By Annie Laird
A weekend conference aims to show minority students that there are professionals who look like them in their fields of interest.
On Saturday, numerous groups across campus, including the University of Iowa Student Government and the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, will host the Trailblazer’s Conference, which will consist of seven world-renowned minority professionals speaking about their experiences.
Tayo Ajose, a graduate of the University of Iowa and former member of the UI Student Government, started the project in February. She said a friend of hers had approached her department and asked why rarely people of color come to speak, to which the department responded it was because they didn’t know of any minority professionals in the field.
This upset the friend and raised many questions. So, Ajose decided to take matters into her own hands.
She, along with other UISG members, proposed legislation to get funding for a conference they had started to plan.
“I would describe the event as a much-needed conglomeration of professionals and mentors, because there is that need for representation,” Ajose said. “On top of giving our students skills and tips to get ahead in the professional world, they need to know that people that look like them exist in those fields.”
The conference will last from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with many different sessions throughout the day, including a keynote speech and discussion with Byron Pitts, an author and journalist working for ABC News. He will sign books immediately following the lecture.
The other professionals in attendance will be Andre Wright, a business trailblazer; Professor L.D. Britt, the chairman of Eastern Virginia Medical School; Erica Douglas, a STEM entrepreneur; Simeon Talley, an arts trailblazer; Eugene Whatley, a software developer; and Hazel Glasper, the founder of Comprehensive Dentist and owner of Revive Dental.
Britt will give a workshop on mentorship and sponsorship, and Douglas will give one called “Brains Behind the Brands.”
Titus Hou, an executive assistant for UISG, described the event as a place in which underrepresented people may come to meet successful and accomplished people in their fields of interest.
They could come to speak about obstacles they had to overcome and to share experiences, he said.
“I think what I would want everyone who attends to understand are the barriers some people have faced on their path to greatness and ways that they’ve figured out how to get around those particular issues,” Hou said.
Rondine Allen, part of the planning committee for the event, said organizers hope to better prepare students with the conference.
“Our goal for the program is to connect students with movers and shakers in their fields while providing them with the tools necessary to succeed in and out of the classroom,” Allen said.
Ajose said organizers hope the event helps students to feel empowered to question and ask why they don’t see more of themselves represented and to hold different departments more accountable.
“We’re not looking to have one big event, give ourselves a gold star, and call it good,” Ajose said. “There’s so much more that needs to be done, and this is just the starting point.”