USFSM, UnidosNow to hold workshop for college-bound students

UnidosNow at USFSM

Students of the UnidosNow “Future Leaders Academy” learn the ins-and-outs of the college application process through hand-on training at USF Sarasota-Manatee.

SARASOTA, Fla. (June 29, 2015) – Catalina Kaiyoorawongs wants Hispanic high school students to make education the top priority of their young lives.

“I want them to dream big,” said Kaiyoorawongs, associate executive director at UnidosNow, a nonprofit that acts as a link between the Hispanic community in Sarasota and Manatee counties and the resources that serve the community. “I want them to think about attending the top schools in the country, if that is right for them.”

To help make that a reality, UnidosNow is holding a summer workshop next week at USF Sarasota-Manatee to prepare Hispanic students for college, get parents used the idea of having a child away and to help teens and their parents make the right educational choices.

Hispanic students often face barriers to secondary education. Economic factors sometimes play a role. Some students struggle with low self-esteem and mistakenly view college as unattainable. Others are hampered by transportation. Rather than participate in extra-curricular activities after school to strengthen their college applications, they’re forced to return home, in some cases to look after younger siblings, Kaiyoorawongs said.

Still others face cultural barriers where it’s more important to find a job close to home than go away to college to pursue a career.

Kaiyoorawongs said UnidosNow is trying to fight those notions. “We want to help parents understand what their children need to do to be successful, to teach them that academic excellence must be a part of their family culture, and to get the kids to dream big,” she said.

The workshop is entitled the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). It’s set to run July 6 to Aug. 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students will learn about academic and career goal-setting, college selection and interviewing techniques, as well as financial aid programs, resume writing and preparing for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams.

USF Sarasota-Manatee, a UnidosNow partner, is hosting the event for the third consecutive year. Last year’s academy drew 45 students, plus numerous parents and siblings for the family engagement sessions.

Kaiyoorawongs said she wants high schoolers to think about college early by focusing on grades and extra-curricular activities and to consider applying to the nation’s top universities. Most who attend the academy will be sophomores and juniors.

“We prefer to get them as rising juniors rather than rising seniors,” she said. “That way we can have an impact on their chances of getting into college because you have to start applying to colleges earlier, and especially with test prep you have focus on starting early.”

Additionally, students at the workshop will learn about post-college life through sessions such as “resume writing,” “dressing for success” and “job shadowing,” in which students visit local professionals to talk about their careers.

This year’s job-shadowing participants are the Ritz-Carlton, manufacturer Sun Hydraulics, SRQ Media and Kerkering, Barberio & Co., the Sarasota-based accounting firm.

Also helping is Dr. Aparna Telang, a biology professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, who will lead a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) segment focused on science-based careers. Students will visit the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota during the four-day workshop to conduct experiments. Lessons will involve biology, chemistry and mathematical analysis.

“What I want them to think about when considering a science field is, what are some of the skills they will need in order to explore that option?” Dr. Telang said.

Not everything at FLA will be student-focused. Kaiyoorawongs said parents can get involved too, and some sessions are geared toward parents in particular. One tackles parents’ fears and anxieties of having a child go away to college.

“We have parents from previous years and they will talk about what it was like and what they went through,” Kaiyoorawongs said. “There’s a little of everything here, and the parents work right alongside the students.”

To learn more about UnidosNow and its programs, visit

For more about educational opportunities at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, visit