By AUSTIN KOELLER
KEARNEY – For some high school students, life after graduation is a blur.
On Wednesday, nearly 400 high school students from across the state learned how to make that transition smoother at the 12th Annual Nebraska Cultural Unity Conference.
Hosted by the University of Nebraska Kearney at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney, students learned more about college, military and career opportunities available to them after graduation.
“The main purpose of the conference is to promote higher education for the diverse, multicultural students within the state of Nebraska,” said Juan Guzman, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at UNK and organizer of the conference.
Traditionally hosted at UNK, Guzman said the conference outgrew the Nebraskan Student Union on campus and was moved this year to the Younes Center.
“If I’m a high school student and I want to be a teacher, I have an opportunity to go to the College of Education session,” Guzman said. “I want to find out what it’s like and what it is that I need in order to become a future teacher.”
The overall message of the sessions, Guzman said, is to get students interested in life after college.
“I truly understand that not everybody is going to be ready for a four-year institution, and not everybody wants to come to UNK. That’s fine,” he said. “We don’t care where they go, but we want them go somewhere and do something more than just high school.”
Presenters at the event included representatives from Central Community College, Joseph’s College of Beauty, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Nebraska National Guard and departments from UNK.
Michelle Ostmann, a UNK junior from Eagle, said it is important for students to always keep an open mind.
“I feel that keeping your mind open is why we eventually get people to change their major to Industrial Distribution,” Osmann said. “Keeping your mind open and getting involved in college is a huge thing.”
Osmann added that being professional is also important. “Know how to dress, know how to talk, know who you’re talking to at all times. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”
Alex Regenos, a UNK sophomore from Kearney, felt the conference was very meaningful.
“It has a big impact on them because they’re seeing different departments and getting an idea of what is expected of
them once they get here,” Regenos said.
Laura Neubauer, a guidance counselor at Gibbon High School, said that the conference is good at helping to build confidence of high school students.
“This is a need because when I bring them every year, there are some of my students who have graduated that are involved with this,” Neubauer said. “It’s been neat to see it grow. It seems to get better every year.”
High school students attending the conference said that it has helped them prepare for, and make decisions about, life after high school.
“I can see the opportunities they have and what I can get out of them,” said Santiago Lezama, a high school freshman from Grand Island. “I can take advantage of all of this.”
Adriana Raya, a high school freshman from Grand Island, said the presentations helped her to better prepare for college.
“There are people here to help you,” Raya said. “They show you everything from once you graduate to after you get out of college. It excites me more to go to college because it’s not as confusing.”
Raya said she would encourage others to attend the conference and hopes to attend it again herself.