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What Will College Mean to You?

Award-winning author and Assistant Professor Kai Harris will be one of two keynote speakers at EmpowerED, an event for prospective students, on May 18.
March 26, 2024
By Matt Morgan
Kai Harris standing in walkway next to Mission under wisteria

Growing up, Assistant Professor Kai Harris wasn’t sure what to expect from the college experience. Her mother always talked about how important college was and that it would help “ensure her future,” but what did that mean?

“I didn’t know what my future would look like,” the creative writing professor says. “Or even what I wanted it to look like.”

This isn’t a wholly uncommon experience for first-generation students like Harris. While college is a place of self-discovery and exploration for some, first-generation students often don’t know about the opportunities available to them.

Fortunately, college turned out well for Harris. After graduating from the University of Michigan (and later earning her M.A. and Ph.D at other universities), she went on to write the award-winning novel, What the Fireflies Knew. But as a college professor, Harris still thinks about how complicated the college process can be for first-generation students.

So when she was asked by a student organizer to speak at EmpowerED on May 18, she was excited to participate. Hosted and designed by Igwebuike (SCU’s Black Student Union), the Latiné Student Union, and the Office of Undergraduate Admission, EmpowerED is a one-day event offering high school students tips and information about college—from filling out applications to finding the right major. 

Harris joins Silvia Figueira, a professor of computer science and director of the Frugal Innovation Hub, as keynote speakers at the event. This year’s theme, “Education and Elevation,” includes a full slate of workshops and panels designed to help students get the most out of college. 

In addition to two keynotes, prospective students can attend academic and experience panels hosted by Igwe and LSU students, a bilingual college access presentation, a bilingual financial aid presentation, a mock application review, and a college fair. The academic panel will explore different avenues of pursuing education while the experience panels will discuss what it's like to be Black and Latiné at SCU. 

“An event like EmpowerED would have been incredibly valuable to me when I was in high school,” Harris says. “I hope this event helps students feel empowered and informed about the paths available to them.”

EmpowerED is in its first year, growing out of two separate campus events previously hosted by Igwebuike and the Latiné Student Union. This year, both groups decided to join forces to expand their offerings.

Admission Counselor Ricky Bajwa says EmpowerED is an important event for prospective students because it’s designed by current students like Hydeia Wysinger ’25, Ingrid Sanchez Claudio ’26, and Ysidro Magana ’26. Members of Igwebuike and the Latiné Student Union handpicked the keynote speakers and have had full creative control over the academic and student-experience panels.

“These are the students who live through the SCU experience with their intersecting identities. They are the ones who can authentically testify to what it is like and what it means to be Black or Latiné on our campus,” Bajwa says. “With their lived experience, we can cater our conversations, presentations, and activities in a culturally conscious manner that highlights the fact that there is space for everyone at SCU.”

Registration for EmpowerED is currently open to all high school students. Bajwa encourages anyone interested to visit the EmpowerED website and sign up before space runs out. 

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