A group of 65 high school students sat in a Rice University classroom on a Friday morning as college students and recent grads discussed their personal college experiences. The panel would be one of the final events after a week of workshops and breakout session at the 7th annual summer youth program.

The program, hosted at Rice University by the Texas Diversity Council and the Rice University Multicultural Community Relations Office of Public Affairs, offers gifted, low-income students the opportunity to participate in, and learn about academic and professional achievement.

Students, who range from age 14-18, grades 9-12, dedicate a week of their summer to get five full days of sessions for PSAT prep, college admission essay-writing workshops, financial aid/admissions presentations and a ton of other useful tools and skills.

Going through high school while trying to prepare yourself for college and young adulthood can be challenging without any guidance or assistance, especially if you’re a first generation college student (which most of the students are).

The council encourages all students to complete the program for four consecutive years in which upon completion they receive a scholarship to the college of their choice. But in hindsight as a graduate of the program you gain so much more explains 19 year-old Priscilla Martinez, program graduate.

“It really made me understand how the outside world works and prepared me for college,” she said. “And showed me how to be professional and ask questions and to also not be afraid to ask questions and be my genuine self as I’m growing to adulthood.”

Often it’s easy for someone who has gone through a process and completed it to understand what it’s worth. But for others it could be a challenge to foresee the benefits of a program like this. However, it is needed if you want some early preparation says 15-year-old first year program attendee, Aliyah Jackson.

“I think it’s crucial for helping you in the process of preparing for college and a kick-start for professional development,” she explained. “And all the information were getting is really helpful and after talking to friends outside of the program a lot of my peers don’t know the information we’re getting here.”

To the students, this program is an instrumental contribution to preparing them for success in the years to come. While the students who commit to the program are applauded we must also acknowledge the professors and volunteers who dedicate their time to make sure the students are getting the knowledge they need for the path to achievement.

Fourth year writing workshop facilitator and HCC history professor, Kimberly Milton says she returns every year strictly for the betterment of the students.

“I return really and truly for the students. Most of them don’t like to write and I’m able to help them pull out their thoughts that are buried deep and develop them on paper,” says Milton. “I also like to build relationships, because even after the program is over I give them my email to keep in contact with me so I can track their progress or even just be accessible to answer questions.”

A program like this is a key component to a student’s well being and their overall success. More importantly it’s free, therefore creating equal opportunities for students of all kind and household types. National Diversity Council CEO, Angeles Valenciano explains.

“It has been said that true leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders. We are committed as an organization to create more leaders that are inclusive of all. This Youth Leadership Program is the pipeline of the next generation to advance the work diversity and inclusion in the workplace and community.”

For more information about the Summer Youth Program and how to get involved click here http://texasdiversitycouncil.org