Cultural Unity Conference Draws Youth to UNK From Scottsbluff to Omaha

Kyle Petersen
Student Staff Writer

Nearly 400 multicultural students, from Scottsbluff to Omaha, registered to attend the fifth annual Cultural Unity Conference Friday, March 30, on the campus, according to Juan Guzman, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The 2007 theme is “Remembering the Past, Living the Present, Preparing for the Future.”While the conference is open to all high school students, the event is specifically tailored to underrepresented minorities.

Of the minority students who are registered, Latino students are the largest group. “The students who are coming are mainly Latino because of where we’re situated,” Guzman said, noting that the predominant minority population in Grand Island, Lexington, Hastings and Schuyler is Latino.

Other groups represented include Black, Asian and Native American youth. “We have intentionally invited keynote speakers who are of varied backgrounds,” Guzman said. “These are people who can say to the students, ‘I was once where you and sitting, and look at where I am now.’”

Keynote speakers for the event are Aaron Davis, a seminar leader for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Corporate Manager Certification program, and Nancy Montanez-Johner, undersecretary for Food and Nutrition Consumer Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Davis, the president of Aaron Davis Presentations, Inc., gives speeches across the country to individuals wishing to improve their personal and professional lives. Author of three books, including “10 Minute Truths,” and a member of the National Speakers Association, Davis has worked with various sectors including government, agriculture, medical, mortgage, sales, insurance, banking and education. Davis, a former Husker football player, was a member of the 1994 national championship team.

The second speaker,Montanez-Johner, will speak about the need for women to be college educated and become involved in government. Montanez-Johner, who serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Commodity Credit Corporation, was appointed by former Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to serve as the director of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in March 2004.

A UNK social work graduate,Montanez- Johner served as the HHS Western Service Area CEO in Gering from 2002-2003, and from 1999-2002, she was a service area administrator for HHS in Lexington. Before that, she worked in the Professional Partner Program at Region III Behavioral Health Services in Kearney from 1995-1999.

For the first time, University of Nebraska President James Milliken and members of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents will be present at the conference. Both Chancellor Doug Kristensen and President Milliken will address the group.

Students in 40 Nebraska high schools were invited to attend. This year, an additional effort was made to increase attendance from Lincoln schools. Representatives from the Office of Multicultural Affairs met with Lincoln students, and more than 100 have registered for the conference Among the planning committee members this year are three UNK students who were once conference attendees.

“They had come to the conference in past years, and when they got to UNK, they came in and volunteered to help with this year’s conference,” Guzman said.

While the conference wasn’t designed as a recruiting tool, it does have an impact on recruitment of minority students. “One year, we had approximately 47 seniors attend, and of those, about 30 applied,” he said. “We have good numbers.”

Guzman said the purpose of the Cultural Unity Conference is to promote cultural diversity in higher education. He said that because minority students are underrepresented in colleges across the country, the student organizations within the Office of Multicultural Affairs organized the conference to expand cultural diversity on the UNK campus.

“Through a series of workshops, meetings and discussions, we hope to recruit and inspire high school students from underrepresented groups to consider and commit to a college or university- level education.We hope to convince these students that the obstacles to a college education can be overcome,” Guzman said.

Students will choose which of six different workshops they wish to attend during the conference. The first workshop is “Immigration Issues,” which deals with admission, scholarships and financial aid offered at UNK. Guzman said immigration reform will be a main topic of the conference, as well as how immigrants can find means to finance their college education.

Other workshop topics and their content include: “Who Do You Think I Am?,” which focuses on racism, discrimination and stereotyping; “Explore Your Options,” alternatives to a four-year education, including military service and community college;

“Cultural Fair,” a broad look at world cultures; “Need Money for College?,” specifically deals with financial aid and other means to raise the necessary funds for college; and finally, “Life Styles of the Rich and Famous,” a workshop session that invites student leaders from the UNK community to talk with the conference attendees about college life.

Picture: Students assist with the Cultural Unity Conference. From the left, Astrid Garcia, Grand Island, Hispanic Student Association president; Wilfredo Cabrera, Lexington, general assistance; and Daphne Darter, Lincoln, conference chair.