(film reel clattering) - Good afternoon and welcome to our news briefing hosted-- co-hosted by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media [background music] on behalf of #CaliforniansForAll College Corps.
I'm Sandy Close, director of EMS and your moderator for this afternoon's call.
Today, we look at a state program called College Corps launched a year ago by Governor Gavin Newsom to pay college students up to $10,000 each toward their education in return for their community service work.
Nine months into this innovative program, the results show that it is proving to be a transformative experience for students and communities alike.
This is a feel-good briefing.
At a time when students report rising rates of depression, community engagement is [music fades] proving to be a powerful antidote and a great motivator.
Our speakers will talk about how and why.
Let me introduce you to them.
Emilio Ruiz, a liberal studies major and fellow ambassador for the Cal State University- Long Beach College Corps program; Dr. Beth Manke, professor of human development and campus program lead at Cal State University-Long Beach; Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith, PhD, senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center; Ishmael Pruitt, community host partner who works with two College Corps fellows and is the co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Project Optimism; And Josh Fryday, California Chief Service Office, California Volunteers, Office of the Governor.
And, we wanna start with Emilio Ruiz, a very important voice [audio distorts] as one of the recipients of a College Corps fellowship.
So, Emilio, take it away.
- Thank you, Sandy.
My name's Emilio Ruiz.
I'd like to thank many of you for having me here today to share my personal story and my unique experiences as it relates to education and the College Corps' program.
Before beginning and sharing my overall experience with College Corps and the impact it has had on me thus far, I'd like to share a bit about myself.
I'm a 24-year-old Latino who is pursuing a career in education.
I'm currently enrolled in the Urban Dual Credential Program at Cal State-Long Beach.
This is a two-year teaching credential program that will give me the skills to teach in a K-through-6th elementary and/or K-through-12th special education classroom, and I'm set to graduate in the spring of 2024.
I'm pursuing teaching for many reasons.
I love working with kids.
It's truly a passion of mine.
I've had many great teachers that have had a lasting impression on me, and they've inspired me to help children learn and thrive.
And, most importantly, school has always been my safe space.
It has always been the place where I can go to steer clear of my dilemmas and adversities, and where I could lean on adults to get support and praise.
Sparing all of the complete details of my childhood, it's important for me to share and briefly explain that I, as a child, along with my six siblings, went through many adverse childhood experiences.
Whether it was dealing with divorced parents at a young age, or trying to navigate the invisible difficulty of constantly moving to places all over Southern California, or the tangible financial distress, or the domestic violence and abuse I've witnessed and endured, I hold a unique perspective on how schools and educators can have an important impact on children, especially those who deal with any one of these challenging circumstances.
These experiences and challenges that I went through, along with the positive reassurance and guidance from my past teachers and mentors, have truly helped me to choose teaching as a career.
Thanks to the College Corps at the Beach internship program and the curated support from its leaders, I was able to be placed with Ground Education, a Long Beach nonprofit organization that teaches outdoor and garden-based learning to Long Beach elementary school children.
Being in my teaching program and learning about trusted, as well as new, methods of how to create exciting and engaging lessons for students, I feel lucky that I get to see directly how Ground Education uses hands-on approaches to teach students about environmental activism, justice, and science, all within their school gardens.
Ground Education is a shining example of the goal of creating safe spaces in schools for children.
By being able to work with this incredible organization and working in schools that foster inclusive and welcoming spaces for children, I feel like I've gone from being a student who once desperately needed a safe space to learn to being the trusted adult who can provide students with a natural learning environment where they each have a deep sense of belonging and know that they are seen, heard, supported, and valued.
And, while I understand the College Corps program is meant to primarily serve as an opportunity to support students financially while simultaneously offering valuable work experience for our chosen fields of service, for me, it has meant so much more.
Through working with Ground Education, I feel like I've come full circle in this journey of life.
While I work to complete my service hours for the College Corps program, it is absolutely worth highlighting that I have been able to develop many skills that I think will be of great value to me as a working professional in the future.
I have been able to practice my private and public speaking skills.
I've been able to learn how to improve on how I share ideas, lead projects, and work with others.
