The inaugural Envision U conference took place last week at our partner school St. Olaf College in scenic Northfield, Minnesota. Rising seniors from affiliates across the network arrived on Tuesday, June 20.
The first day was dedicated to getting everyone situated and of course, socializing and mingling. This was an exciting day for the scholars; for many, it was their first time on an airplane, and their first time meeting scholars from other affiliates.
The day ended with a welcome dinner and an ice cream social. Scholars had a great time getting to know each other, taking in the scenic surroundings, and playing beach volleyball.
Joining the scholars were Legacy Leaders – college graduates and Boys Hope Girls Hope alumni – who had volunteered and were instrumental in making the gathering a success.
Day two began with a reflection activity centered on the question of “Who am I, really?” led by Justin Adams, alumni of Boys Hope Girls Hope of New York. Scholars took the opportunity to think about who they are and how they want to be remembered and shared with the group how they see themselves.
Each day of Envision U began with reflections centered around questions like “Who am I, really?”, “Who and what do I care about?”, and “How do I want to be remembered?”
Team members led the scholars in exercises that were inspired by the work of Tim Klein, LCSW, and Dr. Belle Liang, authors of How to Navigate Life: The New Science of Finding Your Way in School, Career, and Beyond. Klein and Liang gave an inspiring presentation full of useful insights during the Scaling Up Hope leadership conference that took place in Phoenix, AZ, earlier this year. Boys Hope Girls Hope leadership and team members were impressed with their work, and thrilled to find that it supports the approach we have been taking in our program development.
Scholars then divided into three groups and attended tours of the St. Olaf campus. They got to learn about all the different ways to get engaged on campus and how they can make the most of their prospective college careers. Gladys Cortez, the Assistant Dean of Admissions, held a presentation about the admissions process, how the school can guide them through it, and why scholars ought to choose St. Olaf as their future college.
This was followed by breakout sessions on the topics “College Applications: Creating a Final List”, by Karen Acosta-Corona, the Academy Manager at Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado, “Applying to Highly Selective Colleges” by Paul Bonnito from Boston College, and “Scholarships 101”, led by Legacy of Hope Award winner Vernon Green, an alumnus of the Illinois affiliate, who offered useful advice about finding scholarships and answered questions from scholars about how to apply for “free money.”
Another high point of the day was the College Fair. Admissions counselors from nine partner schools — St. Olaf College, University of St. Thomas, Washington University, University of Denver, Saint Louis University, Santa Clara University, Boston College, Tulane University, and Carleton College — made their pitch to our scholars, who in turn asked tough and thoughtful questions about the different institutions. Scholars learned a lot and came away with new insights on their post-high school trajectories.
After dinner, the day ended with a second reflection and conversation exercise centered on “Looking Back and Moving Forward.”
Fr. Chris Collins of the University of St. Thomas led the scholars through an imaginative spiritual reflection exercise involving letting go of ego, selfish ambition, pride, envy and resentments, making themselves vulnerable and open to hearing God’s voice of love, affirmation, and calling. Scholars were incredibly attuned to the activity, describing it as peaceful and de-stressing.
Later that evening, team members ordered pizzas to the dorm, and scholars, Legacy Leaders, and team members shared food, hung out, talked about the day, and told stories.
REFLECTIONS ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
After breakfast and a short Reflection Exercise about “Who and what do I care about,” scholars, Legacy Leaders, and team members boarded a bus and headed to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul on the morning of Thursday, June 22.
First on the program was an inspiring and important panel discussion on Social Justice led by James Williams, Boys Hope Girls Hope’s Director of Post-Secondary Success and Strategic Partnerships, on the topic “Being a Person for Others.”
Scholars got to hear from Dr. Yohuru Williams, Distinguished University Chair and Professor of History and Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative, along with Blaire Rodenbiker, Coordinator of the Racial Justice Initiative, and Dr. Buffy Smith, Dean of the Dougherty Family College, all at the University of St. Thomas.
Scholars actively engaged in the discussion and asked thoughtful questions during the Q&A at the end. One scholar from the Illinois affiliate said that the panel discussion helped him figure out what he wanted to do with his life after college.
The panel discussion was followed by an engaging tour of campus, seeing the dorms, athletic center, classrooms, and student center. A lunch in the St. Thomas cafeteria capped off the tour, followed by a presentation on the St. Thomas admissions process.
Next, everyone headed to the Northrup King building in Minneapolis to visit Memorialize the Movement, a mural art collection, curated and run by Leesa Kelly. MtM is a grassroots organization that preserves, displays, and educates the public on the protest plywood murals that emerged after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis in 2020.
“I know what I want to do with my life now.”
—Illinois Scholar Mykel
Scholars and team members got a great tour of the giant art collection and a rousing, impassioned presentation from Kelly about the importance of grassroots activism and art.
Back on campus, scholars had free time to hang out before dinner. Later, everyone spent the evening outdoors with a bonfire, s’mores, games, volleyball, and pickup football.
Scholars also wrapped up an ongoing art project they had worked on during the gathering, wherein they decorated boxes to symbolize their hidden and public selves. The project ended with scholars handing out notecards with positive affirmations for each other, written during the previous days. Scholars expressed appreciation for the thoughtful kindness shown by everyone.
ENVISION U COMES TO AN END
On Friday, the final day of Envision U, scholars had breakfast before packing up and checking out of their dorm rooms. Next, everyone headed to nearby Carleton College for the third and final campus tour of the week.
Scholars were led around the beautiful campus by current students and got to ask questions and learn about the school. The day ended with lunch and finally, departure for the airport.
It is safe to say that scholars returned to their home affiliates with new knowledge and inspiration, new friends from across the country, and strengthened resolve about their future college careers.
Scholars expressed lots of gratitude and appreciation for the gathering and each other. We are already looking forward to next year’s Envision U at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA!