When sophomores and juniors from eight Dallas high schools turned up for a College and Career Fair at The University of Texas at Dallas Wednesday morning, there was plenty of rah-rah as the students entered the school gym through a gauntlet of UTD cheerleaders and red-jacketed City Year members clapping encouragement.
But according to Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, the fair was about more than just cheerleading. “Rah-rah is good, but substance is even better,” Hinojosa said of the event, which was presented by the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Texas Instruments, and Fluor Corp., among others. “The United Way has a lot of cachet, and these are strong corporations. They’re not involved by accident, but by design. They have a lot of muscle.”
Part of the United Way’s community impact series called United for Change presented by Texas Instruments, the event matched more than 500 students in breakout sessions with nearly 100 volunteer mentors. The volunteers came from TI, Fluor, and Ricker Retirement Specialists, as well as UW service provider partners The Princeton Review Foundation and City Year, an education-focused national service organization.
Following a kickoff pep rally, the students received study tips and tools to navigate career choices and sharpen their job-interviewing skills, among other activities. They also took a virtual tour of UT Dallas’ high-tech learning center focused on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math.
The emphasis on STEM is especially important, TI’s Peter Balyta explained after the kickoff rally, as there’s expected to be a shortage of workers to fill 1.2 million STEM-related U.S. jobs by 2018. “We’re always looking for talented engineers” and technicians at Texas Instruments, said Balyta, president of the company’s education technology division. “We want these kids to know we believe in them. Their success is critical to all businesses, including TI.”
Also participating in the fair were Usher’s New Look foundation—the eight-time Grammy Award winner is a Dallas native—and Dallas billionaire Todd Wagner’s Chideo, a charity-based fundraising platform. During a brief appearance on video during the kickoff rally, Usher told the students, “I believe in you. Do you believe in you?”
Opening the event, Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of the local United Way, also aimed to inspire the students. She pointed out that college graduates could be expected to make $50,000 annually, compared to $30,000 for high-school grads and $24,000 for high-school dropouts.
Schools participating in the UTD fair were Molina High School, Thomas Jefferson High School, Spruce High School and Roosevelt High School, as well as early college campuses Samuell High School, Garza High School, Lassiter High School, and Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy.