Gap Year Solutions Founder Katherine Stievater recently attended the 2019 Gap Year Conference in North Carolina. This 3-day event aimed to grow the professional network of peers and provide education on current topics within the Gap Year movement. Hosted at UNC Chapel Hill, the conference saw the largest attendance yet with nearly 150 participants! Gap Year programs from the U.S. to China, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and other countries sent representatives. Katherine was also able to catch up with gap year alumni, gap year advisors, fellow independent education consultants, and high school guidance counselors.
Throughout the event, there were many opportunities to learn about specific themes and hot topics in the Gap Year industry. Specifically, there were mini “Ted Talk” style events (called Voices Project Live) along with seminars and informational sessions. Among these, “DEIA” or Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access came up often. Many Gap Year programs can be quite costly and therefore may only see students applying from more affluent backgrounds. One of the questions that arose from this: “How can we level the playing field so that students from diverse socioeconomic, racial and other backgrounds can also take part in gap years?” Climate change also came up often: how can Gap Year programs, advisors, and independent educational consultants impact the environment in a more mindful and intentional way?
Throughout the course of this programming, a variety of other important considerations came up. There were professional development workshops, business strategies sessions for smaller and newer programs, and even mental health tools for students to use during the program and the re-entry process back into “normal life” after a Gap Year.
Katherine and Alison Sever of Rising Earth Immersion planned the main reception, which was a fun night full of networking, food, drinks, and awards. Katherine on behalf of Gap Year Solutions was nominated as the person most responsible for growing awareness of Gap Years and driving the Gap Year Movement. While she did not win this year, the nomination recognizes the amount of time and energy she has spent evangelizing about Gap Years including the many benefits that taking a year off between high school and college brings to any student! (The award this year went to The Global Gap Year Fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill, which won for their terrific program which provides funding for students to take a Gap Year before beginning their formal college studies).
Katherine walked away from the conference with a number of questions that she is excited to begin exploring with Gap Year Solutions. Most notably is this idea of DEIA: how can we change the way Gap Years are seen or constructed to allow for a more inclusive and accessible educational opportunity for everyone? Katherine was also excited to learn more about the new Gap Year Research Consortium at Colorado College, a group of universities such as Duke, Stanford, Harvard, American University, Colorado College, and many more that are pursuing research to investigate the impact that Gap Years have had on college students. There is not a lot of Gap Year data available today, so it is exciting to see Bob Clagett, the Consortium Coordinator at Colorado College, leading this important effort.
Overall the 2019 Gap Year Conference continues the effort to challenge conventional thinking, and encourage people to rethink Gap Years and get more excited about this unique educational opportunity for students. There is so much more to do to grow this movement!