The Face(s) of Our Future

May 6, 2015
A group of students take a selfie during the multicultural student leadership retreat.

Some of our state’s brightest high school students got an up-close and in-depth look at the University of Minnesota at the U’s first-ever overnight multicultural student leadership retreat.

Six dozen high school juniors spent the first weekend of May on campus, making friends with students from other diverse backgrounds, engaging in interactive projects, and developing leadership skills that will serve them well as they approach their college years—and beyond.

According to Shakeer Abdullah, assistant vice president in the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED), the “VIP Weekend” attracted students near the top of their class, and the goal is “to get these high-achieving students to think of the U as their final choice.”

They were also able to develop a sense of community, so that “when they choose to enroll they will have already established a network prior to their first day of class,” adds Keyana Scales, freshman recruitment director in the Office of Admissions.

Among the many weekend activities were sessions on diversity; how to plan, apply, and pay for college; and a “grand challenges” project, where groups of students were tasked with using an interdisciplinary approach to solve a key societal problem—in education, social justice, technology, or health—mirroring the U’s own focus on grand challenges.

Midway through the weekend, students were giving high marks for their weekend experience. “The atmosphere here is really interesting. We have kids with different strengths and talents, and different types of leadership,” says Sarah Yoon, a Mounds View High School student interested in biomedical engineering. “It’s helping me see multiple perspectives on how to approach a situation … and use my creativity.”

Nicholas Meersman, an Edina High School student with an aptitude for all things STEM-related, was impressed with the diversity of his fellow students and the “different backgrounds coming together, and not just in terms of ethnicity. We’re all coming from different places—socio-economically, experience-wise, and culturally.”

By the end of the weekend they had come even further. Says Abdullah: “On Friday night they looked like high school juniors. On Saturday, they looked like high school seniors, and on Sunday they looked like they were ready to be college freshmen.”

The VIP Weekend was organized by the Office of Admissions, OED, and Gopher Athletics.