So, because of these things, I have definitely felt my self-confidence rise and show as I show up to work each week with my internship.
I'm truly appreciative for the opportunity I've been given to be a part of College Corps because it has not just renewed my passion and excitement to be soon, one day, teaching my own students, but it has allowed me to feel like I now belong to a close-knit community where we share the drive and determination to improve our school systems in the many small ways we know how.
So, to conclude, I hope that my story serves as a bright example of how being a part of College Corps is an exciting and transformative experience.
It can truly help bridge connections and open doors professionally, especially since I wouldn't have known how to do it myself otherwise.
I'd like to thank you all again for the opportunity to speak here in this space.
- [Sandy] Thank you, Emilio, for that inspiring opening.
Our next speaker is Dr. Beth Manke, and she is the program director for Long Beach-- Cal State University- Long Beach's College Corps program, in addition to being a professor of human development.
Thank you, Dr. Manke, for joining us.
What can you share with us about the importance of this program at this point in time for the students you serve?
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for having me today.
I really appreciate the opportunity to share information about College Corps program at Cal State-Long Beach.
We're super proud to be one of the 46 universities and colleges offering College Corps programs this academic year.
We have 50 undergraduate students, including those who are undocumented, completing 450 hours of work at one of 27 local nonprofit organizations addressing climate change, environmental justice, food insecurity, and K-12.
I think one of the important things about how we do College Corps on our campus is that we envision the service that students are completing as internships.
I know some campuses are envisioning it as service learning or as volunteering.
We envision it as internships.
And, these are experiences, as I think our other panelists have already noted, that have proven to be quite transformative for our students.
In fact, as part of our mid-year survey where we got all of our students together and really asked them how their internship or College Corps placements were going, we found that over 85% of our student fellows reported that their internships have helped them in the following ways.
So, they're talking about how they're able to apply course knowledge to real-world experiences, and we know how important this is for students who are thinking about graduating and being able to think about, "How do I connect what I'm learning in the classroom to what I would actually do out in my career?"
They're acquiring job or work-related skills, developing skills to work effectively as part of a team.
We're so incredibly proud of Emilio and all the work that he's done to represent our College Corps program.
And, I know that he's had some really great opportunities to develop leadership skills as part of his involvement.
Our students are also telling us about the fact that they're really getting a chance to understand their role in their own community.
And, the last two things, which I've heard Emilio talk about, and Ishmael, is this understanding their own strengths and weaknesses and increasing their self-confidence.
We hear this repeatedly from our students.
So, when we get asked, "So, what makes our College Corps program so successful?"
We actually point to what we call an "equity-anchored, asset-based approach."
And, I know that sounds very...academic!
But, what we mean by that is that we honor and draw on students' cultural backgrounds and work with students holistically by acknowledging how their life experiences, their skills, their talents, and even their dreams.
How do those shape their academic success and well-being?
And, I'd like to say just a little bit about how we actually do that, because I think we get asked a lot of times, like, "What's the magic sauce?"
"How do we take that sort of asset-based, equity-anchored approach?"
And, we do it a couple of different ways.
The first one is we really are intentional about creating safe spaces for our students where they can talk about personal and professional challenges.
So, whether that's formally as part of a listening session where we're actually asking them, "What's going well?
What's not going well?"
And, how can we better support them?
But, also, informally with their peers and also with our team.
We pair student fellows with faculty members who serve as their mentors and their advocates.
So, oftentimes, faculty can help our students, particularly students who maybe don't have those resources at home in terms of how to navigate a campus, kind of as what Ishmael was talking about with this sort of hidden curriculum.
Oftentimes, our faculty can really help our students navigate those campus bureaucracies that, for students, can feel so daunting and overwhelming.
All of our students take an internship course as part of their involvement in College Corps.
So, they also have instructors who help them develop learning goals, how to problem solve challenges that are coming up.
And they also, as part of this class, students have the opportunity to really reflect on their experiences and interact with their peers.
And, finally, I would just note that we're really intentional about curating placement for our students.
And, I have to say, I was super happy to hear Emilio use the word "curation" because we're really intentional about that.
