About 100 middle and high school students and their adult chaperones are spending a couple of days at the University of Colorado's Boulder campus to get a taste of college and learn about overcoming obstacles.
Boulder County's I Have a Dream program is hosting this year's national Dreamer Conference at CU.
The two-and-a-half day conference wraps up Friday. Students attending are from New York, California, Florida, Oregon, Atlanta, South Carolina and Virginia. Boulder County and Denver students also are at the conference.
"It's nice for the dreamers to see that they're part of a larger movement and all have the same goals," said Lori Canova, executive director of Boulder County's I Have a Dream program. "There's a lot of diversity in the group, a lot of different backgrounds. It really opens the world up to them."
The conference includes workshops with a focus on college preparation and science and engineering, along with activities such as a scavenger hunt on the Pearl Street Mall, a picnic at Chautauqua and a visit to Denver.
Students joined CU engineers in designing a small-scale solar-powered vehicle out of a mix of recycled and repurposed parts, visited the Sommers-Bausch Observatory to see physics experiments and toured the environmental design studios. They got advice on college from current CU students and talked to financial aid officers.
Judeon Kebede, who will be a junior at CU and started a mentor program on campus for high school students, led a workshop on succeeding in college. His advice included getting involved in middle and high school to learn how to balance academics with activities and manage their time.
Believing in themselves was another tip.
"Nobody can stop them but them," he said. "They have to believe they can accomplish their goals."
Organizers designed the conference to give students a taste of college life. Students wrote essays and filled out an application to attend the conference, registered for workshops and are staying in the dorms with an assigned roommate.
"We really want them to know that college is for them," said Lori Donoho, I Have a Dream's national managing director of training and support.
On Thursday, students heard from keynote speaker Rory Vaden, a Boulder County dreamer alum, author and motivational speaker who talked to them about the power of a positive attitude.
"You choose your life," he said. "You choose whether or not you're going to be successful. You choose your attitude."
At a workshop on overcoming obstacles, activist Daniel Escalante and Regis University professor Melissa Martinez talked to the students about their stories and urged them to think about obstacles to graduating from college.
Martinez said she grew up poor, attending 16 different schools as the daughter of migrant farmworkers. In college, she said, obstacles included figuring out how to cover the cost, not having a strong English vocabulary and her own fears that she wasn't smart enough or didn't belong in college.
"It was crazy the conversations I would have with myself," she said.
Chaznae Ealker, a sponsor of the Los Angeles group, said she thought about dropping out every semester.
"I didn't think I would succeed," she said. "I didn't think I was smart enough."
Students said they applied to attend the conference because they wanted to visit another state and meet new people.
"It's a great experience," said Laila Williams, an incoming eighth-grader from Iowa. "It's cool to see what other dreamers are doing."
Added C'Mone Garrett, who will be in seventh grade in Los Angeles, "I wanted to see what Colorado was like. I really want to go closer to the mountains. It's so pretty it looks fake."
Jonathon Ortiz, an incoming high school senior from New York, is considering majoring in engineering or architecture in college. He said his goal for the conference is to learn about possible careers in those fields.
"I've liked everything," he said. "I've got a lot of information."