CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) basketball tournament tipped off Tuesday morning at the Bojangles Coliseum. While athletes were on the courts playing, about 3,400 middle school students were at the Ovens Auditorium participating in Education Day. This day is set aside to give students a look at what it's like to attend college and learn about exciting careers.
CIAA college representatives were on hand to talk to students. Representatives from NASA were also present pushing students to explore careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
"Students were so engaged," CIAA Education Director Raukell Robinson said.
"They learn so much and guess what - they are going to remember this experience forever."
NASA has hands on activities for students to participate in. There were drones and virtual glasses for students to see. Robinson says Education Day had a record attendance. She believes having young students introduced to STEM and talking to college officials will go a long way.
"This showed them today that they can do that," Robinson said. "This is attainable."
CIAA is not just about basketball. The popular tournament also provides several community projects for athletes and some powerful programs that will impact local neighbors. CIAA leaders say they want to give back to the community.
"I am a product of a CIAA school. I went to Virginia State University and I know someone planted that seed a long time ago, and guess what - now I am back giving back to my community and also giving back to the CIAA and the students to come - because we want them to know that there are opportunities out there for them," Robinson said.
Students left informed, motivated and ready to make a difference in their lives.
"You want to know what you want to do, how you want to do it, and when you are going to do it," 6th grader Shaun Lawrence said.
Lawrence says he wants to be an entrepreneur and own between five to 10 businesses. He says coming to Education Day will help him survive after he graduates from high school.
"How your college is going to be like, the campuses - how much the dorm rooms are - so you are kind of prepared for what's going to happen next," Lawrence said.
Today after students completed Education Day, they were able to see a basketball game to keep them engaged and to get a taste of watching a live college basketball game. Students are learning the importance of building a brighter future for themselves and learning the importance of making life better for somebody else.
Wednesday about 4,500 high school students are expected for Education Day at the Convention Center. Some of those students will get accepted right away to college and will receive scholarships on the spot.
The CIAA ends Saturday.