Sociology graduate student Chris Bickel said he has seen many of his friends disappear from his life.

Speaking at the second annual “From the Barrio to Academia” conference to local high school students on Saturday, Bickel shared personal stories from his youth, including losing five friends before age 25.

Bickel said the prison system was like a vacuum, sucking up his friends and the youth from the city.

“Any system that pays more money to incarcerate their youth than to educate them is far more criminal than any baggy-pant youth,” he said. “You know the set-up – upset the set-up. Education is critical.”

The second annual conference aimed to encourage participants to seek higher education opportunities after graduating high school. Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority organized the event, which hosted about 75 students who were not already college-bound from the Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara High Schools, as well as the Isla Vista Teen Center.

Conference Coordinator Jaime Carias, a fifth-year sociology and Chicano studies major, said the event’s goal is to persuade local teens to seek advanced educational opportunities.

“The whole point of the conference is to encourage, empower and educate participants to pursue higher education whether out of high school, at a community college or at a public or private university,” Carias said. “Almost all of them, if not all, would be first-generation college students.”

According to Carias, counselors nominated the high school participants. The attendees ranged from students with high GPAs to those labeled “at-risk” by the counselors.

“The students are at-risk students, college-bound students who aren’t aware they are college-bound or whose parents don’t know how to help them,” Carias said. “One girl who I’m working with has a 3.4 GPA. Her dad works here at UCSB, but doesn’t know what to tell her.”

The conference also featured additional lectures from UCSB graduate students on education and personal experiences, as well as the UC system’s admissions and financial aid process.

Meanwhile, Carias, who also helped organize the first conference last year, said the event highlights the experiences of many youth in the county.

“A lot of my [fraternity] brothers are from South Central Los Angeles and ‘not supposed to be here’-that’s what drives me to be here,” Carias said. “You look at Santa Barbara and it’s really nice – it’s the American Riviera – but there’s problems inside.”