Olympic gold medalist Dain Blanton remembers choosing to study business when he was heading into college at Pepperdine University because “it sounded cool.”

No high school class had prepared him to make the transition, so he ended up switching his major to public relations — a skills set that served him well as a professional athlete, sports broadcaster and, more recently, a motivational speaker.

Blanton, an Orange County native who won a gold medal for beach volleyball at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, visited Santa Barbara City College’s Garvin Theatre Friday afternoon to talk to some 350 educators from across the state and country about a program that does better prepare high school students to obtain college degrees.

The “Get Focused, Stay Focused” program, which gets students thinking about college as early as ninth grade, was the focus of the fourth annual two-day conference at SBCC — the institution that helped the program evolve from an already established Dual Enrollment Freshman Transition Initiative and Career Choices course five years ago.

With the program, students complete an online 10-year plan in ninth grade, and targeted classroom-based lessons in 10th, 11th and 12th grades keep students focused on their goals.

They find out who they are, what they want to do, and how they can get there, said Diane Hollems, a former SBCC dean of dual-enrollment and co-founder of the Get Focused initiative.

On Friday, Blanton used his speech to inspire those who will help students choose and possibly modify their career paths, focusing on team work and collaboration between K-12 and community college educators and administrators.

The goal is self discovery, he told Noozhawk before the speech, so students can learn why they’re studying subjects and the path they need to achieve their goals.

“I hope that every school adopts it,” Blanton said. “The cool thing about the conference is that everyone is here for the same reason. They’re all here for the students.”

Blanton has spoken to students at several Santa Barbara County schools, many of which are within the Carpinteria Unified and Santa Barbara Unified school districts, which already partner with SBCC. Santa Barbara high schools even make a 10-year plan a graduation requirement.

The initiative has been successful in places all over the state and the nation, according to Mindy Bingham, a Montecito resident and president of Academic Innovations, which helps support Get Focused curriculum.

She said the turnout for this week’s conference, which ended Friday, doubled from last year.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.