High school students are target of UC Merced conference

By Yesenia Amaro / yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 20, 2012 

Getting high school students excited about leadership and attending college is one of the main goals of a conference next week at UC Merced.

Alex Ela, a senior and internal vice president for the student government at UC Merced, said the event's aim is "for them to know and understand that they can make it to higher education," he said of the high schoolers.

The Leadership Conference on Sept. 29 is sponsored by the Associated Students at UC Merced and planned by a committee of students, including Ela.

This will be the conference's third year. About 330 students have registered, he said. The event is free, and interested students will be placed on a waiting list, Ela said.

This year's attendance is a big jump from the last two years, when only 70 to 80 students participated. "This year we are hitting a record," Ela said.

The conference has several purposes, including connecting the community -- especially high school students -- to the university, Ela said.

"The university is a huge resource for the students," he said.

The student government allocates funds every year to cover conference expenses. Participants can take part in leadership workshops, engage in team-building activities and interact with students from other high schools. There will be a speech from motivational speaker Scott Greenberg, a cancer survivor, Ela said.

Charles Nies, associate vice chancellor for student affairs at UC Merced, said he believes it's great that students at UC Merced are able to organize such an event.

Part of the idea behind the conference was to connect with student leaders at the surrounding high schools and find a way to support their initiatives at their campus, he said.

It's a good opportunity to interact with college students, he said. And students are the ones going out and making it come together.

But one aspect of the conference that the university will probably have to evaluate at some point is the number of students who are able to participate, Nies said.

"What's our maximum target and how do we do this in a way to continue to support the objectives of the program?" he asked.

In prior years, students had to attend Merced County high schools to attend the conference. But this year, the conference was open to any interested high school student in the Central Valley, Ela said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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