UWF in the Community

UWF partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters for college and career sessions

The University of West Florida is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida to provide virtual college and career information sessions for high school students. The virtual sessions last through mid-April and explore options for students to consider beyond high school, with a special emphasis on paths to earn a college degree affordably.

Photo: Paula Shell, president and CEO of BBBS Northwest Florida, and Hope, a junior at the Escambia Virtual Academy, in 2016

“UWF is committed to ensuring all students have the opportunity to attend college, regardless of their financial situation,” said Katie Condon, executive director of Admissions and Enrollment Marketing. “The positive impact by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida on the region is immeasurable and makes for an ideal partner to achieve our goals of increasing student access and diversity, along with serving our community.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth. Adult volunteers are matched with children from age 5 to young adulthood.

Paula Shell, president and CEO of BBBS Northwest Florida, said the organization served 646 “Littles” last year from Pensacola to Panama City. The partnership with UWF is the latest effort to ensure “Bigs” stay connected with their Littles during a crucial time in their lives. BBBS emphasizes providing alumni Littles support and guidance in making educational and career decisions through its “Big Futures” program.

“Normally when our matches are put together, they come in as kindergarteners and stay until age 18, and then we close them out, but you don’t close relationships,” Shell said. “This allows our matches to stay connected with us into their 20s as part of our Big Futures program. When you turn 18, that’s the most critical time because you’re making so many important life decisions. We should be providing them resources.”

The offices of Undergraduate Admissions and Enrollment Marketing, Career Development and Community Engagement, and Financial Aid host the college and career information sessions for the Littles and their Bigs. Topics include searching for a college, the application and selection process, paying for college, financial aid awards, calculating out-of-pocket costs, pursuing scholarships and selecting a major.

“I’ve learned quite a bit from the first two sessions. They’ve been very informative,” said Hope, a junior at the Escambia Virtual Academy. “I didn’t know there were so many categories or majors as there are in college. I’ve learned there’s a big demand for people working with computers.”

Hope credits her Big Sister, Shell, for opening her eyes to educational and career opportunities after high school. The matches tune in to the sessions together and then discuss the topics afterward.

“Paula’s been on top of me to start thinking about different careers and to not put it off because it’s coming up,” Hope said. “She’s really pushing me to do some research online.”

Condon said UWF’s partnership with BBBS will expand in the near future and include sessions for eighth-grade students, prepping for high school. Shell foresees a significant increase in the number of students from the region who will someday pursue a college degree.

“We plan to continue to put a framework around this and work with UWF to come up with curriculum,” Shell said. “We would love to add the experience of taking our matches on a tour of UWF in the future. There are so many possibilities with this partnership.”

For more information about enrolling at the University of West Florida, visit uwf.edu/admissions. For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters Northwest Florida, visit bbbsnwfl.org.