ConnectED 2018 Conference introduces Durham teens to professionalism

About 60 students anxiously wait for keynote speaker Farrad Ali, president and CEO of The Institute of Minority Economic Development, to close out the ConnectEd Conference 2018 on Day Two. (Staff photo by Carlton Koonce)


Normally when people hear of professional or business conferences, they immediately think of an adult event.

The conference was also meant to introduce us to the importance of networking. Lissy Lagos(left) and Shamariona Gunter (right) are enjoying their time together during the two-day event. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

However, the Emily K Center, Durham Youth Commission, Made in Durham and Partners for Youth and Opportunity, all youth-serving non-profit organizations in Durham, decided to switch up the old format by hosting a youth conference earlier this fall called ConnectEd.

All of these organizations help students to become leaders in the community, but also give students help with school and, some, with family life.

The ConnectEd conference allowed students to hear from entrepreneurs, like restauranteurs and financial managers, as well as professionals, like legal and medical experts, from all walks of life.

The conference also covered education, scholarships and ways to pay for school.

Cecilia Polanco, is a 25-year-old who gave the keynote lunch address on Day One. She spoke to us about her experiences as a Latina and how she owns her own successful food truck business, So Good Pupusas. She also shared her experiences travelling the world as a young woman. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

One of the conference’s keynote guest speakers was Cecilia Stefany Polanco, a 25-year-old Latina entrepreneur, who owns a food truck business with her mom. Not only does she own her own business, but she’s also the recipient of a Morehead Scholarship from none other than UNC-Chapel Hill.

“It’s very rare for a person of lower class to get awarded a Morehead Scholarship. It’s normally students who come from money,” said Polanco to the audience.

Polanco’s address to almost 100 Durham youth resonated with the crowd. Ximena

A UNC alumna, Sheba Lowe Brown is a co-founder of A+ Test Prep that works with college and career prep programs all over NC. She works with Durham children to help them get scholarships to college by helping them study for important tests like the SAT and ACT. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

Hernandez, a Partners for Youth Opportunity student who attended both conference days, said she was touched by all of the speakers and panelists — but especially so by Polanco.

“It’s nice to see a young student from Hispanic descent doing so well for herself,” Hernandez said, concluding, “The entire conference was very eye-opening and inspiring.”

The ConnectEd 2019 Conference is already in the planning phases, and organizers say they hope to inspire professionalism in even more Durham youth next year.

Nancy Cox, one of the panelists who spoke at the conference, eats a healthy lunch on Day One. She once was executive director of Durham Achievement Academy and a former school board member. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)


Dan Brenner, a PYO volunteer consultant, interviews conference exhibitors for a future video. Here he speaks with women from the Durham Crisis Response Center. (Staff photo by Khadijah McFadden)

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