Alumni-led event in Seattle fires teens’ imagination about possible futures
Ken Jennings ’76 B.S. says one of the most important resources offered by volunteers at the Navigating Career Choices Conference in Seattle — run by the Yale Alumni Association of Western Washington in partnership with the Yale Black Alumni Association and Stanford Black Alumni Association — is simply to be a sounding board for middle and high school students anxious about next steps.
“They like hearing stories that aren’t focused on school work,” says Jennings. “What you get to do, your responsibility, and how people flourish in a college environment. Many young people haven’t seen or felt what college is like, and there’s a lot of pressure to do it correctly.”
Jennings took over as head of the Career Choices Conference from C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser ’08 B.A., who founded the event in 2011 as part of annual worldwide Yale Day of Service, being held this year on May 11. It includes a session on financial empowerment and one on the college application process, as well as breakout sessions in career sectors that students may be interested in, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), legal and financial, and art and education.
He says he’s focused on making sure young alumni are in attendance to answer students’ questions about the realities of college life. “Those who have graduated in the last 5 to 10 years, their connections are so much stronger,” Jennings says.
Gleser says she founded the conference — originally known as the “Do You Conference” — because she’d gone to Yale as a single mom, with little preparation for college life. “I went to college later in life, and there was so much I didn’t know,” she says. “I wanted to help provide information to other folks who didn’t know.”
The conference will reach about 75 Seattle-area students and their parents, with 15-20 Yale volunteers lending support. Jennings says he’s worked to find alumni who represent a range of academic backgrounds and career paths — and has a special interest in making the sciences more accessible to students of color.
An environmental compliance and sustainability consultant and adjunct professor of environmental management at the University of Maryland, Jennings says he wants kids to know that “you don’t have to be Einstein-ian to major in math or science.” Jennings, whose father was a zoologist, says it was easier for him to recognize science as a possible path.
He adds: “When we bring our stories to these kids, it helps to fire their imaginations and makes these futures seem possible.”