Creative, helpful, innovative, inspirational and fun. These are just a few words students used to describe the first Clemson University Lowcountry Student Summit (LSS) at the Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly 500 students, parents, and educators spent the fourth Saturday in January at the school learning about pathways to college, career preparedness, and best practices for fostering inclusive classrooms.
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“We reached out to underrepresented students in the Lowcountry to reinforce a message that always bears repeating, and that is, ‘You are valued,’” said Lee Gill, Clemson University chief inclusion officer. “Our goal is to make sure students know their worth from grade school, to college, to the workforce. I think we accomplished that at the LSS.”
An extension of Clemson’s Men of Color National Summit, the LSS benefited male and female students in grades eight to 12 by providing tools, resources, and encouragement.
The Charleston County School District (CCSD) served as the LSS presenting partner.
“Education should be equitable and as we strive to close the achievement gap, we saw this event as a way to prepare young people for success moving forward as college students and in their careers,” said Erica Taylor, CCSD chief of staff, Office of Strategy and Communications. “The ever-changing demographics of the CCSD demands that we create and foster educational opportunities for all of our students and based on the success of the most recent summit, we are proving our commitment to giving all students access to the best in education.”
100 percent of attendees who took an online survey about the Summit said they would recommend friends and/or colleagues attend future Clemson summits. One student commented, “It helped me open up and understand how my confidence can be a good thing for me when it comes to expressing my talents.”
An educator and parent of two young boys wrote, “I understand the dynamics of African American young men in the Charleston County School District from many angles and it is complex to say the least; however, I know the benefits of intentional efforts inside and outside the classroom to engage, promote, develop, and encourage our young men.”
Shiron Hart is among those young men. He said the Summit resonated with him in a very personal way.
“It taught me stuff I wouldn’t learn in a regular classroom setting,” Hart said. “I learned if you want something in life you have to go take it. So, like, instead of working for somebody, you have to become an entrepreneur and have somebody work for you.”
Moryah Jackson, director of diversity education in the Division of Inclusion and Equity at Clemson, established a steering committee in Charleston County to help create work sessions that supported the goals and objectives of the Summit.
“We know education and economic development go hand-in-hand,” Jackson said. “That is why the LSS provided more than 25 workshops to help ensure that every student meets the 21st century profile of the graduate so they’re ready for the workforce, a technical college, four-year college/university, or the military.”
The College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), and Trident Technical College also committed time and resources to the Summit.
“It was a privilege to be a member of the steering committee, and to observe attendees during the Summit,” said Emily-Elise Martin, Trident Technical College Student Employment Services.’ “The students, parents, and administrators were fully engaged with the presenters, who shared a wealth of career expertise and life experience. A better opportunity to exchange information, and positively impact students of color, does not exist! #ClemsonMoC #CULowcountryMoC #2020onthehorizon.”
Trident Tech’s Lou Robinson also enjoyed her experience serving on the steering committee. She said, “The Summit was a major turning point to change the leadership paradigm for Lowcountry students of color.” Robinson also tossed out a “#Readyfor2020,” and said, “Let’s do it again!”
Jackson created “Paths to Success” student work sessions that involved more than 50 successful men of color – all postured as role models to challenge students to envision themselves as leaders of the future they map out for themselves.
“We gave of our time as an example for the students to pay it forward in the future,” said Dennis Muhammad, Charleston County School District (CCSD) director of GEAR UP.
Muhammad said he told young men in his session, “We are all here for you because others were here for us to ensure our growth and success.”
Muhammad told students he and fellow presenters stood on the shoulders of great men and women who invested in them.
“Whether it was a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, or a sacrifice to take us on a Saturday trip to expose us to something different, we are paying somebody back,” Muhammad shared. “I told them (students), ‘What you don’t see while we are standing in front of you, are the hundreds and thousands of people who helped us get here. They are a part of our individual success, so you shouldn’t look at your current or future success as individual success. It is a collective effort to make every individual successful.’”
The 25 “Paths to Success” student sessions addressed many of the complex, social issues students face, and covered everything from discovering cultural identities through music, to college and career tests.
Motivational speaker Brian Heat helped seal the day with high energy and words of encouragement and wisdom.
