February 27 2024

'Thinking Career and College Early Fair' connects students and families with HBCUs and other great opportunities

Career and College fair organizers

Achieve Twin Cities was proud to partner once again with Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and PROCEED (Progressive Center for Education and Economic Development) for this year’s Thinking Career and College Early Fair, which connected grade 6-12 students and their families with over 70 postsecondary and career organizations at Harding High School.   

Among the many career and college fairs that happen each year, this annual event stands out by being a weekend event that is family-focused and open to students from throughout Minnesota. It also features a wider variety of college and career representatives, particularly from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), two-year colleges, the trades, military and other community resources. All of this means greater access for students and their families to connect with a much more diverse group of organizations and opportunities.    

This commitment to access and diversity is deeply rooted in the history of the event, which was founded by JoAnn Clark, a former SPPS AVID teacher and PTSA president. JoAnn wanted to create a new kind of community-oriented fair that catered to families and promoted HBCUs in the basement of her church, Progressive Baptist Church on the East Side of St. Paul. The annual event became so successful that it ran out of room, so she reached out to SPPS to propose a merger with the district’s annual college fair. Now, more than 20 years later, the Thinking Career and College Early Fair is going strong – and a highlight of this year's event was the celebratory ribbon-cutting and renaming of the Harding High School Auditorium in JoAnn's honor.

This year, students and families once again mingled and enjoyed one-on-one conversations with dozens of college, university and other postsecondary admissions staff from Minnesota and throughout the U.S. about academic programs, scholarships, campus life and much more. They connected with local employers about career opportunities and pathways for specific fields and employment. And they also heard from a panel of HBCU alumni who share their personal experiences and advice for young people.

“Because HBCUs are specifically focused on supporting black students and students of color, their participation makes this event very powerful,” says Zoey Haines, Achieve's career and college readiness program strategy manager for SPPS schools. “Students are able to meet with several national HBCU reps right here in person, which wouldn’t be possible otherwise for students who can't travel to far away campuses. The HBCU alum network here in the Twin Cities is also very strong, and can be such an important resource for students.”  Fair attendance is required for students who want to participate in next fall's HBCU College Tour, which is organized by PROCEED and Progressive Baptist Church and led by JoAnn Clark.  

Zoey says the fair also helps demystify the college admissions process. “It can be intimidating for some students to visit a campus or even talk with a college rep. But at this event they can meet so many people so easily, and they can see that these are ‘real people’ who are very invested in their future. Because they seem more approachable, students are more likely to take the next step to learn more.”

Finally, Zoey adds that the family focus of this event is very effective in helping students to start thinking about life after high school. “Students can bring their parents and even younger siblings and other family members with them," she says. "It really gets the whole family involved in planning and investing in their students’ future, and gets young people excited about what their next steps might be.” 

Learn more about the fair in this WCCO story, which features our career and college readiness manager Lisa Beckham, and in this KARE-11 interview with Rev. Dr. Melvin G. Miller, pastor of Progressive Baptist Church.

Find out how Achieve supports students in discovering, exploring and planning for their college and career pathways.