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Diversity Conference engages local high school students

Diversity Conference - Melvin Everson
Melvin J. Everson speaks to some 100 high school students about the importance of diversity and perseverance.

To help students realize the value and importance of diversity, the University of North Georgia held the 2013 Diversity Conference on the Gainesville Campus Sept. 6 featuring speakers from the university and from the 100 Black Men of North Metro Atlanta, Inc.

Attended by some 100 students from Gainesville and Flowery Branch high schools, the conference featured topics ranging from the importance of perseverance to global issues such as human trafficking. Each session was anchored by the conference's theme of diversity and the university's mission to develop students into leaders for a diverse and global society.

"It is important that high school students in our region be aware of the many factors of true diversity and also that they see how the University of North Georgia is built upon and strengthened by diverse ground," said Dr. Sheri Hardee, UNG's Educational Foundations coordinator and an assistant professor of education.

Keynote speaker Melvin J. Everson, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, talked to students about the most critical lesson he learned from his parents.

"Never give up. Never give up," Everson said. "I am the seventh of 10 children. My father had a fifth-grade education, my mother was a schoolteacher, and our family was a farming family. My father dreamed that all of his children would complete high school, and we did that and more because we never gave up."

Dr. Douglas Ealey
Dr. Douglas Ealey speaks to students about definitions of diversity.

After the keynote, students could attend one of three breakout sessions, each featuring a different topic and speakers from the 100 Black Men of North Metro Atlanta, Inc. Dr. Douglas Ealey, associate professor of political science at UNG, spoke about the many definitions of diversity, their meanings, and suggestions for moving forward in how we look at diversity.

"When it comes to diversity, we need to be thinking about the entire spectrum," Ealey said. "There are many differences beyond race, such as sexual orientation, religion, medical issues, and political ideology. All of these play a role in diversity."

UNG student Mark Green, one of the organizers of the conference, is a member of UNG's Diplomats for Diversity, a peer-education resource on the Gainesville Campus that engages the campus community in dialogue around social justice issues.

"We want to give these students a glimpse of what diversity should look like on a university campus and in the world," Green said. "It's important to have a discussion about underrepresented populations while having diverse speakers who are talking about issues that affect us all. It is important to engage these students now because they are our future leaders, and the sooner they are exposed to adult themes, the more effective they will be in today's world—including having the ability to navigate their way through different cultures."

During lunch students listened to a presentation from Sheila Caldwell, UNG's director of Complete College Georgia, which is a statewide initiative aimed at adding an additional 250,000 college graduates more than current estimates project to Georgia's workforce by the year 2020.

Students also received a tour of UNG's Gainesville Campus and attended presentations by various UNG diversity clubs. A second round of breakout sessions was held in the afternoon.

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