With the crowd of students circled around him and cellphone flashlights activated and raised high, Heat shouted,
“When I say ‘I am,’ you say, ‘Amazing.’ I am,” shouted Heat.
“Amazing,” the students responded.
Heat told the crowd of students circled around him, “The reason I empty my soul when I talk to you is I may never see you again, and I have to leave a lasting memory in your mind that I believe in you!”
Julio Hernandez is the chief of staff for Clemson’s Division of Inclusion and Equity. He spent one-on-one time with several students at the Summit. He said one young man left a lasting impression on him.
“It was very moving to see young people take ownership of their own success. I especially connected with Seth Mapp, a Fort Dorchester High School junior,” Hernandez said.
Mapp came to the Summit dressed for success. He told Hernandez he did not want to miss out on “all the good information” he expected to find at the Summit.
“While Seth was dropped off to the event by his family, he came by himself. He caught my eye because I could tell he meant business after he sat on the front row of the theater to hear the summary of work sessions,” Hernandez reflected.
Clemson extended the Summit invitation to nearby Lowcountry school districts, including Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Berkeley, Colleton, Dillon, Dorchester, Hampton and Williamsburg counties.
Dr. Glenda Levine is the chief diversity officer for the Berkeley County School District. She called the LSS “an awesome experience for all in attendance.”
“The workshops were relevant, informative and inspiring,” Levine said. “I was pleased with the information I was able to bring back to my school district, and I look forward to attending the Men of Color National Summit in April. Thank you to Clemson University and Charleston County School District for engaging in this collaborative effort and making it available to students, educators, parents, guardians, and community members across the Lowcountry and beyond!”
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More than 65 students in Clemson’s Emerging Scholars Program attended the summit. The students represented seven high schools in cities and towns along the I-95 corridor of South Carolina.
“The LSS made it possible for students throughout the region to build their networks and examine additional pathways to higher education,” said Jason Combs, Emerging Scholars associate director. “Our students were able to enjoy the summit setting, some for the first time, as well as engage with notable influencers from across South Carolina. The sessions, panels, and guest speakers all came together to create an experience I hope we can build and grow in the coming years.”
The Emerging Scholars Program focuses on academic preparation, leadership skills and the college application process. Students stay on Clemson’s campus several times throughout the program, and Clemson staff meet with them itheir schools and communities.
“The Summit provided the positive images, words of encouragement, and positive reinforcement our youth continually need in order to believe they can be focused on accomplishing their hopes and dreams regardless of their zip code and race,” said Clay Middleton, City of Charleston director of Business Services. “Additionally, our youth must know that a universal group of people truly loves them, cares for them, supports them, and wants them to succeed. The summit echoed such sentiment.”
Like the Men of Color National Summit, the LSS included exhibits from various colleges, businesses and the military.
“The primary purpose of the Men of Color National Summit, and now the Lowcountry Summit, is to encourage students to attend college and earn a degree,” said Chuck Knepfle, Clemson Enrollment Management associate vice president. “However, a close second is to make sure that as they consider where to go, Clemson remains prominently on that list. By showcasing all of our academic colleges we can give them the one-on-one attention of the programs they are interested in. By including Honors and pre-med advising, we can show them the academic heights they can achieve if they enroll.”
Educators participated in sessions that promoted student success and examined the impact of the disproportionately high incidences of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) among students of poverty and color in workshops with Dr. Sandy Addis, director of the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC). Addis shared ACEs alter assumptions, mindsets and thought patterns of students, as well as how such factors result in behaviors and learning challenges that interfere with school success and graduation.
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The Summit also gave parents a lot to think about and act on. “Preparing for Graduation and Beyond: A student’s pathway into and through K-12” is a session that featured a presentation by LaTisha Vaughn-Brandon, director of the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative Networks and Community Engagement. Vaughn-Brandon talked about academic and social milestones and shared resources parents can use to help their students prepare for graduation and beyond. Another session, presented by Dennis Muhammad, focused on the kinds of questions guardians should ask teachers and guidance counselors.
Many LSS participants said they already registered for Clemson’s Men of Color National Summit, April 25-26 at the Greenville Convention Center, noting it quickly sells out.
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