It's not simply placing students out with different host sites, is we really work with them to identify their interests and where they wanna be placed and working with our community host sites about their needs.
And then, really doing a matching process that involves interviewing, and a review of feedback.
We also, as part of our commitment to working with students holistically is we are explicit about training our host site supervisors.
Unlike Ishmael, we sometimes have site supervisors who've never mentored a student before.
They've never worked or supervised a student intern.
And so, we provide training for our sites to help them mentor our students, including we offer our site supervisors certification in Mental Health First Aid because we know it's so important that our sites can recognize the symptoms of distress, of anxiety.
And, I'd just say sort of in closing, that this last part is so important to us.
As many students today don't feel they belong or matter on their college campuses, and we know that this can lead to mental health issues.
I know that some studies suggest that maybe even upwards of 60% of college students are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression.
And so, our student fellows know that when they are experiencing that anxiety or that stress, they can turn to the many adult role models affiliated with our program for guidance and referrals.
And, we're really proud of that.
We're proud that our students in College Corps report being seen, feel a sense of belonging, and have been able to find their purpose.
- Thank you.
And, we'd love to hear Dr. Briscoe-Smith.
- I think we can all guess, and I think it was stated by Emilio: anxiety is a leading factor and a leading barrier, and issue for folks on college campuses.
The two leading problems that we see are anxiety and depression.
There was an escalation of mental health challenges for students on campus prior to the pandemic.
And then pandemic hit, and, of course, our data kind of fell apart.
But, what we're finding is actually, we have quickly rebounded right back up to pre-pandemic levels and are actually anticipating beating those levels in terms of worsening mental health on campus.
This is a huge challenge and big concern.
Many clinicians, like myself, are hearing from students and hearing that the challenges include hopelessness, purposelessness, and isolation; that those are three factors really contributing to a sense of not feeling like they belong, not knowing where they can get help.
So, something like this program and the stories that Ishmael and Emilio have offered, I think I do see and we are hopeful, is an antidote that finding purpose through service?
I've heard you all speak to the transformative nature of that.
That, that is something that can be really helpful.
The skills that you're learning and also, I think just to reiterate, as Emilio said, to be able to see yourself in the folks that you serve as an amazing opportunity for transformation and connection.
So, that service piece and we're really interested in actually seeing, "Does this help folks kind of connect?"
Isolation: addressing isolation by coming together across our differences in our service.
I'm hearing about the wonderful opportunities whether it's the 50 students at Long Beach that have this opportunity to be in classes together, to be in service together.
You also talked about the opportunity to reflect together.
That's a powerful mechanism to reduce this isolation.
And, that our service and our connections with each other actually help us to reduce things like hopelessness, to be able to find a purpose and a drive.
So, the potential within this program is immense.
Many of us have lived experiences of what it feels like to be organized according to service and service within our community.
And, we also are faced with big challenges in the context of the waves of pandemics that we've been experiencing.
Whether those are the pandemics of COVID, experiences of racialized violence, of climate, we're very, very distressed.
And, we also have these wonderful opportunities for hope and connection through service, and I think this is a great opportunity that might be able to help ensure that we don't see continued escalation of mental health challenges for our students.
So, I could wax on, but I just wanna highlight, again, the beautiful stories that you've lifted up that do seem to be a balm against the challenges that we're facing in terms of hopelessness, and isolation, and mental health.
So, thank you all so much.
- Our next speaker is Ishmael Pruitt, the community host partner, and CEO of Project Optimism.
Mr. Pruitt, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your experiences with the College Corps volunteers.
My name's Ishmael Pruitt, one of the co-founders and CEOs of Project Optimism.
A little bit about Project Optimism.
We're a youth development organization.
So, in 2020-?
2020, excuse me-- I was able to leave my role as a academic counselor at CSU-Long Beach to pursue full-time status running this organization.
We serve youth from Sacramento County all the way to Los Angeles County, about 340 students for the full year with various mentorship cohorts where we align college students with "at-promise youth" within the city, with an intentional guiding curriculum that supports the whole student.
