The Education Department designed its annual college tour to promote higher education while introducing students to a handful of schools every summer. It gives students an opportunity to see their options before deciding which school to attend.
“Our goal is to expose students to the world beyond the reservation and Florida,” director of Education Emma Johns said. “We go to schools out of state and come back to Florida every fourth year.”
For a week in June, around 20 students from grades nine to 12 toured Florida State University, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida, Flagler College, Santa Fe College, Full Sail University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Tampa. The group met with admissions representatives, housing directors, athletic directors and the president of FSU, Eric J. Barron.
While at FSU, the students got a behind-the-scenes view of the sports program. They met with coaches; toured the stadium, athletes’ workout facility and trophies; and went onto the football field.
“I saw my dream college for the very first time,” said McKayla Snow, 15, of Brighton, who attends Okeechobee High School. “I always dreamed I’d go to FSU since I was 5 years old.”
Jason Melton, 18, went on the college tour even though he will attend FSU in the fall. A graduate of The Sagemont School, he hasn’t chosen a major yet, but he is thinking about film.
“This is my fourth college tour and my last one,” he said. “Now that I’m about to start college, there is nothing to hold me back.”
The students were exposed to a lot during the college tour, but their visit to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting was the most interactive. Students read scripts for radio, saw how to edit and sat at the anchor desk and read the teleprompter. They also listened and watched the results of their first time behind the microphone or on camera.
“The students had no idea what it takes to produce a broadcast and how much fun it can be,” Higher Education coordinator Paola Moneymaker said. “Some of them fit right in, found their voices and saw it as a possible career choice.”
Some students already have an idea of what direction their lives will take.
“I want to be a career officer in the Marines, then study psychology and Native American law. One day I may run for Chairman,” said Tylor Tigertail, 17, of Big Cypress. “Everyone should come on a trip like this; it opens your eyes that college life is a whole lot different. It will take a lot of work, but I think it will be fun.”
Sara Ramos-Huggins said she enjoyed learning about what to expect while attending college. She wants to study physical therapy, so she focused her attention on two schools that offer the program: UCF and USF.
Another positive experience for the students was to meet and bond with kids from other reservations in Florida and elsewhere.
“The trip was a great experience,” said Marissa Osceola, 16, of Naples, who attends the community school. “It was good to do it as a group and get feedback from others.”
Moneymaker said these experiences are essential for the future of the Tribe.
“We are trying to shape future leaders,” she said. “We need to make sure students are getting the best education possible so they will be able to handle the responsibility of running a multibillion-dollar organization. Many of our current leaders have a bachelor’s degree in business, which helps to strengthen the organization. They will need the degree as well as leadership skills in the future.”
High school students are encouraged to go on the college tour every summer starting with freshman year. If they do, they will have seen about 15 universities by their high school graduation.
“We want to expose students to various different options,” Moneymaker said. “They need to see how realistic going to college is for them. Getting an education is a way to better themselves and become well-rounded individuals.”