Virtual college fair helps Western Slope students ‘meet their future’
Event aims to offer exposure and information for the region’s high schoolers
What: Colorado Western Slope College Fair
When: Sunday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Registration, Lineup and More Information: cwscollegeoutreach.org
Since 2004, the first Sunday in October has been a chance for thousands of students and parents from across western Colorado to envision — and quite literally see — what the future might hold as they scan a space filled with more than 200 higher education representatives attending the Colorado Western Slope College Fair at Aspen High School.
“They would get a picture of what’s possible and what’s out there for them,” said Kathy Klug, who has organized the event since its inception and serves as the director of Colorado Western Slope College Outreach.
This year, those students can all attend from home — and in pajama bottoms, Klug joked Thursday — because the event is being offered virtually Sunday to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The picture will come from a screen filled with 214 “rooms” that students can enter to engage with colleges from coast to coast.
“They can physically be right in their own home and have access to 214 colleges from their living room,” Klug said.
Participants will bookend the college exploration with two workshop sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are nearly 50 workshops — double the amount that were offered in person in 2019; all of the workshops will be available in both time slots on topics from scholarships to college athletics to pathways to certification and apprenticeships. Sessions on financial aid and navigating the admissions process also will be offered in Spanish.
The format offers enough flexibility for attendees to pop into multiple workshops during each of the two sessions, and students can come and go from the virtual rooms during the college fair to see as many schools as they can fit into two hours. Registration takes about two minutes according to Klug and grants attendees access to the whole shebang; parents also are welcome to attend workshops this year.
“It’s made for these kids to have no excuse not to meet their future,” Klug said.
It’s a “candy store mentality” in which students can “realize what you do want and what you don’t” simply by nature of all the exposure, Klug said.
That exposure is key, and it always has been for the fair; the event was established 17 years ago to bolster college engagement with Western Slope students at a time when high schoolers in the region might not have otherwise considered such expansive options, Klug said.
“My only job is to connect kids with college, especially rural, underserved kids” who might not otherwise have access to private college counselors or even the robust post-secondary counseling staff available for students at Aspen High School.
As of Sept. 30, Klug was expecting 1,000 to 1,500 students to log on; 82 high schools were invited and students have registered from at least 50 of those schools so far.
And thanks to this year’s virtual format, it’s a lot easier for those kids to attend. Students who in the past had to bus to the campus from six hours away and sleep overnight on gym floors can now attend from home, saving them a lengthy weekend and saving schools on transportation costs.
“This really is the most democratic event,” Klug said. And all it takes is a few clicks to start on the path to post-graduate plans — whether that entails a four-year college, trade school, apprenticeship, gap year or something else.
“You can have your future right there. … You just have to put on a little bit of your imagination and this is happening for you,” she said.
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Come Tuesday afternoon, the Aspen School District Board of Education has some goals to set. Members will review their draft priorities for the 2021-22 school year and, if all goes according to the agenda, they’ll approve them, too.