library, Hospitality Hall and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center. They also had the opportunity to explore a variety of student organizations and resources available on campus, as well as the academic programs that make UNLV stand out in the region and nation.
Amya Williams, a junior at Democracy Prep, plans to attend UNLV with the goal of becoming a pediatrician. She’s already taking college-level math at the College of Southern Nevada to prepare.
“It’s been really fun meeting new people,” Williams said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people as far as my profession goes and what I want to be when I grow up. They said if I keep going, that I won’t have to take as many math classes when I get to college. I’m already knocking some things out of the way.”
Walker said the focused attention on the African-American student population makes the opportunity even more robust and meaningful for Williams and his other students. He said that the university’s active recruitment at schools in the Historic Westside neighborhood of Las Vegas is also significant.
“When they come to any given tour that may be on a weekend or another day, there’s no guarantee that there will be a sizable representative amount of African-Americans on that tour," Walker said. “Events like African-American Scholars Day takes the pressure down a little bit. They feel less isolated. An event like this shows students that UNLV does care about the African-American community, and they want them to feel comfortable here. This is their home as much as anybody else’s.”