Written by: Jackie Mora
For teenagers and young adults, choosing which college to attend or what kind of career they want to pursue can prove to be a daunting task. Busy parents and eager students pored over the information and resources offered at the 11th annual Riverside College and Career Fair.
Presented by Bank of America on Sep.30 at the Galleria at Tyler, the free event featured nearly 100 colleges, universities and career technical education schools.
Alvord, Jurupa and Riverside school districts co-hosted the event, As well as the City of Riverside, Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce and the Riverside County Workforce Development Board. Businesses such as Kaiser Permanente and the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa were also present to offer students possible internships, volunteer opportunities and career connections.
The college and career exhibit tables extended over the entire upper level of the shopping mall.
Parents and students navigated their way through the crowded event with the help of programs which were being passed out. “ I came in to work the second shift and you could barely walk through the crowd, I think the turnout is great,” said Lilin Tse, an ambassador with the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce. “The students I met today, they are very polite. I handed them bags and programs and they’ve been really appreciative and you know, I love it, then I don’t mind standing here, it is awesome!”
Students took advantage of financial aid information and counselors available on hand at the event.
Some students were accompanied by their parents while others were dropped off to explore on their own or in groups with their classmates.
“She wants to go to college,” said Barbara Kutschal, a mother whose daughter is a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School. “We both agreed that the sooner we start exploring and learning about the different colleges, the more informed she’s going to be to make those decisions.”
Kutschal had never attended this type of event before. Her advice to other parents is to let their children have this experience. “Don’t overcrowd them, as you notice I’m standing in the back, it’s not my business,” Kutschal said. “She needs to be an adult and ask questions. It’s her job, it’s her schooling, it’s not mine.”
Many parents took this same approach, but it was clear that they were there to reassure their children. “Somebody needs to support them, whether it’s an aunt or an uncle, Kutschal said. “They need support. College is scary,” she laughed heartily. “I’m not quite ready for it.”
RCC’s Gateway College and Career Academy was in attendance to inform struggling students of the other options available to them besides the traditional high school path.
“The main thing that sets us apart is that we give students a second chance,” said Isaac Contreras, counselor and outreach coordinator for Gateway. “Our mission is to serve students that maybe fell behind, are at risk of dropping out or maybe kids that just don’t really understand the whole high school atmosphere.”
Gateway allows students to earn a high school diploma plus college units at the same time. This way students will have some college credits towards a certificate program or a degree transfer.
“ A lot of the students here are looking for that next step and most of them are doing well in school and on track to make that choice,” said Miguel Contreras, director of Gateway, in regard to the students at the college fair.
Gateway’s purpose at the event was to get the word out to other youth such as classmates or family members of the attendees. “The youths that we met with last year ended up enrolling at our school and referred their cousin, brother or sister,” Contreras said. “A lot of parents walk through here so they pick up information.”
Contreras explained that students who join the program will be encouraged and expected to excel and thrive academically.
“That’s something that’s really missing from alternative education,” Contreras said. “They do credit recovery work but there isn’t a lot of college preparation happening, so a program like ours keeps that bar high.”
Employers such as the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa informed guests of holiday job openings. “You do have to be 18 years of age or older, so our crowd has been a little limited,” said Leo Castro, quality and training manager for the hotel. “ We have over 150 positions that we are currently offering to those that are qualified for the positions.”
Opportunities for youth volunteers were also showcased at the event.
“There were a lot of interested high school students who want to give back to their community in our High School Bigs program where they would be a mentor to an elementary student,” said Monique Osorio with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Inland Empire. “It’s just great to see how many people are interested in giving back and in becoming a role model for somebody else.”
Allowing and encouraging students to be curious and get answers was the message coming from all sides of the event.
“I think it’s important they see all the schools, that they visit all the tables, pick up all of the literature,” said Joy Brower, alumnae representative for Smith College. “Really look into it because we have so many opportunities in this country for education more so than any other country.”