We believe in supporting the individual, first, and then the student.
So, understand the unique needs of each individual first before we're pushing any type of academic rigor on them.
And so, while we have two College Corps students from CSU-Long Beach, they actually get to serve as a mentor in some capacity working with our children.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, they do have limited schedules.
So, as I mentioned, they have a lot of units that they're taking.
One of them is taking about 19 units currently.
The other one is doing 16, and they're on their way out at CSU-Long Beach.
And so, between that other internships that aren't being compensated for and their commute to commute from their homes to get to school, we've been able to accommodate their availability and schedule to give them other opportunities to stay a part of our mission and work with us.
So, they're planning events, whether it's backpack drives or food distributions, Christmas or toy drives, in addition to working with students, they do have the availability.
Our students are first-generation college students.
One of them is actually undocumented, which is a unique and new experience, but we're happy to accommodate that student's experience to get them this opportunity.
And, what we do to support them at Project Optimism, they are a mentor.
We are a mentorship organization.
So, we are big on mentoring the mentor.
So, every intern who works with us, and employee, actually gets mentored by either myself, one of the other directors, or someone that serves on our board.
So, they get direct coaching and support beyond their role working with us.
We provide professional development understanding that neither of them are actually pursuing a career working with children.
They have other career endeavors, but we wanna support that.
So, we're creating opportunities for them to develop holistically as young professionals and also networking opportunities.
So, through our extensive network, for myself as the co-founder of Project Optimism, and board of directors, we're also intentional with connecting them with others in their field so that they can maximize their time with us.
And, that is it.
- That is inspiring.
Could you give us a little bit of your sense, what is unique in your mind about the importance of College Corps?
- I think it's important for us to have people specifically from the community working in their community.
For us, specifically working with children, we're not looking for the valedictorians, the straight-A student, and et cetera.
We're looking for someone who experiences challenges and barriers and has figured out how to overcome or still trying to figure out how to overcome those barriers so that we can bridge that gap.
We focus a lot on challenging.
While cultural competency is important, I don't think it's adequate for a lived experience.
And so, we're trying to make sure that we have the people who have the lived experience working with those people who are currently experiencing those things.
And, as Beth mentioned, making it more accessible, and more attractive, and realistic to attain.
- Thank you.
That's-- That's inspiring.
And, Dr. Briscoe-Smith, looking at the whole scope of California as Josh Fryday has just done as well, what, to you-- what, to you, is the single most important message our reporters need to share with their audiences about College Corps at this point in time coming out of the pandemic?
- I think it's simply to share this story.
It's so important that we all get a dose of hope.
This is a program that focuses on the resilience, and the capacity, and the drive, and the service of our young folks.
That's a story that we need to hear more often and that's a story that can help reduce our isolation and reduce the hopelessness of so many folks.
So, I just-- You know?
Spread the story.
Lift up the stories that Ishmael and Emilio have lifted up.
- Thank you.
And, finally, Josh Fryday, you get the last word.
How much-- How many years-?
When you see this program and look forward, do you see it as a model?
Do you see it as growing?
Or, do you see it as a kind of moment in time that was incredibly valuable given the challenges of this pandemic period?
- Excellent, thank you.
First of all, let me add that I think the most important thing for people to share about College Corps is that if you know somebody who wants help paying for college, and wants to help change the world, and be part of an incredible community, please go to cacollegecorps.com and sign up today.
[background music] Now, as you heard, is the time that we're recruiting and we want everyone who's interested to know about the program and to apply for the program.
And, Sandy, to answer your question, we believe that programs like this are absolutely fundamental to the future of our democracy.
It's why we're investing in it so significantly and working so hard to build it out.
And, I'll just rely on the words of the governor who said, when we first launched College Corps, this program, he said, "Our hope is to go back to the legislature to expand it, "to increase throughout the state of California, and also make it a model for our entire country."
- Well, those are wonderfully inspiring presentations by each of our speakers and a wonderful message to conclude this program.
We're very grateful to all of you for this last hour.
It's been not only educational, but inspiring.
Thank you very much.
This conference is now adjourned.
Have a great afternoon.