For formerly homeless youth, the UNLV program supports career growth

Tierra Winston learned career preparation and dabbled in resume writing in high school, but it wasn’t until she took the UNLV Pathways program that she improved her job interview skills. hiring.

“The program reminded me of things we don’t know like the importance of communication, having a goal or a plan, knowing what you want to do and having a path to what you want. been an eye opener on those areas that we don’t pay attention to,” said 21-year-old Winston.

Winston has twice participated in UNLV Pathways, one of the initiatives of the UNLV MGM Public Policy Institute. The program aims to empower young adults who have experienced the foster system, housing insecurity or homelessness. Winston was part of the first cohort that met last summer. She has adjusted her work schedule so that she can participate in the last two weeks of the sessions this year.

Why come back? Because of the positive energy she felt, from the people she met, to learn something new and hone her skills, Winston said.

“I think what stood out to me the most was probably when we did a communication exercise. We all stood up and talked about different scenarios in situations. It’s like real situations that I opened my eyes to what type of communicator I am and if I needed to improve,” she said. “It was more of an eye opener, a sharpener of things that I should be more aware of and that I should pay attention.”

The latest cohort of five people, aged 16 to 24, met in February twice a week for two hours in the evening at Greenspun Hall. Pathways offers workshops led by Greenspun College of Urban Affairs faculty and staff, community volunteers, and MGM professionals. Interview preparation, conversation skills, social interactions, emotional health and financial planning are some of the topics covered.

The central theme of the program is that young adults gain the confidence to design their lives with a support network guiding them, said Rob Ulmer, dean of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. The program is a response to community needs, he noted.

“This program is about creating equal opportunity for all members of our community,” Ullmer said. “It enhances the resources we can offer for individual growth. And it shows there’s room for everyone and everyone can be successful.”

A Nevada Need

According to 2019 data from Clark County Social Services, there are 3,000 children in foster care, from toddlers to teens. The Nevada Partnership For Homeless Youth cites data from 2019 that found Clark County had the fourth highest number of unaccompanied homeless youth of any major metropolitan area in the United States.

Ulmer points out that this population faces unfair bias in the hiring process. Potential employers may view the young adult as rude, unable to keep schedules or incommunicative.

That’s why Ulmer says the Pathways program can be a way to educate employers, even on-campus employers, about the challenges this population faces. A curriculum vitae does not give a complete picture of youth. Don’t throw away their resumes or underestimate this population because they don’t come from the same backgrounds or networks, he said.

“This program addresses these barriers and challenges, and our college is uniquely located and tasked with developing these solutions for these young people. Not everyone comes from the same background or has a local lawyer.

“These young people, if given the opportunity, can grow, develop and prosper, which will impact their future families and family tree.”

The power of connections

What makes this population unique is that they are young people who may not have had stability in their lives or lasting relationships and who may be struggling with trust issues, said Andrea Martinez, program manager for Pathways.

Learning communication and resume writing skills is just as important as building personal and professional relationships, she said. The program includes time to eat, mingle with staff, and have free-flowing conversations so attendees feel comfortable asking questions and talking about their experiences and interests.

Its goal is to create an environment in which participants feel they can contact Passport staff even after graduating from the program.

This is a population that was less likely to access workforce development, leadership and career development resources during their teenage years. In personal and professional experiences, Martinez has learned that this is a population that may not be used to focusing solely on career goals when in survival mode.

Martinez praises nonprofits and government agencies in Southern Nevada that do service work for young people. Pathways’ goal is to complement these programs and imagine new ways to engage this vulnerable population, she said.

For example, in one workshop, participants practiced talking about their goals and qualifications in an elevator ride at Greenspun Hall with Brandon Perry, an MGM human resources representative, and Christopher Stream, the director of the UNLV School of Public Policy and Leadership. The exercise helps participants imagine what it would be like to meet a hiring manager and be tasked with providing a concise brief explanation of their qualifications.

Las Vegas Raiders guard Alec Ingold led a session of the UNLV Pathways program for young people who have been in the foster system or experienced homelessness. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV)

Other exercises focus on themes such as risk taking. This year, Alec Ingold, an NFL guard and former Las Vegas Raiders player, was a guest presenter who helped lead the conversations for the five weeks. Ingold, who was adopted at birth, shared her stories of overcoming adversity and identity challenges. A business administration graduate, Ingold spoke about the importance of saving money, budgeting expenses and learning financial terminology.

Winston said she could relate to the program because the topics covered were events in her life that she is currently experiencing as an adult living alone and going to work. She particularly enjoyed the practice she gained in requesting time off, responding to customer complaints and thinking critically about potential conflicts.

She had passed through the homes of relatives and friends while attending Desert Rose High School, eventually living at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center until she aged out of the foster care system at 18. She graduated from high school with honors and now has a full-time job and pets. She is an aspiring singer and songwriter.

Winston encourages young people who have been in his shoes not to give up on their goals, even when there are “1,000 anchors holding you back.”

“Honestly, what got me far was determination and knowing what you want,” she said. “We have to keep moving. »