Increasing Student Involvement at the Summer Opportunities Fair

"I got a really cool flashlight from the cops." - John Ferrante, AAST 2019

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More students were involved than ever before in the BCA Summer Opportunities Fair this year; the annual event continues hoping to increase the number of student volunteers and attendees in the future. 

Part of this year’s improved success was due to the National Honor Society (NHS) chapter’s increased emphasis on helping out faculty — a relationship that benefits both students, who gain volunteer hours, as well as teachers. Through this initiative, NHS students played a big role in setting up the fair this year. On January 22nd, during and after the school day, students were making signs, checking program lists, stocking water, and more.

Mr. Kaser, BCA’s Lead Counselor of College and Career Relations as well as the fair coordinator, said that he had been “away over the weekend”, so he was surprised when he came back and found out that the chapter had gotten him help for the fair. “It’s been tremendous; I didn’t even know I would be getting help, but [the students] have done a great job,” he said. “It’s really helped us out a lot!”

The table was even equipped with a sleek new credit card scanner, much to the delight of several parents.

The staffers for BCA mart, equipped with price listings, a change box, and the latest sweatshirts.

Furthermore, volunteers of BCA Mart, the school store, added to the increased student involvement at the fair, as their table drew many parents and students throughout the night. Annette Kim, a BCA Mart representative, said, “we are looking to [sell] more to the parents that come along to the fair”. To help market the school merchandise to their target demographic, the table was even equipped with a sleek new credit card scanner, much to the delight of several parents.

Adjacent to the BCA Mart table was the familiar row of other BCA-affiliated activities, such as BCA Summer Creative Writing, Bioresearch, and Nanotechnology Explorations. They are popular programs, and AMST junior Annika Eske recalled that she, like several other students, “initially joined summer research” through her freshman visit to the fair.

Besides the staple BCA offerings, however, there were also approximately 50 other vendors this year.

Christie Graziano, director of the pre-college program at the nearby Stevens Institute of Technology, commented on the offerings. There was a “good mix of colleges and outside variety,” she said, pointing out the table for IDTech behind her as an example of the computer science programs. “There’s lots of different opportunities gathered right here in one place — and it’s great for the programs too, because there are lots of students here tonight.”

First-time attendee Andrew Kim, ABF 2020, agreed that “there [were] lots of things for all sorts of interests — but it was definitely packed.” The majority of attendees were freshmen or sophomores looking for summer opportunities.

We’re always trying to get new organizations….We’d love to get more local groups here.”

— Mr. Paul Kaser

Lead counselor Mr. Zurich explained that this trend of younger underclassmen was not surprising. He stated that by  junior year, many students have “already found opportunities they want to go back to or expand upon,” so it was “good to see freshmen and sophomores looking to explore new things” at this fair and hopefully do the same by their third year.

However, several students expressed their hopes for a bigger event space for the fair int he future. Billy Marcus, AEDT 2019, said that “a bigger hall would be ideal,“ and Rachelle Huh, AAST 2019, also explained that “better organized lines” would be nice, especially for programs that drew more interest and thus larger crowds. Since the gym is already the biggest single room in the school, coming earlier or later to visit the more popular programs or simply to dodge the mid-hour rush might be the best alternative.

Tony Burger, ACTS 2020, also noted that “the people who [lived] further away probably [weren’t] showing”, because transportation would be more inconvenient.

Fortunately, the fair is always looking to improve student and program accessibility; this year, the fair was actually held one hour earlier, from 6 PM to 8 PM, so that “students [could] get home earlier, and students waiting after school in Commons [wouldn’t] have to wait as long”, said Mr. Kaser.

Only an hour into the fair, the gym was already packed.

Content-wise, the fair is constantly changing and bringing in additions as well. “We’re always trying to get new organizations; there’s always about a third of the fair that is new from previous years,” Mr. Kaser continued. “This would mean that over one’s entire BCA journey, a student would have seen about 150 organizations in total. “So, a student can go all 4 years to this fair and it would still be relevant.”

This year, “the number of international experiences we drew was really cool,” said Alisha Merchant, AAST freshman. As she had never been to the fair before, she had “gone in with an open mind” and was ready to expect anything, but she still “thought it would be a more local thing.” Much to her surprise, the fair actually had “maybe more than two rows of programs that were for going abroad.”

Though the programs were all excellent, with many catering to specific interests such as business or the humanities, some students noted that there were price and time constraints. In respect to the latter, many students at BCA may want to hold jobs, take test prep, or participate in other volunteer activities during the summer. Thus, it is important to note the duration of the programs.

For example, AAST junior Steven DiSilvio said, “some of these programs looked really cool, but [could] run 6 to 7 weeks long.” Especially because he also wanted to visit Italy and Greece over the summer, he explained that he’d be “most likely to only allocate around 2 weeks to any program.”

Only should the program destinations align with his planned trips would DiSilvio be willing to go for a full immersion in Venice or Rome — “I really want to go to those places,” he said.

However, for those who were not looking to travel abroad for the summer, several students expressed the sentiment that they had been hoping for more volunteer and nonprofit based programs, apart from  the ones for the local Habitat for Humanity and Tenafly Nature Center, which were especially popular. Bringing more of the opportunities that students may be looking for is a challenge that the fair is always hoping to meet and surpass.

“We’d love to get more local groups here,” said Mr. Kaser. “We really want to connect with the nonprofits, but the thing is, they’re also the hardest to get out.” Often, it is these local nonprofits that don’t have the staff or time to visit and send out to events, like the YMCA, absent from the fair this year.

However, this issue could be addressed “if we had more manpower,” suggested Mr. Kaser. Adding onto this year’s increase in student involvement, perhaps students could help by suggesting programs they would like to see and then calling up and recruiting people from those organizations. Mr. Kaser recommended making the initiative “in December, a month or two in advance” of the fair.

Students affiliated with the Liberty Science Center have previously presented on behalf of the organization at the fair.

Furthermore, students already involved or hoping to get involved with local groups could represent a program; “we’ve absolutely no problem in setting up tables for students!” he said.

For instance, students affiliated with the Liberty Science Center have previously presented on behalf of the organization. It began five years ago, with the Liberty Science Center being the first group to ever suggest having student representatives instead of staff. Though those representatives have since graduated, if such initiatives were brought back for next year’s fair, it would be a fantastic way to simultaneously help out an organization while bringing more diversity and local representation to the event.


Overall, however, Remy Goldberg, ACAHA 2019, commented that although it still took him a little digging to find a program that really stands out to him at the fair, “[this year’s] has been really great.” He added,  “I especially think that they got a really good representation for the arts this time,” some examples being the Great Books Summer Program and the Savannah College of Art and Design pre-college programs.

As for the value of the fair, Goldberg said: “Last year, I found Camp Rising Sun, a summer program that had an application process, but it was free, and it turned out to be a really good experience! It was amazing,” she said, brandishing a stack of brochures. “I’m trying to make this year’s summer live up to that.”