University of Chicago hosts seventh annual citywide career conference for high school students

Kovler Foundation gift honors Office of Special Programs-College Prep, endows future conferences


The Office of Special Programs-College Prep at the University of Chicago established its annual career conference for high school students in 2010 to introduce Chicago-area students to an array of options for their futures. This year, UChicago alumnus Peter Kovler, LAB’69, AB’74, and the Kovler Foundation endowed the conference with a $250,000 gift to keep the free event going for years to come. 

On May 13, more than 165 students from 48 high schools turned out for the 2017 Kovler Foundation Larry Hawkins Career Conference for High School Students. The students participated in plenary and panel discussions with nearly 80 professionals representing more than a dozen industries.

“The Kovler Foundation recognizes that having a solid educational foundation that allows for discovery and exploration of career goals is the beginning of a life of accomplishment, a deterrent to the violence that plagues communities, and a realization that life’s success must be grounded in a hope for the future,” Kovler said.

2017 Kovler Foundation Larry Hawkins Career Conference

Watch this video to learn more about the career conference for high school students. Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo-DzeDsQ34


At Kovler’s request, the conference was named in honor of Larry Hawkins, who founded the Office of Special Programs-College Prep in 1968, to help low-income, academically challenged, and potentially first-generation college students on the South Side complete high school and prepare for and access college. Current programming includes academic and cultural enrichment, college entrance exam preparation, and college and financial aid application guidance, as well as college and career awareness such as college tours and the career conference 

“Our task is to provide practical, step-by-step assistance and to improve the quantity and quality of resources to ensure students are challenged, inspired, and empowered,” said Dovetta McKee, director of the Office of Special Programs-College Prep, which is part of the University’s Office of Civic Engagement. “We are deeply grateful to Peter Kovler and the Kovler Foundation for their generosity and support of the career conference.”

One of the driving goals of the conference is to give youth the opportunity to see people from similar backgrounds succeeding in their professional lives. People like plenary speaker Nichole Barnes Marshall, a first-generation college graduate and alumna of the Office of Special Programs-College Prep who is now global head of diversity and inclusion at Aon Corporation.

“I was right there where you are, a kid from the South Side with nothing, now in a role where I’m responsible for a global function for a global organization,” said Marshall, who challenged the students to follow their passions. “Why are you here? What purpose do you have? What value can you bring to this world? Do you have to be a doctor or a lawyer, which are fantastic professions, or are there other areas where you can contribute?” 

The conference aims to introduce students to a wide range of careers, including those they may have never considered. This year featured panels on 15 career paths: art and design; healthcare; advertising, marketing and public relations; accounting, banking and finance; law and justice; engineering and technology; business, consulting and nonprofit; architecture; writing and journalism; professional athletics, fitness training and coaching; research and scientific inquiry; performing arts, production and event planning; social work and advocacy; education; and urban planning and politics. 

Panelists included Cook County Circuit Court Judge Ramon Ocasio III, 45th Ward Ald. John Arena, and more than 15 UChicago and UChicago Medicine faculty and staff.

Participating students provided feedback on the conference.

Eric Z. Williams, a college/career specialist in the Chicago Public Schools Office of School Counseling and Postsecondary Advising for Networks 10 and 11, was on the education panel. He said, “A wide range of career options were shared both in and outside the session. Indeed, students with primary interest in law and even medicine were surprised to learn that they could work as lawyers within a school district or become physician-scientists who teach and do research in a medical school or hospital setting while they are also practicing medicine. “

In the opening plenary, Myetie Hamilton, executive director of Epic Academy Charter School and former deputy chief of schools for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Network 9, encouraged the students to take chances. “I am living evidence that zip code and income will not determine your destiny,” she said. “Because I made a choice to push beyond my fear and step into discomfort, this fashioned me into the woman I am today.”

The conference also included a session on essay writing for college and scholarships, and a college access resource room. The career conference is a component of UChicago Promise, the University’s pledge to help increase college access and readiness for Chicago students.

Donville James, a high school freshman, attended the essay writing workshop because he felt his writing needs improvement. “I write okay now, but if I could just get that extra push, that extra info on how to write my essays, it would be even better,” said James. “When I have to apply for scholarships I have write in more detail and write on a college level, so it really helped.”

Ricky Ng, a junior, said he would definitely recommend the conference to other students. “I got to learn a lot of job paths you can take, the struggles they had to go through, and the accomplishments they’ve had taking that path. I found it really inspiring.”

Originally posted August 3, 2017.

Share this Page