Mission High School senior Demerius Durham smiled modestly yet excitedly as he clutched a cellphone to his ear at a first-of-its-kind college recruitment fair in San Francisco on Monday.
“Dad, guess what?” the 17-year-old student said into the phone. “I got $30,000 in scholarships from one college.”
Durham's acceptance into South Carolina's Benedict College — which he achieved by presenting his transcripts and filling out an application — was among dozens of on-the-spot admissions offered Monday at 32 schools in the U.S. as part of The City's first Historically Black College Recruitment Fair sponsored by the United College Action Network
The recruitment fair — established in 1999 by the nonprofit U-CAN to assist students in attending historically black colleges and universities — will reach about 1,000 students at each of its 12 stops in California and Nevada on its 14-day tour this month, said Alan Rowe, who founded U-CAN with his wife, Donna, in 1988.
“What our program does is make sure that parents and students know that there's not only hope but there's reality to making dreams real,” Rowe said. “We believe and know that every student … can go to college and graduate.”
San Francisco students previously were bused to Oakland, one of the event's other Bay Area locations, to attend the annual recruitment fairs, said Rowe.
This year, U-CAN partnered with the San Francisco Unified School District and the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators for the first time to bring the fair to Mission High, where students from virtually all of The City's public high schools came out to apply to college. At least one student received a more than $100,000 scholarship Monday, and at least four more received scholarships of $68,000.
Approximately 200 to 300 students are accepted into colleges at each stop, Rowe said, and San Francisco was no exception. The fairs are open to students of all ethnicities, and the organization typically serves up to 40 percent nonblack students.
“We want to make sure we expose all students to the options that are open to them,” Rowe said.
SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza echoed that the event is all about giving students in San Francisco plenty of choices.
“We want our students to have opportunities,” Carranza said. “So bringing this tour here and [giving] students the opportunity to meet face-to-face with college representatives is incredibly important.”
Students graduating in 2015 and SFUSD high school graduates were instructed to bring transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, two letters of recommendation and a personal essay. Eighth- through 11th-graders were told to bring copies of transcripts and cards with their contact information. Application fees were waived.
“Very often, our students become discouraged, [they] don't think that they can go to college at all,” Emily Wade-Thompson, president of the San Francisco Alliance of Black School Educators and an SFUSD employee, said of the 4,500 black students who comprise 9 percent of the district's nearly 53,000 K-12 students.
Mission High Principal Eric Guthertz said he was grateful to have the college recruitment fair at his school and attributed such events to helping Mission High's rate of students who enroll in college climb from 30 to 80 percent in the past decade.
Back at the Benedict College recruitment table, Phyllis Thompson, the school's director of admissions and student marketing, handed an acceptance certificate to a beaming 17-year-old Jamier Scott, one of the school's 60 applicants who were accepted at the event.
“As a young kid I never thought I was really going to college, but now to even be accepted feels great,” the Balboa High School senior said.