Stony Brook University has been nationally applauded for providing access and upward mobility to students in need. Recently, the University offered another program to demonstrate its enduring commitment to diversity and inclusion by encouraging local high school students to achieve their full potential.
On Monday, March 6, 2017, more than 240 young women and their 21 chaperones from nine Long Island high schools packed the Stony Brook University Student Activities Center to attend the 2017 Women’s Conference: “Women Leaders Paving the Way for Young Women.” The message to the students was direct and clear — education can transform your life.
The Women’s Conference was presented by the Long Island Latino Teachers Association (LILTA) and hosted by the Stony Brook University Office of the President and the Office of Government and Community Relations.
“Many young women need an advocate for them. They might not have a home or a community to help them. We provide support and let them know they are not alone,” said Dafny Irizarry, LILTA President. “We inspire them to dream big.”
The day started with a light breakfast and the singing of the National Anthem by the Central Islip Sweet Adeline Choir under the direction of Theresa O’Connor. Joan Dickinson, SBU Community Relations Director and conference advisor, offered welcoming remarks on behalf of the campus community, and Monica Martinez, Suffolk County Legislator and Stony Brook alum, representing the 9th District, shared her passion for helping others. Next, the audience was introduced to Michelle Curtis-Bailey, Senior Admissions Advisor and EOP Coordinator from the Stony Brook University Office of Undergraduate Admissions, who offered information on financial aid and the college admissions process. The students were then invited to participate in a rhythmic Zumba Dance led by professional dancer Jacqueline Selesky to get the room energized and ready for the mentoring sessions.
The students chose from several panel options to hear from 39 successful women who were able to overcome challenges in their lives. Madeline Urbina from Central Islip High School enjoyed listening to the professionals in politics and law. “It motivates you to go after your dreams,” said Urbina. Other panelists were professionals in arts, communications, business, sports, education, law enforcement, social work, medicine, health, science and technology. The students heard from two different sets of mentors for a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
“Events like this offer many promising students from our surrounding communities an opportunity to interact with the professionals that they aspire to become,” said Matthew Moore, SBU Presidential Fellow and conference organizer. “For many of them, this is the first time they’ve seen anyone who looks like them in these important roles.”
The groups came back together again at lunch for one of the most impactful moments of the event. Each of the nine schools had the opportunity to stand and pledge their commitment to not only finish high school, but to continue to college as well. With hand over heart, each student promised that they would achieve that goal. Then, in a show of support and unity, all of the high school teachers and chaperones pledged to help their students graduate.
The nine high schools participating in the program included Bellport, Brentwood, Central Islip, Copiague, East Hampton, Hampton Bays, Longwood, Sachem and South Huntington.
After the event ended, the room was buzzing with excitement from the experience. “Awe inspiring!” That was the response from Isabelle Mitchell from the library at Central Islip High School when asked her thoughts about attending the Women’s Conference.
A student, Sindy Alfaro from Walt Whitman High School in South Huntington, summed it up best: “If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
— Joan Dickinson