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Operation E.P.I.C. — An Epic Journey the week of June 26 – 30, students from high schools across the nation gathered in Florida for an extraordinary event – the annual SOWF Education Planning Information Conference, commonly known as Operation E.P.I.C.

Held at the University of Tampa, students experienced the “college life” on many levels for several days. We are grateful for the support of the University of Tampa for providing their campus, and we thank various supporters including Elevation Outreach, and American Airlines, who ensured students traveled safely to and from the conference.

Major General (Ret) Clay Hutmacher, SOWF’s President and CEO, led off the week by sharing insights regarding SOWF, what we do, and why. Next up was Barbara Secor, Director of Scholarships, who provided some heartfelt words segueing into an icebreaker activity, which introduced students to one another in a light, interactive way. Moderator and mentor Peter Van Buskirk, founder of “Best College Fit,” took students through the college admissions process, including successful methods to craft a personal essay, sharing tips on building resumes, and how to identify the college of choice (best fit) – all leading to a fitting career. Guest speakers Engozi and Anica Burrows discussed financial literacy, focusing on creating the framework for tracking revenue and expenses while sharing a realistic path to living in their desired location. Frameworks of Tampa Bay facilitated two workshops aimed at enhancing emotional intelligence skills – critical for college applications – guiding students on steps to achieve personal, academic, and professional success. Jimmy Palumbo, the Founder of PivitU, enlightened students regarding the importance of building a personal brand – networking and the significance of a strong LinkedIn presence were emphasized (essentially knowing the right people can be just as valuable as knowledge itself).

To culminate the week, students, SOWF leadership and staff attended the awards dinner at the University of Tampa. Special guest and retired Navy SEAL and business leader, Lieutenant (Ret) Jason Redman, who having overcome severe injuries sustained in combat, shared his inspiring and incredible story of resilience. Jason’s daily, upbeat practical approach, termed “Overcome Mindset,” provided a genuinely uplifting message with respect to how to persevere.

More than just a college planning conference, Operation E.P.I.C. encouraged friendly and candid conversations among students, a common thread being that all have experienced similar life journeys. Many meaningful relationships were set in motion, and it is likely several participants will cross paths in the future.

Operation E.P.I.C. wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of all involved. Your collective involvement and thoughtful efforts made an impact and will make a difference for years to come, both academically and professionally.

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