Envision Hosts Annual Level Up Conference That Puts Students Who Are Blind And Visually Impaired On Path To Academic And Professional Success

July 11, 2017
Wichita, Kan. – Envision today announced details about its annual Level Up Conference that will be held this week, July 9-14, at Wichita State University and attended by 35 high school students who are blind or visually impaired, representing five states. The conference features sessions relating to art, music, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), interpersonal and self-advocacy skills, career planning and more as well as a College, Career and Resource Expo. For the first time, Level Up will include a benefit concert by special guest José André Montaño at 7:30 p.m. on June 13 at the WSU Hughes Metropolitan Complex. Montaño is a 13-year-old, Bolivian-born jazz piano prodigy with cerebral palsy who is blind. He has performed around the world, most notably at the Kennedy Center in New York City and World Bank in Washington, D.C. Details about the concert and other schedule highlights from the Level Up Conference are included below.
“We do whatever it takes to give our students all the assets they need to compete in the classroom and in their careers with peers who are typically sighted,” said Bonnie Cochran, director of support programs at Envision. “This year, we’re adding a career expo with colleges and local businesses on site to talk with them, and a resource fair to show them the latest resources and technology. We want to let students experience talking to professionals and get comfortable giving their elevator pitches. At the same time, we want employers to take note of these kids as employable contacts.”
Each participant will receive a free computer, the assistive technology he or she needs to use it effectively and training to help master both. An available parent track also helps parents and guardians better prepare for their roles as advocates and confidants.
Launched 12 years ago, Level Up includes a program for middle school students held in late May to early June and a conference for high school students in July. It has grown each year and served hundreds of students from around the country who were nominated by their school districts’ Teachers of the Visually Impaired to attend. Participants learn the value of self-expression, critical thinking, discovery and exploration through one-to-one interaction with mentors from the Wichita business community, Kansas-area educators and Envision staff.
Alysha Hiller, a Wichita native who grew up totally blind and found support in Envision’s youth programs, traveled from her home in Virginia to present the keynote address to open this year’s conference. Hiller, who currently works as a FBI forensic audio examiner, exemplifies the mission of the Level Up Program to inspire teenagers who are blind or visually impaired to set high goals and never stop until they are accomplished.
“I’m proud and delighted to return to Envision and share my story with this year’s Level Up attendees,” said Hiller, who received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rice University and a master’s in electrical engineering from Purdue University. “Programs like these are so critical to showing young students with vision loss not only how many opportunities are out there waiting for them but also how to acquire the skills and qualities they’ll need to pursue them.”
The Level Up Conference is presented with support from Allen, Gibbs & Houlik CPAs & Advisors, Spirit Aerosystems Good Neighbor Fund, Cox Communications, High Touch Technologies, Delta Dental, Meritrust Credit Union, Wichita State University, Staples, Wells Fargo and the Monsanto Fund.  
More information about the Level Up Program can be found in the Programs & Support Groups section of Envision’s website (www.envisionus.com).
About Envision: Envision promotes advocacy and independence for those who are blind or low vision. Founded in 1933, Envision is one of the largest employers of individuals with vision loss in the nation. Headquartered in Wichita, Kan., Envision’s mission is to improve the quality of life and provide inspiration for the blind and visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education and research. For more information, visit www.envisionus.com.

Level Up Conference Session Highlights
Please contact Envision in advance if you would like to cover any of these sessions.
June 10
Arts: Kinetic Sculptures (1-5 p.m.)
To stimulate their creative spirit, students will bring Dale Chihuly-inspired kinetic sculptures to life under the direction of Envision Arts Instructor Sarah Stewart.
Music: Songwriting and Video Production (1-5 p.m.)
In this session that promotes personal expression, students will go through the entire music-making process. Each participant will write, provide instrumentals, produce and perform an original song.   
June 11         
Computers: Systems Design and Information Technology (8:15-11:15 a.m.)

In order to fully understand how to troubleshoot and problem solve with computers and get ready for jobs in the IT field, students will undertake the complicated tasks of independently taking apart and reassembling computers.
STEM: Shocker Bots (1-5 .m.)
The WSU Innovation Campus will be the site for this session where teams of students will be tasked with building their own self-driving Shocker Bots, complete with lights and sound. They will be responsible for all of the coding that tells the robots what to do, assembling the circuit boards and completing the design and fabrication using 3D printers and laser cutters. 
June 12         
Performing Arts: Music and Dance (1-5 p.m.)

Jaisson Taylor from the Kansas-City based Urban Music Bucket Brigade will expose half of the students to bucket drumming while Bre Birk Studios teachers from Burlington, Kansas guide the others through lessons on dance and freeform movement. At the end of the session, both groups will come together for a performance to demonstrate what they learned.  
June 13         
College, Career and Resource Expo (1-3:30 p.m.)

Represented colleges and business include: Bender Consulting Services, Inc., Butler Community College, Cowley College, Envision Child Development Center, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Kansas State University, NanoPac Inc., Newman University, National Industries for the Blind, Pittsburg State University, Sedgwick County, The Point Events Center and Wichita State University.
José André Montaño Family Concert (7:30-9 p.m.)
WSU Hughes Metropolitan Complex
The concert will be free to Level Up participants and their families, and will be open to the public for $10 in advance at www.envisionus.com/montano-concert and $15 at the door. Proceeds will help fund Envision’s many programs and services on behalf of those who are blind and visually impaired.

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