Pedro D. Morales
More than 850 seniors from 51 Houston area high schools invaded the University Center Thursday to experience first-hand what college life is all about.
Joined by their counselors, some school principals and their parents, the seniors attended the University of Houston's college preparation conference, The Event '97, sponsored by the Black Leadership Network in conjunction with the Office of Admissions, the African-American Studies Program and a number of other UH and community agencies.
Now in its third year, the Black Leadership Network conceived The Event as a response to decreasing enrollment in 1995.
Its goal, according to sponsors, is "to give students the opportunity to interface with enthusiastic UH (representatives who have) a vested interest in students' success and promoting the rich culture of African-American people."
Tyrene Houston, assistant director of admissions, said the conference is "essentially an opportunity for the Black Leadership Network to make a contribution to impact overall enrollment at UH."
Edgar Berry, president of the network, welcomed the mostly African-American students on behalf of the organization which, as he described, "brings together black faculty and staff at UH to promote academic excellence."
High school counselors used such excellence in selecting students who would attend the conference. All seniors attending had at least a "B" average, showed leadership potential, had an interest in attending UH and were recommended by an official at their home school.
Percy Bigas, a counselor at Kashmere High School, pointed out that all the students were in the top 10 percent of their classes, which made them appealing to UH recruiters.
"Kids get a chance to see the college scene," Bigas said of the conference's value. "It also pumps up the school."
James E. Anderson, executive associate to the president, spoke on the advantages of attending UH. "We want you here because of two reasons: You're the best and the brightest."
One of the day's highlights was the introduction of Natalie Merritt, the first African-American president of the Students' Association, the university's student governing body. Merritt's introduction drew an ovation from the crowd.
Kenya Newhouse, director of the Urban Experience Program, another sponsor, emphasized the leading role the students will play in the future.
"You will be the next people on this stage running this university as well as others like it," Newhouse said.
The visitors were then encouraged to visit various sessions, including the Academic Fair, which gave information on different UH degree programs; the Student Panel, where Merritt and other UH students talked about the transition from high school to college; and a scholarship and financial aid information session.
"(The Event) is pretty cool," said Ray Terry, a student from MacArthur High School.