“Your life isn’t what happens to you, but how you play your hand.” These words were used to encourage youth from five rural East Texas schools at the 2023 Rural Student Success Initiative College and Career Expo.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Rural Student Success Initiative (RSSI) works to “increase the number of rural students enrolling in and completing a higher education certificate or degree program,” according to their website.
The first RSSI College and Career Expo was held in Lufkin, Texas, on February 8, 2023, at the Pitser Garrison Convention Center. More than 500 7th and 8th grade students, teachers, and support staff from Apple Springs ISD, Huntington ISD, Jasper ISD, San Augustine ISD, and Spurger ISD were invited to “get fired up” about their future at the event. Participants engaged with a keynote speaker, participated in teambuilding, critical thinking, and professionalism workshops, and had the opportunity to speak with representatives from more than 50 college and career organizations at the expo.
The evaluation results showed that students walked away inspired and motivated to seek a college or career credential following their high school graduation. Mirroring the comments made in many of the student evaluations, one participant enjoyed the event so much that she said, “it was fun, and I know now what I want to do with my life.”
The keynote speaker, Aric Bostik, met the participants with high energy and the message that they actually can shape the trajectory of their own life. Bostik encouraged the youth to start dreaming about their future now and create a plan for how they needed to achieve their goals.
Deep East Texas Workforce Solutions also led workshops requiring the youth to come together through a series of “sticky” teambuilding and critical thinking exercises.
“We are just thrilled to see so many of our rural students walk away more confident and knowledgeable about the multiple pathways, whether it be a community college, trade school or four-year college, which they can choose from,” Maria Luna-Torres, Ph.D., Project Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension said. “This inaugural event was at least a year in the making and was an intentional and collaborative effort to raise student’s aspirations early on, while they still have time to prepare academically.”
RSSI’s College and Career Expo was made possible by the support it has received from four of Texas’ premier education philanthropies. In addition to multi-year funding from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to support RSSI’s East Texas school district partners, the Greater Texas Foundation, Meadows Foundation and Trellis Foundation have provided major funding that has enabled RSSI to impact rural students in other regions of the state. RSSI’s programs would not be possible without the deep commitment to the success of Texas’ rural students by this group of private foundations.
“With RSSI, rural students in Texas have the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the multiple choices of postsecondary institutions that can prepare them for the labor market and can enable them to reap the benefits of an improved quality of life and economic well-being.” Dr. Wynn Rosser, President & CEO, TLL Temple Foundation said.
Visit rssi.tamu.edu for more information about the program.