Providing all students with a high quality education, regardless of their circumstances, will help close the achievement gap and benefit all of society, said Paul Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, at the CFES Brilliant Pathways Global Conference. “COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on the inequities in our educational system,” said Luna in his keynote address on the second day of the conference, held virtually from CFES headquarters in rural Essex, NY. “We believe that every student regardless of where they’re born, skin color or zip code deserves a high quality education. Education is powerful and an equalizer in life. I know my life’s trajectory would have been very different if I had not been afforded a good education.”

Day Two of “College Readiness in a New World Global Conference” drew over 2,500 participants spanning 10 time zones to hear to leaders in education, business and government offer innovative ways to help students, teachers and communities overcome obstacles caused by COVID-19.

Following Luna’s inspirational opening, conference attendees chose from five workshops focused on building corporate partnerships, establishing STEM-infused college and career readiness opportunities, teaching Essential Skills in a virtual world and an innovative new program from the University of Vermont that matches college students with middle and high school students and families to support them during COVID-19 and beyond.

CFES alumni shared their own pathways with current CFES Scholars who asked questions about how to overcome similar obstacles, especially during the pandemic. “It’s important to connect with students who might not necessarily see themselves in a corporate setting,” said Tabitha Ashura, a senior manager at TransPerfect. “Hearing stories from people who have similar backgrounds and experiences as you do can also be really helpful. Don’t be afraid to take risks, ask questions and try new things…now is a great time to reach out to people so we can transcend borders.”

An at-large panel featuring college presidents Fayneese Miller of Hamline University, Ray DiPasquale of Clinton Community College and John Simon of Lehigh University offered insight
into how higher education is dealing with cost, mental health issues, meeting student needs virtually, and overall accessibility for students who might lack resources like high-speed internet. “Change is part of our DNA,” says Miller, adding that students are asking questions and finding creative ways to adapt to the new world. Simon urged students to expand their horizons and utilize digital resources, such as virtual college campus visits and zoom networking.